The survival of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Tuesday’s recall election may have dealt a blow to North America’s unions, but there are plenty of places where it’s worse to be a workers’ rights advocate.
According to new data on workers’ rights violations from the International Trade Union Confederation, there were 76 murders linked to trade union activities in 2011.
“Colombia is once again the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists,” the ITUC said in a statement, noting the country’s 29 murders and 10 attempted murders linked to trade union activities.
There are also some surprises as to which countries are the most hazardous for union members. Economic powerhouse South Korea recorded no fewer than six murders linked to union activity, while EU member Poland reportedly had 10 attempted murders.
The study also noted that persecution of unions was “particularly harsh” in the Middle Eastern countries where the Arab Spring took hold.
The study didn’t count Arab Spring casualties as union-linked deaths, but noted that “trade union organisations played a leading role in the revolutions, notably in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. They paid a heavy price. Hundreds of activists were killed in the clashes and thousands were arrested.”
Here are the 10 most lethal countries to be a workers’ rights advocate.
9. Poland (tie) - 10 attempted murders
As demonstrated by the numerous reports of violations, hostility towards union activity remains commonplace. Undue pressure is often exerted by employers on trade unions and their members. Restrictions on the right tostrike remain excessive.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Poland.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
9. Kosovo (tie) - 10 attempted murders
The private sector remains out of reach for trade unions, in spite of the Labour Law that came into force in January 2011, and the Law on Trade Unions adopted in July. Anti-union pressure from employers and inefficient court protection mean that many workers are afraid to join a union, or even to report violations of their rights.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Kosovo.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
7. Indonesia (tie) - 2 murders
Two workers were killed in West Papua when police open fire on striking workers at US-owned Freeport McMoran's Grasberg (FMG) gold and copper mine. Several cases of police assault against striking workers and arrest of union leaders were reported. Indonesian domestic workers - working at home and abroad - faced harsh working conditions. In law and in practice, the right to strikeis nearly impossible to exercise.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Indonesia.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
7. Honduras (tie) - 2 murders
Trade union membership levels remain very low, company unions predominate and temporary employment and subcontracting are reaching alarming proportions. Teachers are continuing the fight to hold on to their rights and to save their pension institute, the Instituto Nacional de Previsión del Magisterio (INPREMA). The teaching union's very existence will come under greater threat with the proposed Education Law, which seeks to privatise education and to repeal the Teachers' Statute. The conflicts with campesino associations in Bajo Aguán, the attacks and attempts to interfere in or even illegalise teachers' organisations, and the murders of trade unionists, journalists and social leaders are clear signs that Honduras has not yet managed to recover from the break with constitutional rule and that its public institutions are still far from being consolidated.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Honduras.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
5. Philippines - 5 murders
It was another tumultuous and tragic year for the trade union movement in the Philippines. Four trade unionists were murdered and one union member was kidnapped and arbitrarily detained. KMU legal counsel, Remigio Saladero, Jr. was once again the target of dubious government criminal charges. Union busting to avoid or destroy unions continued. <br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Philippines.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
4. South Korea (tie) - 6 murders
Police violence and criminal sanctions against strikers continued along with increasing use of law suits claiming huge amounts of damages against strikers and unions. Since the 2008 election of the conservative government, the Korean trade union movement has noted increasing repression and worsening treatment of its members. Employers systematically engage workers on precarious employment contracts specifically to prevent them from forming and joining trade unions. Trade union rights are restricted in the public sector, and amendments to the labour laws in 2010 further restricted union activity.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Korea-44-Republic-of.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
4. Palestinian Territories (tie) - 6 murders
The exercise of freedom of association remains very difficult for most Palestinian workers, especially in Gaza. One trade union leader was sacked during 2011, while the executive of another replaced.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Palestine.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
3. Brazil - 7 murders
The year 2011 saw major labour disputes in the banking, civil aviation and fertiliser industries. Municipal cemetery worker held important negotiations following a hard-fought labour dispute. Slave-like working conditions still exist and the authorities are keeping up their campaign to track down and prosecute those responsible. Seven rural activists were killed in 2011.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Brazil.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
2. Guatemala - 10 murders
Guatemala again stood out in 2011, regrettably, as the Central American country characterised predominantly by human rights violations. The right to life of trade union, rural and indigenous community leaders and human rights defenders continued to be violated. Ten trade unionists were assassinated and there were violations of every kind in municipalities, enterprises and maquilas. The Izabal Banana Workers' Unions (SITRABI) was the hardest hit. Guatemala's employers are very conservative and do not respect the right of workers to freedom of association, collective bargaining and decent work. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, far from fostering labour rights, is the obedient servant of the national and transnational employers. When there are decisions by the labour courts in favour of the workers, they are not applied.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Guatemala.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>
1. Colombia - 29 murders, 10 attempted murders
Although some progress has been made, the longstanding violence against the Colombian trade union movement continues to plague the country and trade unionists are still being killed, forcibly disappeared and intimidated. Twenty nine trade unionists were murdered in 2011. While some efforts have been made to investigate these crimes, the majority of the cases reported by trade union organisations remain unsolved. The state clearly lacks the capacity to protect trade union rights. The vice president of the Republic, speaking on behalf of the government, has recognised the scale of the violence, something previous governments have never done.<br> <br> Source: <a href="http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Colombia.html" target="_hplink">International Trade Union Confederation</a>