Slaiby noted that while it is true that the situation in the region is unstable and uncertain, “It is also true that we are in a long term process leading to democracy and that we should act accordingly.” The ITUC has agreed to update a strategy document that was first produced two years ago, by introducing new developments and in particular the conflict between religious and secular tendencies.
The political scene
There are varying levels of conflict and war within Arab countries, but human rights violations persist in all. National situations are complicated by external interferences from USA, Russia, Turkey and Iran. Tensions are further increased across Shiite, Muslim Brotherhood, progressive and other secular interests. Three countries do not recognize the right to organize trade unions (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates).
However, there are positive indicators for change, including the continued popular uprisings against despotism and tyranny, the phenomenon of new independent unions, and initiatives for change in some non-independent and democratic unions and national federations.
Some important figures were presented at the meeting:
A new ITUC regional structure for Arab countries
The ITUC and some Arab independent federations and unions are considering forming an independent Arab confederation within the structure of ITUC. This is to create a democratic and independent space for unions and federations that do not want to belong to the ICATU (International Confederation for Arab Trade Unions) which national federations close to the authoritarian political regimes belong to.
This new formation would include the federations of Tunisia, Palestine, Bahrain, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt and the SNAPAP from Algeria.
Slaiby notes that to be successful this initiative must ensure that the members of this new structure are really independent and democratic and that this formation will have real autonomy in relation to the ITUC itself and not just be an extension of it. This means allowing members of the new Arab body to formulate the vision and policy.
The situation in Egypt
Representatives from the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC), and the Council of Human Rights spoke.
The two independent federations are continuing their struggle to achieve a trade union law that guarantees the freedom of association. They explained that a new labour law has been finalized by the new Minister of Labour with the contribution of the two independent federations and some civil society associations. But the government has not yet approved the proposal.
The two federations explained that they are not accepting all that is done by the government or the army and are ready to oppose any policy or action considered to be against the workers’ interests. They issued declarations against the interference of the army in strikes and they held a press conference against the lack of representation of the independent federations in the constitution committee.
The participants recommended the following: