2017 began with massive worker repression in the Bangladesh export industry that resulted in 35 union leaders jailed, union offices shut down, and over 1,000 workers illegally terminated for raising their collective voices for higher wages and better working conditions. On the other side of the world in Nicaragua, workers were terminated and jailed for striking.
But garment unions from across the globe took action. From New York to Tokyo to Amsterdam, solidarity support for these struggles came in the form of letters to governments and global brands, protests and petitions.
IndustriALL North American affiliate Workers United, originally founded by immigrant garment workers who came to the United States and Canada seeking a better life for themselves and their families only to face exploitation and poverty at their jobs, holds an annual summer education seminar for all newly elected worker representatives.
This summer, IndustriALL held a session on the global textile, garment, leather and shoe sector on the importance of global solidarity and how Workers’ United’s history is intertwined with the textile and garment global supply chain. Workers United members formed unions that improved their lives and helped bring social reform to their countries, improving life for millions.
David Melman, from Workers United summed it up:
This immigrant history gave our union an ongoing connection to apparel and textile workers around the world. Their history is our history, their struggle is our struggle.
Tyrell Milton, a United Worker representative from Fantatics that manufactures baseball uniforms, added:
The workers who helped found the unions which became Workers United faced horrible sweatshop conditions but were able to build a union which continues today.
It’s crazy that in 2017 apparel workers around the world continue to face the same exploitation. I was glad to learn that we are helping our sisters and brothers build unions and fight for their rights.
In November, representatives of IndustriALL affiliates from Honduras, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal traveled to Silkebog, Denmark’s former textile hub, as part of an international exchange on how to achieve to decent work in the textile, garment, leather and shoe sector.
The local branch of IndustriALL Danish affiliate 3F organized the interchange with the international representatives and local shop stewards from the Danish global brands Mascot, Europe’s largest work wear manufacturer and also with Egetaepper, a global manufacture of carpets.
Tony Nielson, 3F member of the international committee for the Silkebog branch said:
We want to fight so that all workers get equal rights. Danish workers have fought and achieved this, and we should pass it on. At the same time, we are helping ourselves by helping.
Workers from Mascot has taken global solidarity one step further. Local branch members at the company have negotiated as part of their wage package that 50 øre (US$0.08) per hour goes to a global fund.
Shervin Firouzian, a 3F member at Mascot, said:
When I hear about what some of the workers have endured to achieve decent work, this small amount is one way that that we can help support the global struggle for workers’ rights.
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