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Building unity and power in Thailand

10 April, 2014For more than a month, 600 striking Michelin workers have been camping in front of the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok. On 9 April, IndustriALL Global Union together with all affiliates in the newly formed Confederation of IndustriALL Labour of Thailand met the workers to show global support for their struggle.

A majority of the 800 workers at the Michelin plant in Thailand went on strike more than a month ago, when company management tried to impose a fixed three-year bargaining agreement against union demands to negotiate annual adjustments of bonus and wage increases.

The workers, represented by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate TAW/TEAM, walked out and picketed the entrance of the company. However, after several incidents of intimidation, including shots fired against their cars, demonstrators deemed it was safer to occupy the entrance to the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Fernando Lopes and leadership from the newly formed Confederation of IndustriALL Labour of Thailand (CILT), which brings together the auto, metal, textile, chemical & petrol workers of Thailand, met with the union committee and addressed the striking workers. The majority of the workers are very young and many are women. The workers listened to messages of worldwide solidarity and support, as well as encouragement for their fight to improve their working conditions.

IndustriALL union building project

As many leaders and participants expressed during the two-day workshop held to launch a new Union Building project with the CILT in Bangkok, anti-union violations occur daily in Thailand, without any media coverage and in total impunity.IndustriALL affiliates confirmed their commitment to work together to improve their communication and campaigning skills, to build up their capacity to organise and educate workers about their rights and to “organise, organise, organise”.

One of the campaigns bringing the industrial unions in Thailand together is their demand that the Government ratifies ILO Conventions 87 & 98.

Yongyuth, TEAM’s general secretary, gave several examples from the garment, electronics and auto industries, where less than 50 per cent of the workers have permanent contracts and workers are brutally harassed by employers when they seek to join unions:

Freedom of Association does not exist in Thailand, and in particular not in the garment industry. It is considered to be a “special economy”, where workers, operating in conditions close to slavery, are expected to show respect and gratitude for their employers and can’t join a union.

The CILT is working towards changing the external image and reality of Thailand, where labour costs are kept low and workers remain docile, to build the industrial workers’ negotiation power and gain decent working conditions for all.

For the coming three years, the IndustriALL Union Building project will focus on developing affiliates' communication and campaigning skills, increase their membership density through strategic and targeted organizing, in particular in the manufacturing supply chains, and build up the capacity of the CILT to act jointly and to grow sustainable and strong national unions in Thailand.