As we commemorate this day, it is essential to reflect on the challenges that workers around the world face, especially in the public sector. One of the most significant issues that public sector workers face is the ability to exercise their right to strike. This fundamental right is enshrined in the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention 87, which recognizes the right of workers to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, including the right to strike.
The right to strike is a fundamental human right that allows workers to peacefully express their grievances and demand fair treatment and just compensation. Without this right, workers are left with limited options to address workplace issues and may suffer from unfair labor practices, wage discrimination, and unsafe working conditions.
Our right to strike is not a privilege, it is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law
In the public sector, where services are essential for the well-being of society, the right to strike is even more critical. Public sector workers provide essential services such as healthcare, education, and public safety, and their ability to strike ensures that they have a voice in decision-making processes that affect their jobs and the services they provide.
Strikes and other forms of collective action by workers have been an integral part of labor history for thousands of years. One of the earliest recorded strikes was the strike of the pyramid builders in ancient Egypt, which occurred around 1170 BCE. According to historical records, the workers who were building the pyramid of Pharaoh Ramses III went on strike due to delays in receiving their wages. Another early example of a strike was the strike of the salt miners in ancient Rome in 494 BCE. The salt miners went on strike to protest their working conditions and low wages, and their strike was successful in achieving their demands.
Despite this long and solid history, not a year goes by without factious elements in some part of the world trying to take away this right. In the US, for example, Michigan public sector workers are prohibited from striking under the state's Public Employment Relations Act. The law allows employers to seek court injunctions to prevent strikes, and striking workers may be subject to disciplinary action, including termination. Similarly, in Wisconsin, public sector workers are prohibited from striking under state law, and violating this prohibition can result in fines or even imprisonment.
In Kenya, the government has recently taken steps to restrict strikes by public sector workers, introducing in December 2020 the Public Service (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to prohibit strikes by essential service providers, including doctors, nurses, and teachers.
The UK passed in 2016 the Trade Union Act, which introduced stricter regulations for trade unions, including new rules for strike ballots and picketing, and also coined a new category of “important public services” to circumvent the ILO “essential services” definition.
In Ecuador, the government of President Lenín Moreno issued, in 2019, Executive Decree 884, which restricted the right to strike by public sector workers, including teachers, health workers, and public servants.
Lately, the strikes against pension reform in France have been savagely repressed by the Macron government police.
While fighting to redress these injustices, it is also our moral obligation to disobey these restrictions and uphold principles of justice and morality. Our right to strike is not a privilege, it is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law. We will not be intimidated by fines, disciplinary measures, or arrests. We will not allow the government to take away our ability to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.
As we celebrate this day, we call on governments and employers to recognize and respect the right to strike as a fundamental right of all workers, especially those in the public sector. We urge them to engage in constructive dialogue with trade unions and to work towards ensuring that workers' rights are protected and respected. Only through these efforts can we create fair and just workplaces that benefit everyone.
In solidarity with all workers, we wish you a happy May 1st Celebration!