'A long road to freedom'


The following "Challenge to political leaders of countries in the Indian Ocean and Asian regions" was issued by the Third Indian Ocean Regional Trade Union Conference, held in Perth at the end of November.

We, the workers of the Indian Ocean and Asian regions, call upon the region to actively support our hard struggle for our rights as workers, especially the right to join unions of our own choosing and to bargain collectively.

The current ideology and practice of free trade as developed through the IMF, the World Bank and now the WTO [World Trade Organisation] and APEC is seriously undermining our struggle for our worker rights, national economic sovereignty and indigenous industries.

We cannot build strong labour organisations that can defend our rights when companies are allowed to deny workers their trade union rights, especially by escaping to other countries where trade unions are denied.

This type of free trade promotes these unjust practices of companies. That is why we have decided that there should be no free trade without free trade unions.

Companies are running away from those countries that allow worker rights to countries that deny those rights. In addition, certain national companies are also actively eroding existing trade union rights.

The denial of basic free trade union rights has meant that workers in the region are working under slave-like conditions. In the brave new globalised economy, workers in many Asian countries are paid a mere $1 a day for a 16-hour working day. They work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Child labour is rampant. The economic miracle is being built on their backs.

Free Trade Zones in the region are promoting policies of very low company taxation and the denial of trade union rights to attract investment. Each country is competing against every other country by constantly lowering company taxes and by further denying union rights and social benefits to their workers.

This downward spiral of competition is undermining social infrastructure throughout the region. Unacceptable limits are being placed on the development of health, education and social welfare.

In this situation, every country is being told — be internationally competitive, or you will not survive.

We ask, competitive with what? Child labour, brutally long working hours, slave wages combined with new technologies.

No, this is unacceptable to us, the workers of the region. We demand our rights as workers. We do not accept free market driven trade under these slave conditions, that undermine the rights of workers everywhere.

We therefore call upon the leaders in the region to lend their names to this our just cause. We ask them to make a declaration of their principled position in support of our basic trade union rights.

We are determined to build a new society where workers share in the fruits of their labour; where labour leaders are no longer murdered and imprisoned because of their just work; where the misery and hardship for the majority that exists alongside unimaginable wealth will be changed; where children will be able to enjoy their teenage years instead of becoming old by the age of 24 because of daily exhaustion before the machines of mass production.

We, the workers who have placed our signatures on this document, will never give up this struggle. Our is a long road to freedom. Are you willing to join us in our struggle? Will you walk with us, or will you find fancy excuses to abandon us?

We need your support, solidarity and commitment.