To mark October 1 Labor Day, the Bahrain Australian Youth Movement (BAYM) is offering solidarity to the struggles of Australian workers and attempting to build a bridge of solidarity between Australia and Bahrain.
Please find attached a briefing document regarding the violent crackdown on workers in Bahrain because of both their participation in pro-democracy protests since February last year, and in some cases, just because of their Shia religion. Almost 3000 people have been dismissed from their jobs to date.
Trade unionists have been heavily targeted, with many unlawfully imprisoned and tortured daily. Mahdi Abu Dheeb, for example, President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, was sentenced by a military court to 10 years in prison for calling a strike. He will appear in an appeal court on 21 October 2012.
We are asking trade unions to work with us on a campaign of solidarity with both workers in Bahrain and Bahraini refugees in Australia, many of whom fled after they were fired and threatened with imprisonment. Hussain Ali Ahmed Habib, for example, was fired from his job in the Department of Education in Bahrain alongside 30 other colleagues for protesting. “I was shot by around 40 cluster bullets which are still in my body. I went to a private hospital but I didn’t receive any treatment because the hospital was invaded by military troops”. When he arrived at the Australian border seeking medical treatment, instead of being escorted directly to the hospital he was sent to Villawood Detention Centre.
Bahraini refugees in Australia have many stories to share with Australian workers and vice versa. Please distribute this information amongst your colleagues/members and pass the resolutions (attached and below) at your next members meeting. If you would like a member of BAYM to address a members meeting and/or to keep in touch, please contact Abdulelah Al’hubaishi on 0452 211 581.
Bahrain Australian Youth Movement
BAYM Calls for Solidarity from Australian Trade Union Movement
In April this year, the NSW Upper House unanimously passed resolutions of solidarity with Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement. BAYM is preparing similar motions for the Australian Federal Parliament.
Through the resolutions below, BAYM also seeks to develop meaningful relationships with trade unions to begin building a bridge of communication between the Australian and Bahraini workers movement. BAYM requests that the following resolutions be presented to union members meetings:
Resolutions in Solidarity with Bahraini workers and BAYM
1. This branch notes the continuing protests in Bahrain for democracy and social justice. We recognize and support the Bahraini people’s demands for a fully democratic government, freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary, free and independent trade unions, and basic social rights such as a living wage, affordable housing and secure employment.
2. This branch further notes the wrongful imprisonment and torture of ordinary Bahrainis, including medics, teachers and academics, merely for protesting for basic democratic rights and treating injured protesters.
3. This branch also notes the failure of the Australian government to take effective and meaningful action in support of democracy and human rights in Bahrain.
4. This branch therefore calls for:
a. The immediate release of, and dropping of all charges against, all those imprisoned for protesting for democracy and social justice in Bahrain.
b. The reinstatement of, and full compensation for all workers dismissed unfairly because of their involvement in the pro-democracy movement.
c. The recognition of full rights for Bahraini workers to freely associate and form trade unions, as according to International Labor conventions.
d. The Australian Federal Parliament to pass BAYM resolutions in solidarity with Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement and to call for the immediate instatement of a democratically elected civilian government in Bahrain.
e. The Australian trade union movement, and in particular the education and health unions, to organize a campaign of solidarity with the imprisoned medics, teachers and other political prisoners in Bahrain. In particular to express solidarity with Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jalila Al Salman (BTA) on October 21 2012 when they face the appeal court.
5. This branch further resolves:
a. To send a message of solidarity to workers in Bahrain.
b. Invite a BAYM representative to address union members meetings
c. To circulate information about the situation in Bahrain amongst our members and publish relevant articles in upcoming union publications. d. To affiliate in solidarity with the Bahraini Australian Youth Movement
e. To write to Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr demanding that the Australian Government place political pressure on the US and UK to end arms sales to Bahrain and demand the immediate release of all political prisoners and reinstatement of all dismissed workers.
f. To reiterate BAYM calls for: Australians to understand the contexts of violence that force people to seek asylum, an end to mandatory detention, an end to deportations and an end to offshore processing. Refugee policy must be developed in accordance with Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
Bahrain Australia Youth Movement Supporting Australian Trade Unions
To mark International Labor Day this year the Bahrain Australian Youth Movement (BAYM) joined Sydney May Day rally in solidarity with the struggles of Australian workers while their counterparts in Bahrain were met with tear gas and fierce repression by security forces.
Similarly, on October 1, BAYM would like to extend solidarity to workers in NSW, SA and ACT and support their calls for improved working conditions. Recognizing the importance of sharing experiences of struggle, BAYM would like to inform the Australian trade union movement of the challenges currently facing workers in Bahrain.
Inspired by the Arab Spring, the latest wave of pro-democracy uprisings in Bahrain began on 14 February 2011. Protesters are calling for an end to the oppressive regime of the Al-Khalifa monarchy, a democratically elected government and basic civil liberties.
Abdulnabi described how trade unionists have been heavily targeted under the crackdown with many union leaders imprisoned and tortured for their involvement in protests and strikes.
She invited solidarity from the Australian trade union movement, “Lawyers, journalists, medical staff, teachers and even students have been targeted, arrested and tortured… Please we are looking for your solidarity”.
Repression of democracy movement in Bahrain
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has thus far documented over 100 killings by government security forces, over 3000 cases of torture and 750 political prisoners. Children as young as 11 years old have been imprisoned while over 90 children under the age of 18 are currently detained; some of these children have received sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment. Arrests of children comprise approximately 26.6% of total arrests
Daily terror campaigns are waged against civilian villages involving tear gas and rubber/bird shot bullet assaults. On average around 15 villages are targeted each night. Tear gas is shot directly into people’s homes, usually in the late evening when there are no protests. Health services have been militarized and injured protesters/civilians are often arrested from health clinics. This year security forces have attacked all funeral processions for martyrs. The violence continues to escalate.
The Al Khalifa regime and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and the US, attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the democracy movement by characterizing it as a ‘sectarian conflict’. Whilst it is true that Bahrain’s Shia majority is systemically repressed by the ruling Sunni minority which is evidenced in legislated discrimination such as the exclusion of Shia from employment in certain areas of the public sector, it must be emphasized that popular calls for democracy are not sectarian in nature.
Sectarianism and the working class in Bahrain
It is the Al Khalifa regime who has a history of employing sectarian tactics to fragment Bahrain’s working class not the other way around.
For example, the Al Bander Report, published by the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development in 2006,implicated the government in a policy of social engineering whereby the migration of foreign Sunni workers was increased in order to reduce the Shia majority in workplaces. This serves as a divisive tactic to prevent coordinated industrial action.
Furthermore, Shia citizens are excluded from employment in the Bahraini military, police force and intelligence agency. Shia citizens cannot buy land or houses in 48% of the country and in Shia areas checkpoints and random military searches are the norm. “Welcome to Arab apartheid‟ has become a common piece of graffiti in Bahrain.
Bahraini Trade Unions and Strike calls in the 2011 uprising
The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU) brings together 70 trade unions and represents around 20,000 workers. Two days following the government crackdown on protests in Manama on February 17 2011, the GFBTU called for a general strike, demanding the withdrawal of security forces.
As part of the crackdown, schools were raided and students targeted by security forces provoking the Bahraini Teachers’ Association (BTA) to issue a similar statement and call a strike demanding for a constitutional monarchy, an elected government and for those responsible for killing civilians to be held accountable. The BTA and it’s President Mahdi Abu Dheeb played a leading role in agitating for industrial action.
The GFBTU and BTA then called off the strikes after the security forces made a temporary withdrawal, but attacks and victimizations of trade unionists increased over the following weeks. Another call for a general strike on 15 March by GFBTU was supported by the shipyard workers’ union, the BTA and other unions.
After a week, the federation leadership called off the strike after having received assurances from the government that workers would not be victimized for taking part in pro-democracy protests.
Victimization of workers and Jail for union leaders in Bahrain
Bahraini Government promises to respect workers’ rights to strike and peaceful protest clearly meant little.
The GFBTU documented almost 3000 workers had been dismissed, suspended and/or victimized for their involvement in peaceful pro-democracy activities. 75.9% of the affected employees worked either in the public sector or in state-owned companies. Over 14,500 people (an estimated 13% of Bahraini families) were affected by these lay-offs without any compensation to date.
A small percentage of sacked workers were reinstated following international condemnation, however, they returned to work in poorer conditions. Many were forced to sign new contracts, were demoted, deprived from compensation for the dismissal period, deprived from leaves, had their salaries cut, and/or were forced to sign pledges not to be active in any political or civil society organization.
Since 12 June 2011, 52 unionists have been sacked, eight of them members of the GFBTU. A media campaign was launched to harass and intimidate union activists who were named and publicly threatened. Many unions were accused of conspiring to overthrow the regime, receiving orders from external sources and themselves ordering sacked employees to participate in protests.
Some members of the GFBTU were threatened with legal action should they refuse voluntary resignation from their positions within the Federation and there have been instances where entire boards of directors or a majority of them were dismissed due to their participation in union activities.
Rula al-Saffar, President of Bahrain Nursing Society, was arrested and tortured for five months last year alongside 19 other medics. Their crime was to treat injured protesters.
In a detailed interview she described, “My detention is similar to all other people’s detention. The torture starts from 5pm till 3am. We were deprived from sleeping, we were beaten, we were electrocuted, we were sexually harassed, threatened with rape… Then they take you back to your cell and ask you to sing the national anthem”.
Whilst Al-Saffar and nine of her colleagues were acquitted of all charges last June, three medics remain in prison and 28 are yet to face court. Health services are still under military control, forcing people to rely on home clinics staffed by first aiders trained by the Bahrain Nursing Society.
Mahdi Abu Deeb, President of Bahrain Teachers’ Association was arrested alongside other union leaders for organizing a strike. Abu Deeb and other teachers were sentenced by a military court to between three and ten years imprisonment.
On 12 February, 2012 Abu Deeb started a hunger strike calling for the release of all political prisoners. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that hundreds of teachers who participated in strikes and demonstrations have been dismissed or targeted for other retaliation by the government.
Mahdi Abu Deeb, alongside Jalila Al-Salman (Deputy Chair of BTA), will appear in the appeal court on October 21 2012. Education International alongside Laborstart have waged an international campaign of solidarity calling for immediate release of all imprisoned teachers and demanding that Bahraini authorities respect rights to peaceful assembly, fair trial and freedom of expression.
Bahraini refugees in Australia were sacked and persecuted
Many BAYM members are refugees who gained asylum in Australia following the 2011 crackdown.
Abdulelah Al-Hubaishi (pictured on the left), a 34 year old civil engineer and father of two, said: “I was sacked from my job as a civil engineer along with twenty other colleagues because of my protest activities in Bahrain. I was in danger of being arrested and tortured”.
He continued, “When I arrived at the Australian border, immigration scolded me and said I should not have protested for democracy in my country. I was sent to Villawood detention center.
“What crime had I committed to be detained? I was fleeing prison in my country then I was put in prison here. What had I done wrong? I had the right to come to this country because my life was in danger. Everybody has the right to live!”. To listen to full interview, click here.
BAYM strongly advocates against the criminalization of asylum seekers in Australia and calls for an immediate end to mandatory detention, deportations and offshore processing. Refugees must be welcomed with a strong understanding of the contexts of violence and dispossession that have forced them to seek asylum in the first place.