The rot at Kashmir University

Syed Zafar Mehdi

As in other parts of the globe, the death anniversary of the Iranian revolution’s Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini is commemorated each year in Indian-controlled-Kashmir with tremendous solemnity and fervor. It’s one of those rare occasions for people from diverse fields and different schools of thought to rub shoulders and join the chorus of unity, peace and justice.

A number of programs, seminars and conferences are held under the aegis of various independent socio-religious organizations. Each year, we see a posse of high-profile scholars, historians, politicians and members of clergy pay tributes to the figure of Imam Khomeini, his instrumental role in the Islamic awakening, and the challenges of preserving, safeguarding and promoting his legacy.

This year, however, something interesting happened that grabbed the headlines for a few days. At a conference titled ‘Role of Khomeini in Islamic Awakening’, organised by Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan in the sprawling campus of Kashmir University on June 3rd, some distinguished guests were seething with anger. Invited as one of the guest speakers, Yasin Malik, the former militant commander and chieftain of the pro-independence outfit Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was unceremoniously snubbed by the organisers due to a “paucity of time”.

Embarrassed and hurt, he stood up in the jam-packed auditorium and lashed out at the organizers for not allowing him to speak. He accused them of being the lackeys of the unpopular government and bowing down to the diktats of university authorities who have never been comfortable with “seditious” political speeches and debates on the campus.

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Yasin Malik
Yasin Malik
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The organizer, Aga Syed Hasan Mosavi, senior pro-freedom leader and head of Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan, was caught off guard. He had apparently submitted the names of 10 speakers and given an undertaking to university authorities that the event will be “apolitical”. Among the names proposed were Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (an amalgam of pro-freedom groups), and some senior resistance leaders like Abdul Ghani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari.

According to privy sources, the name of Malik was conspicuously missing from the list. The organizers were perhaps reluctant to take any chances with Malik, who is known for his fiery political speeches that have often landed him in troubled waters. He was still invited (as a speaker) and the details were not divulged to him until all hell broke loose inside the packed auditorium.

When the organizers cold-shouldered him on the pretext of the “paucity of time” and apologised for not calling him on stage to deliver his speech; the hot-blooded JKLF chief stood up, created a ruckus and stormed out of the hall. It begs a pertinent question: If the organizers and university authorities were not comfortable with his presence there, why was he invited? If invited, why didn’t they inform him in advance in explicit terms about their “apolitical” program? Also, how could the organizers, one of the constituents of Hurriyat Conference, accept the absurd conditions put out by university authorities?

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the main speaker of the event, in his speech urged Iran to play a constructive role in the resolution of the vexed Kashmir issue. “India and Pakistan must realize that peace in South Asia is impracticable without Kashmir issue being resolved as per the aspirations of the people. Iran has a role to play in the region and the government of Iran can use its influence over India and Pakistan in this regard.” He stressed the need to provide space for meaningful political discourses inside the university. In an apparent dig at university authorities, Farooq said, “It is very pleasing to see that we are discussing Ayatollah Khomeini in the university but the university authorities must see to it that speeches and debates on political issues are allowed here. They [authorities] must not fear intellectual debates because disallowing them may result in expression of sentiments on the streets.”

He is right. Universities are the battlegrounds of ideas and there should be no scope for suppressing or muzzling voices of dissent. Only the regime that stands on shaky ground will fear intellectual discourses inside universities.

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A day after the conference, the local media in Kashmir was replete with news about Malik being snubbed by the conference organizers at the behest of university authorities for the fear of a religious-cum-academic event turning into a political platform for pro-freedom leaders. The reports quoted Malik as saying that the organizers (Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan, an important constituent of Hurriyat Conference) was mollycoddling the university authorities and acting against the interests of the movement.

Soon, the war of words ensued. ASS accused Yasin Malik of being “narrow-minded” with “autocratic political behavior”. Malik’s JKLF hit back and accused Aga Syed Hasan of orchestrating the split in united Hurriyat Conference. Soon the bickering turned murky as ASS accused Malik of handing over the arms to Indian forces under a secret pact. JKLF shot back saying that unlike the ASS leader, JKLF leaders don’t believe in making money, bungalows, and shopping malls in the name of the resistance movement.

At the end of the day, we know who had the last laugh. Not Malik, not Aga, but the university authorities and their masters in the corridors of power. The ugly confrontation between the two senior resistance leaders on a day when they had assembled to remember a revolutionary leader is a sad reminder of how we have always played into the hands of our enemies. It was Khomeini who once remarked, “We [Muslims] are so busy bickering over whether to fold or unfold our hands [during prayer], while the enemy is devising ways of cutting them off.”

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Very little has been written about Khomeini’s fascination with Kashmir, but it is no secret that he was a supporter of the Kashmir cause. He once made it emphatically clear to a visiting Indian delegation of MPs that relations between Iran and India couldn’t improve until the killing of Kashmiris doesn’t stop. Some historians even trace his roots to Kashmir, which is evident from the letter he once wrote from exile in Iraq to the then top Shia cleric of Kashmir Aga Syed Yusuf, expressing his desire to visit his ancestral land (in reference to Kashmir).

Yasin Malik is known to speak his mind and occasionally ruffle a few feathers. During the Iranian ambassador’s visit to Kashmir in June last year, Malik confronted the envoy in a seminar on “Imam Khomeini’s Political Thought” in front of a large gathering comprised of many senior pro-freedom leaders and some ministers of the J&K government. The envoy stressed the need for greater cooperation between India and Iran and said the bilateral trade had leapfrogged to 16 billion dollars from 9 billion in the last four years.

This did not go down well with Malik. “Iran cannot afford to annoy India just to please Kashmiris. We understand that but it does not mean they will come all the way to Kashmir to glamorize Indian growth,” Malik said. To this, the envoy said Iran was not oblivious of her responsibilities and firmly believes that the movements of the suppressed nations cannot be crushed by sheer militarism. He then invited Malik and Mirwaiz to Iran.

Malik has often spoken about how the Iranian revolution inspired the youth in Kashmir. In a seminar on Ayatollah Khomeini’s death anniversary in Srinagar last year, he made a passionate appeal to the Iranian regime to break their silence over Kashmir. “Iranian revolution was an inspiration for us to demand our right to self determination.”

As a young militant commander in the mid 90s, when the armed rebellion against the Indian occupation was at its peak, Malik was known for his passionate oratory and steely valour. He would often invoke the struggle of Ayatollah Khomeini to boost the morale of his comrades. In 1994, Malik gave up arms apparently on the dogged insistence of Indian civil society that urged him to explore democratic channels to engage with Indian government and work towards a meaningful resolution of this long-standing logjam over Kashmir.

Meanwhile, in an apparent fallout over the fiasco at the university, Kashmir University authorities, on the orders of the Governor of the state, expelled the Deputy Proctor of the university on June 7th for giving permission to pro-freedom leaders to hold a conference on the campus in the memory of Ayatollah Khomeini. The governor, who is also the chancellor of the university, was apparently not happy with the pro-freedom leaders getting a platform to speak in the campus. He fears these leaders might “indoctrinate” the students and the campus would become the Tahrir Square of Kashmir.

Facebook has been abuzz about how the governor is turning the university into his personal fiefdom. In one such group on Facebook called ‘Liberate Kashmir University’, a Kashmiri scholar and researcher Abir Bashir Bazaz writes, “There has been too much interference over the years from the Governor’s office in matters of University administration. The Governor’s questioning of the University authorities is a brazen violation of the university’s autonomy.” His concerns are echoed by many others, and rightly so. The Kashmir Spring is not too far, it seems. This time, the tsunami will emerge from Kashmir University.

(First published in The Friday Times, Pakistan)

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No ‘spring’ yet for Arab trade unions

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Notwithstanding a spate of trade reforms initiated by International Labour Organisation in recent years, the full realisation of union rights in Middle East countries still remains a far-fetched dream. The study shows how workers’ right to association and right to protest are suppressed by employers and government.  

Middle East… Industrial Relations

On January 5, 2008, protests erupted in the southern region of Gafsa in Tunisia after the state-owned Phosphate Company announced the results of the recruitment competition, which was widely seen as fraudulent and rigged. The unlucky candidates who failed to secure employment at the factory as well as the representatives from the national labour union, the Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT) claimed that the firm’s selection process was opaque and nepotistic. The demonstrations rapidly spread to include local residents, who protested against unemployment, poverty, increased living costs and corruption, as well as the relatives of miners injured or killed while working at the company. As the protests continued, the government brutally cracked down, leading to the death of two protestors and the imprisonment and torture of 300 others. The families of activists reported harassment by the authorities. (Amnesty International, Behind the economic miracle: inequality and criminalization of protest. New York: Amnesty International 2009)

Tunisia is one of the countries with abysmal record of labour rights, but the Gafsa protests are indicative of restrictions on labor organisations throughout the region. In fact some Middle Eastern countries do not even have formal labour rights such as the right to strike or form unions. While the Middle East is not unique in its suppression of workers’ rights, the region’s robust authoritarian regimes make restrictions on labor organization particularly severe by comparison to other regions. (http://brown.academia.edu/MelaniCammett/Papers/253819/Labor_Standards_and_Labor_Market_Flexibility_In_the_Middle_East_Free_Trade_and_Freer_Unions)

Limitations on right to protest

The history of trade unions is a history of struggles for greater social justice and against dictatorship, both in societies and at the workplace. Often accused by their opponents of being unreasonable, unable to understand economics, and dinosaurs of the industrial past, there can be no doubt in retrospect that in most battles trade unions have been on the right side of history. While business has unhesitatingly engaged with dictatorships around the world in its pursuit of profit, trade unions were and are at the forefront of bringing about democratic change in many countries. The right to strike, a minimum wage, the eight-hour working day, paid vacations, social security – all are milestones in the long struggle of trade unions for social justice. (http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_163855.pdf)

Notwithstanding a spate of trade reforms initiated by International Labour Organisation (ILO) in recent years, the full realisation of union rights in Middle East countries still remains a far-fetched dream. This region has earned the dubious distinction of being a part of world where exercising the trade union rights amounts to fiddling with danger. In certain sectors, like oil industry in Iraq and construction industry in Bahrain, workers regularly complain of harassment and mistreatment. There have been many instances where governments have attempted to interfere in the trade union affairs. In countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, the political tensions have severely hampered the trade activities.

A common phenomenon with all these countries has been the limitations on freedom of association and the disparity between practices and ratified ILO conventions. As a result, the freedom to bargain collectively and right to protest is both severely restricted.

One group of countries, the wealthy, oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf, has significantly improved de jure labor standards for citizens — although de facto standards remain low and foreign guest workers continue to face poor job insecurity and poor working conditions. The lower income countries in the region have also marginally improved de jure labour standards but have simultaneously increased flexibility by loosening restrictions on hiring and firing conditions.

Among the oil-poor countries, the non-oil monarchies are more tolerant of labor activism, and single-party authoritarian systems, which grant labor fewer rights. Thus, the Middle East encompasses three broad sub-regional groupings with different responses to labour standards and flexibility – the oil monarchies, non-oil monarchies and the single party regimes.

As the Gulf countries became wealthier in the 1970s and early 1980s, their citizens became inured to the benefits of oil rents and reluctant to engage in blue-collar labour. Instead, low-wage workers were imported first from the poorer Arab countries and then increasingly from South and Southeast Asia. These workers were generally denied the protection of the labour laws – if not officially, then by the use of temporary work contracts. In addition, their passports were often confiscated by employers upon entry into the country and returned only if they were dismissed or when they had completed their contracts. Since the 1980s, human rights organizations around the world have routinely castigated the Gulf regimes for the widespread and systematic abuse of migrant labor.

(http://brown.academia.edu/MelaniCammett/Papers/253819/Labor_Standards_and_Labor_Market_Flexibility_In_the_Middle_East_Free_Trade_and_Freer_Unions)

Arab spring and its aftermath

The Arab spring that swept the region recently affected almost all the countries. Many regimes crumbled and many autocratic leaders were upstaged.  The end of repressive dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt meant that the new dispensation recognised the freedom of association, providing more space for the trade union rights for first time in 2011. In Yemen and Libya, which also saw an end to authoritarian rule, now trade unions are becoming increasingly active. In countries like Jordon, Algeria, Morocoo, the rulers have taken the initiative of introducing the reforms to allow workers to exercise the trade union rights.

Although Arab spring has given much needed fillip to the trade unionism, but challenges still persist. For example, in Egypt, the Military Council has reneged on the promises of passing a law on trade union rights. In Tunisia, the new ruling dispensation cracked down on the workers demanding legitimate rights, accusing them of ‘undermining the national economy and conspiring against the government’.

In a report in February 2003, the World Bank itself pointed to the positive impact of trade unions on economic development and, in turn, on political stability. “The countries where the institutional participation of trade unions is greatest are also those where the level of conflict is the lowest,” he continued, defending the right to strike as a basic principle for workers and of democracy,” says Jose Olivio Oliveira, Asstt Gen Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, ICFTU.  (http://survey.ituc-csi.org & http://survey09.ituc-csi.org)

State of affairs in various States

In Jordon, Union activity is tightly controlled and union activists face discrimination and, in the case of migrants, deportation. A single trade union system is in place, and it is prohibitively difficult to cal a lawful strike. Despite this, work stoppages and protests take place regularly. The provisional amended labour law that was endorsed by the former Prime Minister was approved and adopted in 2011.

Around 607 labour-related protests were registered in the first nine months of 2011. The reports about strikes also came from Kuwait where 80 per cent of the 360, 000 strong workforce is employed by public sector. In Oman, thousands of workers stormed streets to push their demands for jobs and all an end to rampant corruption in the country. In Syria, all the trade unions have been disbanded. In Iran, government heavily relies on stringent laws to suppress union activities. Prominent trade union leader Mansoor Osanloo was released from jail in 2011 after six long years.

In Syria, 2010 Labour Code recognizes the right to collective bargaining, but the government continues to have over-riding powers to nullify it. In Kuwait, workers from the public sector are not allowed to form or join the unions. In Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, the right to form trade unions is denied. In Iraq, workers from public sector cannot form associations or unions unless approved by the government. In Lebanon, the collective agreements have to be ratified by two-thirds of the union members at a general assembly.

In Egypt, Schlumberger, the world’s largest oil services company, has been scrambling to defend actions of local management who sacked the entire leadership of a nascent trade union.  Pressure has been exerted by the ICEM and its affiliated Norwegian and Canadian unions, IndustriEnergi (IE) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP/SCEP), on senior management to intervene and remedy this unacceptable violation of rights in Egypt. Schlumberger employs around 2,500 workers in Egypt, 40% of whom are workers of subcontractors at 10 different worksites. The company is continuing to resist attempts by a genuine independent trade union in Egypt to organise workers at its operations.

In April 2011, the process to establish an independent company-level trade union at Schlumberger Egypt was begun, as part of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), the trade union centre established during the final days of the Mubarak regime. In May 2011, signatures and required documents were collected to complete the legal process of establishing the union.

On 11 May, local management was informed of the new union structure, at which time management responded with threats leading to the dismissal of General Secretary Mohamed Abd Elrahman. On 3 July, the day of the union’s general congress, local management dismissed the union’s President, Brother Essam. On 5 July, local management summoned union members to the head office and threatened them with dismissal if they did not leave the union. And then on 7 July, local management followed through on an earlier threat and dismissed the union’s Assistant General Secretary, Ayman Abd Elmonem.

No reason or dismissal letter was given to Abd Elmonem, he was simply blocked from entering the workplace. On 12 July, another union member was dismissed in similar circumstances, Mr. Hossam Al-deed Mostafa, and again no written dismissal notice was produced.

Under Egyptian law, workers can only be dismissed from their employment following a due legal process and a court ruling. The court procedure cannot even be initiated without justifiably serious reasons. Arbitrary unilateral decisions such as these cannot stand. Four sacked workers have been without income for several months now.

Egyptian Labour Law is presently uncertain and largely unusable. In theory, the old Mubarak era law, remains in force while there are at least three new proposed labour laws, drafted by different political groups, circulating in Parliament. The last trade union elections of 2007 in the former unitary government controlled trade unions, all part of ETUF, have been invalidated for corruption and the former governing structures of these unions dissolved with appointed oversight committees put in place to run the organizations until new elections take place – under a new law in the future.

The situation allows companies such as Schlumberger to take advantage of the situation to prevent genuine trade representation of their workforces. (http://www.icem.org/en)

The construction sector in the GCC countries, especially in Dubai, has been hit hard by the crisis. The decline in the construction in Bahrain, while less dramatic, has already affected the livelihood of thousands of migrant workers. As projects falter and contractors are paid late, those who suffer the full impact are the construction workers who have experiences the long delays in wage payments. In response, thousands of workers have engaged in strikes with the support of trade unions. Problems in the construction sector are compounded by the sponsorship system of employment, a key area in which Bahraini employers have argued against a more open system.

In Bahrain, the government is yet to ratify Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, resulting which workers are discouraged to take part in trade union activities and union leaders are subjected to undue harassment. In July 2007, some prominent trade union activists were sacked after a protest march by around 500 workers of the Batelco Company over pay and retirement plan . Almost 50 workers of Al-Marai Dairy Company were sacked in November 2007 after they took part in a month-long strike. They were re-instated a year later.  In June 2008, Batelco sacked 44 workers in contravention of the Voluntary Early Retirement Package agreement between management and union.  In July 2008, 17 migrant workers of Indian origin working for Classified Construction Company were arrested and threatened with deportation, after they were accused of setting ablaze a company vehicle.

In May 2009, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) sponsored an international conference on the crisis and its impact on Bahrain and the region. The trade unions in Bahrain, led by the GFBTU, called for damage control measures to reduce the impact on workers and their families, and demanded a place at the economic decision-making. The GFBTU called for a changed economic paradigm, one focused on providing employment security and social justice, regulating financial market, redressing economic inequality, creating environmentally friendly jobs, an promoting global economic reform. (http://carnegie-mec.org/publications/?fa=23361)

In Iran, the 1990 Labour Code paved way for the constitution of Islamic Labour Council at any workplace. However it doesn’t allow any other form of representation at workplace where such a council has been established.  Iranian labor enjoyed a brief period of freedom during the revolutionary period and the months following the revolutionary uprising. That period, however, corresponded with general chaos and widespread disruptions in economic activities. By 1981, all of the independent unions and councils as well as the secular Worker’s House (which were all set-up by workers and labor activists during and after the revolution), were forcibly taken over by pro-government Islamist workers and organized mobs. These organizations were officially liquidated and banned. (Saeed Rahnema, Work Councils in Iran: The Illusion of Worker Control, 13 Econ. & Indus. Democracy 69, 69-94 (1992); Asef Bayat, Workers and Revolution in Iran: A Third World Experience of Workers’ control (1987)).

The early 2000s witnessed a surge in the confidence of labor activists and intellectuals, leading to the widespread translation of books on labor movements from other countries and the publication of books and journal articles on trade unionism, social movements, civil society, politics, and philosophy. Meanwhile, the number of workers’ strikes for economic demands and work conditions increased.39 Workers in public and private industries and services have protested, demanding payment of their unpaid wages (a chronic problem in Iranian enterprises), opposing the widespread use of “blank signed” contracts and temporary contracts, and demanding that government and employers respect the application of current labor law. Some of the most confrontational labor protests have been in cases of laid-off workers demanding their jobs back. Nevertheless, these defensive demands and peaceful strikes are not tolerated by the government’s security forces. In many instances, the Islamic reformists of Khatami’s administration were either unable or unwilling to curb the violent attacks of security forces on peaceful strikes and sit-ins of workers. (Shahla Daneshfar, Mobarezat-e Kargaran dar Deu Dah-e Akheer (The Struggle of the Workers in the Past two Decades),  Kargaran (2005),  http://www.kargaran.org)

Some of the most tragic examples of these years demonstrate the brutality of the security forces against the peaceful workers’ movement. In July 2001, the workers from Jamco clothing and Shadanpoor shoe factories were seriously beaten by security forces in front of the Majles as they demonstrated for the payment of their delayed wages.  Also in 2004, construction workers participated in a strike and sit-in in the Copper Smelting Plant near the village of Khatounabad, in the Kirman province. This plant belongs to the National Copper Industries of Iran and was operated by a Chinese contractor. The construction workers’ complaint concerned the unfulfilled promise of being hired by the firm upon the completion of the plant. The workers’ families had joined the sit-in at the plant. On January 24th, the eighth day of the sit-in, on, security forces attacked the strikers and their families. Four workers were shot dead, 300 wounded, and many were arrested. The tragic event of Khatounabad was a catalyst that escalated the workers’ protest movement. (Andreas Malm & Shora Esmailian, Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers and Threats of War, 71 (2007); Behzad Sohrabi, Be Yad-e Kargaran-e Jan Bakhteh Khatoon Abad (In the Memory of the Workers who Lost their Lives in Khatoon Abad) (2009), http://www.fwhi.org/maqale)

Also, with the economic sanctions imposed by West and the falling oil prices, Iranian economy has been affected badly. Many factories have closed down and unpaid wages have become common across the country. In January 2008, workers at Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plantation and Industry Complex, Iran’s only sugar refinery, collected 1900 signatures to replace the Islamic Labour Council with an independent trade union. In April same year, workers at Kian Tyre Factory went on strike because of long-standing wage arrears. In police retaliation, 100 workers were hit by electric batons and incarcerated. (http://brown.academia.edu)

In 2011, as in previous years the authorities detained, questioned, harassed, threatened and imprisoned scores of people for their labour rights activities. For example, on 8 January, Pedram Nasrollahi, a labour movement and women’s movement activist, was released on payment of 40 million tomans (29,300 Euros) bail. In early January, according to reports published by the Free Union of Workers in Iran, jailed labour activist Behnam (Asad) Ebrahimzadeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Behnam is a member of the workers’ group Pursuit Committee for the Formation of Labour Organisations. In August, a Tabriz court sentenced labour activists Shahrokh Zamani to 11 years, Nima Pouryaghob to 6 years, Mohammad Jarahi to 5 years and Sasan Vahebivash to 6 months in prison on charges of organising opposition groups, acting against national security and propaganda against the regime. (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,ITUC,,IRN,,4fd889475,0.html)

In Saudia Arabia, the labour rights are least protected. A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation on workers’ rights in the country has uncovered alarming levels of child labour, discrimination and forced labour. Employees are only allowed to organise so-called “workers’ committees” that must include the participation of the government and the employer. Unions, collective bargaining, strikes, even public demonstrations are banned. According to the report, thousands of migrant workers are the victims of torture, work long hours, live in confined conditions and, in general, are deprived of their basic freedoms. The Saudi authorities have repeatedly failed to address the issue and redress extreme abuses which remain unpunished. (http://www.ituc-csi.org/saudi-arabia-bans-trade-unions-and.html?lang=en)

In Iraq, the current labour laws governing trade union rights are in dire need of reform. A draft Labour Code was made public in 2007, and although it does recognise trade unions, it contains many areas of concern. It prohibits companies in the oil sector from cooperating with unions, does not adequately protect workers against anti-union discrimination, and also establishes too high thresholds for union recognition.

Until the Labour Code is adopted, labour laws dating back to the era of Saddam Hussein remain in force. Resolution 150 of 1987 prohibits public sector workers from organising, and also bars all public sector workers from going on strike. Furthermore, a Ministerial order issued on 20 July 2010 prohibits all trade union activities at the Ministry of Electricity and its departments and sites. Decree 8750, which was introduced by the new regime in August 2005, also severely limits trade union activities by prohibiting unions from holding funds, collecting dues and maintaining assets. (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,ITUC,,IRQ,,4fd88946c,0.html)

In Yemen, there is only one official trade union organization and law is not seen conducive to trade union activities. Many excessive restrictions apply despite some trade union rights being recognised. While freedom of association is guaranteed in the Constitution, all unions must belong to the General Federation of Workers Trade Unions of Yemen (GFWTUY), the country’s only umbrella union organization. A proposed Labour Code would allow foreign workers to join trade unions although they would still not have the right to be elected to trade union office.

While the right to collective bargaining is secured, the Ministry of Labour has the power to veto any collective bargaining agreement. Agreements that are “likely to cause a breach of security or damage the economic interests of the country” can be annulled. Furthermore, the right to strike is very limited. Permission to protest must be obtained from the GFWTUY and all strikes must concern more than two thirds of the workplace of the employer.0 (http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Yemen.html?lang=en#tabs-3)

In April 2011, more than 5,000 foreign workers from several Asian countries working in six garment factories in Al Tajamouat Industrial City went on strike over pay and poor working conditions, Workers had reportedly paid huge sums of money to obtain the initial work contracts in Jordon. However, the employers refused pay rises saying that this would drive them out of business and render them incapable of competing in the international garment industry. A Taiwanese factory, Maintrend International, employing over 600, mainly Bangladeshi workers, shut down in September 2011 alleging that worker strikes were to blame for the closure. Most of the workers had been recruited just months earlier. (http://survey.ituc-csi.org/Jordan.html#tabs-1)

In Turkey, from 1908 onwards, political opportunity structures stimulated unionization efforts among Turkish workers. This is one of the defining traits of the Turkish organized labor movement. Workplace activists have always tried to benefit from opportune situations and established local hubs of activity at the grassroots level. The first wave of strikes, for instance, took place immediately after the reinstitution of the constitutional rights of Ottoman citizens in 1908, and the first labor unions were established immediately after the removal of the ban on class-based societies in 1946.

From early 1987 onwards, the strikes gradually normalized, especially in the industrialized area of greater Istanbul, and took the shape of a minor and localized strike wave. The first strikes took place in private businesses situated around Istanbul, big metal or chemical factories with a history of labor militancy. These strikes were organized by independent labor unions heir to the militant labor unions of the seventies. The spring actions marked the first of two climaxes in the cycle of protest that began at the end of 1986 and continued until the last months of 1991.

The sheer number of workers involved in the spontaneous movement can only be compared to such historical incidents in Turkish labor history as the strike wave of 1908, the unionization thrust in 1946, and the uprising on 15-16 June 1970. Thanks to the spread of the state economic enterprises throughout Anatolia, almost every important city witnessed some form of action. The 1987 strike wave is also important because of its pioneering nature. Despite the authoritarian measures still in force and the general mood of submissiveness inherited from three years of military rule, especially among the ranks of the organized labor movement, these bold attempts by independent labor unions and Türk-İş affiliates broke the silence. The 1989 spring, on the other hand, revealed the anger of the public enterprise workers at being cast out of the political sphere. The Petrol-İş strike involved approximately 20,000 workers, half of whom, the employees of strategic state economic enterprises, did not legally have the right to strike.  (http://ejts.revues.org/index4321.html#tocto1n4)

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TIMELINE:

May 1987: In Turkey, the right to unionize and strike was severely restricted, clauses protecting the employers’ profitability were introduced, and direct links between political parties and labor unions were severed, leading to wave of protests that lasted for two years.

July 2001: The workers from Jamco clothing and Shadanpoor shoe factories in Iran were seriously beaten by security forces in front of the Majlis as they demonstrated for the payment of their delayed wages.

April 2007:

Around 150 employees of Al-Marai Dairy Company in Bahrain went on strike to register their protest over abysmal pay and working conditions. The protests continued intermittently for months. In November, 2007, after a month-long strike, 50 workers were sacked by the company. They were re-instated a year later, after negotiations.

January 2008:

The workers at Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plantation and Industry Complex, Iran’s only sugar refinery, collected 1900 signatures to replace the Islamic Labour Council with an independent trade union. In April same year, workers at Kian Tyre Factory went on strike because of long-standing wage arrears. In police retaliation, 100 workers were hit by electric batons and incarcerated.

October 2009:

Around 80 Palestinian workers, members of the Jehleen Bedouin tribe in the city of Ma’aleh Adumim in Israel went on strike after their municipal employers refused to allow more workers to attend Friday prayers. As a result, the authorities dismissed three employees, threatened three others with dismissal and suspended 14 employees.

December 2009:

On December 7, 2009, a 53-day strike by 1,500 leather workers in Iraq concluded successfully after state-run Enterprise of Leather Industries and Iraq’s Ministry of Industry acceded to the demands of workers on safety benefits. However, in January 2010, ministry retaliated by transferring the trade union leader Falah Alwan, to another enterprise in order to suppress his union activities.

March 2010:

Nearly 300 Egyptian employees of a cleaning and contracting company in Kuwait staged a protest against the non-payment of their salaries. They had not been paid for eight months and held the protest as a last resort after complaints failed to achieve any change. The company management even threatened the workers with dismissal and deportation after they held the protests.

August 2010:

The police and immigration authorities broke up a demonstration by some 2000 migrant workers who had gone on strike to protest against low pay. They were recruited by the building and engineering company Al Habtoor in Dubai, UAE.

April 2011:

More than 5,000 foreign workers from several Asian countries working in six garment factories in Al Tajamouat Industrial City, Jordon, went on strike over pay and poor working conditions, Workers had reportedly paid huge sums of money to obtain the initial work contracts in Jordon. However, the employers refused pay rises saying that it would drive them out of business.

 (First published in The Human Factor)

“India is at the forefront of skilled workforce in health sector”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The skills of the medical professional should be able to deal with both clinical issues and technology, says Dr. Anoop Misra, Director, Centre of Internal Medicine (CIM), Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj.

Q1. With rapid advancements in technology, new opportunities have opened up for healthcare workers. Where does India stand when it comes to skilled workforce in healthcare sector?

Ans.  India is at the forefront of skilled workforce in health sector, at least for last decade. However, the prime concern is maintenance of quality of this workforce, given anecdotal impression that the quality may be declining.

Q2. The newly-constituted Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC) has committed to skill 4.8 million healthcare professionals over the next 10 years. How significant is the move?

Ans. This is a CII initiative, and seems to have constructive intention. I do not know the modus operandi of this council, and how they plan to achieve what they have set out for. Overall, it is a major task, and one that needs multiple stakeholders, and with prime role of government and government bodies linked to medical education and skill development. To my mind, the council must be led consistently and efficiently to achieve goals and this job needs help of multiple leaders with proven track record in teaching, training and skill development.

The leaders must be with academic background and must have enough time for development of this Council. Finally, it must have a watch-dog body to overlook work efficiency of task masters and achieve time-bound goals. To my mind, while it is a wonderful idea, it appears to be in skeletal mode at present, and needs considerable flesh and blood.

Q3. The availability of qualified, trained and skilled workforce is critical to healthcare sector’s growth. How long will it take for India to be at par with US or UK?

Ans. I think we have trained health workforce, but in terms of final execution of tasks and quality of task, the performance remains average. There are a number of reasons for this: declining standards of training, medical curriculum out of sync with rapidly changing knowledge and technology, inadequate regulations for renewal of medical knowledge from time to time, absence of medical audit, and inconsistent punitive action in case of medical negligence.

Q4. There are a range of career opportunities in health care sector. Some positions grow at a faster rate than others, but demand for skilled professionals never fades. What are the basic skills healthcare professionals should possess?

Ans. They should have adequate knowledge and skills and should be in a position to practice ethical and humane values. Most importantly, they should be able to update their knowledge and skills from time to time as appropriate to the specialty. Finally, they should be ready for a lifetime of dedication and service.

Q5. Do you think there is a need for skill-oriented syllabus, with a more significant component of practical training, to make fresh doctors valuable immediately after graduation?

Ans. Yes, certainly. However, this should be brought about when there is adequate theoretical knowledge, otherwise there will always be gaps in management. The internship (which currently is after 4 and half years of lectures and training), should be in phases and introduced early. The training and examination should be in problem-solving mode. The skills of the medical professional should be able to deal with both clinical issues and technology. Centers of Excellence must be created, which may impart focussed and enhanced training in a particular specialty.

Q6. Is there enough investment made by government and private institutions in healthcare capacity building for providing healthcare education and training?

Ans. Most of the investment is from government side and small but it is rapidly increasing from private players. The best model is the blend of public-private partnership to incorporate high points of both.

Q7. There is a feeling that the training in the community-setting rather than the hospital-setting can help in changing the theoretical orientation to practical orientation? What’s your take?

Ans. Both are equally required. Hospital training is for management of complex and acute medical conditions, while community training is for preventive and family-oriented medicine of common and not-so-complex medical problems. For three dimensional medical-care, the students need to rotate through both scenarios.

Q8. How can the high quality e-learning resources be blended with face-to-face teaching for medical professionals to raise their standards?

Ans. Both could be combined effectively. Different modules for e-learning can be introduced, linked to CME credit points (usual practice in USA). The medical professional needs to read this e-module, answer questions, earn credit pints. However, a system must be in place (like that in USA) where these credit CME points could be used to maintain the medical practice license. If this is so, the knowledge and skills of medical professionals will be updated periodically

Q9. While there has been significant rise in private hospitals in recent years, the scenario of public health sector continues to b depressing. Do you think skill development programs can help bridge the gap between public and private sectors?

Ans. Yes, it is likely. However, up-gradation of technology, improvement of work environment, implementation of work timings and efficiency in professional manner to attain quality markers should accompany skills development in government sector. In this context, NABH accreditation is also an important and supportive measure. To my mind, a long distance must be travelled to achieve this, in short time and effective manner.

(First published in Hindustan Times)

West, the breeding ground for terrorism

Syria, more than two years into the foreign-sponsored militancy

 

“There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism,” notes Noam Chomsky in widely-acclaimed book Western State Terrorism. “One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. It comes as no surprise that the propagandistic approach is adopted by governments generally, and by their instruments in totalitarian states.” Chomsky maintains that there are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States puts its rivals to shame when it comes to perpetuating ‘international terrorism’. A 2010 research undertaken by Professor Marc Sageman of University of Pennsylvania lends credence to what Chomsky says. The research findings establish the fact that terrorism is a product of the West.

Let’s make no bones about it, the menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed Western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance, and keeping intimidating and threatening the non nuclear weapon states.The history of US imperialism is replete with stories of unilateral belligerent military strikes, gory massacres and socio-cultural aggression. In this no-holds-barred brinkmanship, the US and its allies have sought to impose their writ on other nations, more so on those who have refused to swear allegiance to Uncle Sam’s hegemony. The blatant war-mongering and sinister desire to inflict suffering on others is best explained by these words of American writer Andre Vltchek. “West has always behaved as if it had an inherited, but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the world. In many cases, the conquered nations had to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of beliefs and values that we define as ‘civilized’.

Guatemala Civil War that continued from 1960 to 1996 was bitterly fought between the government of Guatemala and ethnic Mayans, in which the government of Guatemala committed worst human rights abuses and engineered genocide of Mayan population of Guatemala. Historical Clarification Commission set up under the Oslo Accords of 1994 concluded that the Guatemala military committed murder, torture and rape with the tacit support of CIA. The commission stated the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations.” Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants writes, “Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.”

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of over 35,000 people. The Vietnam War dominated 30 long years of Vietnam’s history from 1940s to 1970s. President Ford, reacting to Senate and House committee reports, conceded that the CIA had become a ‘rogue elephant’ crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. More than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist ‘agents’ from South Vietnam.

American role in the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador in 1980s was a watershed moment for the country. Bush family loyalists maintain that President Bush senior’s policies paved the way for peace, turning Salvador into a democratic success story. However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and grave human rights violations, before peace was brokered. To crush the rebels, the US trained an army that kidnapped and killed more than 30,000 people, and presided over large-scale massacre of old, women and children.

In the mid-1970s, a major scandal broke out after revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to ‘make the economy scream’ in Chile and to prevent Allende from coming to power. Years later, CIA acknowledged its deep involvement in Chile where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins. In a review of Lubna Qureshi’s book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: US Involvement in the 1973 Coup in Chile, Howard Doughty writes, “The United States and its allies have an unseemly history of hostility to democracy abroad that seems to conflict with their expressed political principles and their stated purpose in engaging in military and diplomatic action abroad. Not only in Latin America, but in Africa, Asia and occasionally in Europe, it has openly and clandestinely supported dictatorships.”

The US government’s cozy relationship with its illegitimate offspring Israel is no secret. It has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and umpteen UN resolutions. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk draws parallels between Israel and apartheid regime of South Africa. “No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks.”

Likewise, Columbia, arguably one of the most violent countries in the world, is the beneficiary of massive US aid. Some political observers like Professor John Barry are of the opinion that US influence has only managed to catalyze internal conflicts and substantially expand the scope and nature of human rights abuses in Colombia. And ironically, most American people remain naïve about the shady role of their country in Colombia’s historical development and the unremitting violence.

In Cuba, America’s record is again appalling. It has been involved in attempted assassinations of state heads, bombings, military invasions, crippling sanctions et al. And, recent reports suggest that the US government’s covert attack on Cuba’s sovereignty continues unabated. Even after half a century, economic blockade remains in force. The country has been designated a ‘terrorist state’, figuring prominently on the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. The five Cuban political prisoners are still behind bars. Now a report from the US General Accounting Office reveals that money is being pumped into projects directed at changing Cuba’s government.

Washington’s support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua between 1981 and 1990 is one of the most shocking and shameful secrets. The heinous terrorist activities contras engaged in had full backing of their masters in Washington. “The decision of the International Court of Justice in June 1986 condemning the United States for the ‘unlawful use of force’ and illegal economic warfare was dismissed as an irrelevant pronouncement by a ‘hostile forum’,” notes Noam Chomsky in Western State Terrorism. “The guiding principle, it appears, is that the US is a lawless terrorist state and this is right and just, whatever the world may think, whatever international institutions may declare.”

On March 8, 1985, in an assassination bid on Sheikh Mohammed Fazlullah by CIA, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a Beirut mosque in Lebanon, leaving 81 civilians dead. Celebrated investigative reporter Bob Woodward says that CIA director William Casey had admitted personal culpability in the attack while he lay on his deathbed, which he said was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. In December 1989, almost 27,000 US soldiers invaded a small Central American country of Panama to arrest General Manuel Noriega, a CIA asset-turned-rebel. In the ‘Operation Just Cause’, bombs rained down on three neighborhoods – Colon, San Miguelito and El Chorrillo. El Chorrillo was burnt to the ground and got a new nickname – ‘Little Hiroshima’. As per conservative estimates, between 2,000 and 6,000 people were killed in the events that unfolded. Many of them were dumped into mass graves.

Congo has been through violent times since its independence. Many observers trace it to the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo, which was apparently done at the behest by the then U.S. President Eisenhower. In Haiti, the U.S. backed the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, during which the CIA worked closely with death squads, executioners, and drug traffickers. The father-son duo’s three decades at helm was marked by brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of secret police and the Haitian army. Thousands were killed and tortured – many of them dumped in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands fled the country to escape from mindless violence.

The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault since Vietnam War. The news was blocked as the US government didn’t want the world to witness the great superpower bashing up a small island nation. Why did the United States invade Grenada? “Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states,” opines Stephen Zunes, author of Tinderbox: US Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism. “Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests.”

In Greece, America supported a coup against an elected leader George Papandreou, which followed the years of murder, torture, and fear in the late 1960s. In Cambodia, the US resorted to carpet bombing to overthrow President Prince Sihanouk, who was replaced by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and that led to millions of civilian casualties between mid 1950s and 1970s. In 1965, which New York Times called ‘one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history’, US embassy had compiled lists of ‘Communist’ operatives in Indonesia, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and handed them over to the army, which then hunted them down and killed.

Between 1946 and 1958, the US used the Marshall Islands to conduct nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to flee their homes. It is still not safe to consume food grown there. In the words of Robert Alvarez, “the people of the Marshall Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security interests of the United States”. The nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remain the darkest chapter of history. Almost 150,000 people paid for their lives instantly, while millions more died of radiation poisoning later. Truman ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. The same day, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese and, in the following two weeks 84,000 Japanese were killed.

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator. The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent. That was before Ayatullah Khomeini mobilized masses and threw out the Western puppet.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor of international law, in an article written in November 2001 maintained that the bombings of Afghanistan by the United States were illegal. His argument was based on the premise that, according to UN Charter, disputes have to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Also, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans. Twelve years down the line, the foreign military troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, hundreds of billion dollars have been spent, and at least 31,000 people in Afghanistan (civilians, insurgents, Afghan military forces, and others) have been killed in the war.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine, used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, writes Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalisation of Poverty. More than a decade after US invaded Iraq, it’s still not clear why they did it. But it’s a fact, even acknowledged by the western media, that the war for Iraq was a war for oil. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” reads a CNN report

There is this concept of ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism’. For the US and its closest ally Israel, the Tunis bombing was not an act of terror but justifiable retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus. The 1985 Iron Fist operation of the Israeli army in southern Lebanon was also guided by the same logic. “From 1945 to the end of the 20th century, the USA attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the USA caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair,” writes William Blum in his book Rogue State. It will not qualify as ‘terrorism’ because the perpetrator is the world’s only super-power. In a 1986 interview, Noam Chomsky argued that the word “terrorism” had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups – what he refers to as “retail terrorism”. This is in contrast with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often exclude from consideration.

The political leaders and scholars in Muslim countries have to muster courage to condemn the so-called ‘good’ terrorism spearheaded by US and its allies like Britain, Israel, France. On May 09 this year, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani took the lead, blaming the West for spreading terrorism across Asia, and warning that the policy will ultimately backfire. “This evil phenomenon is the gift of the West to the region, but nurturing terrorist and extremist groups is bad and worrying even for the future of Western countries, notably the United States,” said Larijani.

Today, the war drums are beating again, and this time the target is Syria. “By ordering air strikes against Syria without UN Security Council support, Obama will be doing the same as Bush in 2003,” writes Hans Blix, Swedish diplomat and politician. Blix was the head of United Nations monitoring, verification and inspection commission from March 2000 to June 2003, which searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately finding none.

President Obama and Kerry look adamant even though there is no favorable international climate for a Syria strike. Arab League has refused to support the call for military intervention. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and some other Arab countries forthrightly have also denounced the idea. NATO has also expressed reluctance in supporting the strike, citing past experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the US still goes ahead and launches the military strike against Syria, Iran and Russia will also get into the act and so will Hezbollah, and that will lead to disastrous consequences for peace in the Middle East. But does Obama care? You know the answer.

~ Zafar