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Mistrusted by the people, Lukashenko tries to shut workers down

20 August, 2020Workers and activists are always on the front line of struggles for change. Belarus is no exception: when the regime failed to fool the world with falsified election results, the population responded with huge rallies.

Despite violent repression, the authorities failed to stop the rallies. They are now focusing their repressive tools on striking workers. While many of the 7,000 people detained since the protests engulfed Belarus on 9 August remain in prison, IndustriALL has received alarming reports that the authorities are using their tools of oppression against workers who took strike action to demand change. 

At 11 am this morning, Dmitri Kudelevich, a member of the strike committee at Belaruskaliy, was reported missing by his colleagues. Another striker, Maxim Filanovich, was also reported missing, but was later able to phone his colleagues. Unions fear that more reports of kidnapped leaders and activists will follow.

Yesterday, the European Commission announced a series of measures to support the people of Belarus. The independent unions in Belarus believe that this is helpful, but not enough to enable people to rebuild democracy. Stronger involvement by the international community is needed, and must focus on workers’ issues. The government is using short-term contracts as an tool for political repression, and any condemnation of oppression in Belarus must contain a commitment to workers’ rights.

IndustriALL, its predecessors and affiliates have closely monitored the situation of trade union rights in Belarus since 2000, when a multi-union complaint was submitted to the International Labour Organization. The reason for the complaint was systematic and repeated violations of workers’ rights, including via a system of short-term contracts used to discipline workers and activists. The short-term contracts led to thousands of union activists losing their jobs for organizing or joining independent unions.

Another reason was draconian laws regulating the creation of independent unions and declaring strikes, resulting in the almost total dismantling of independent and democratic trade unions.

Against a background of continuous economic decline due to the incapacity of the government to deliver a viable economic strategy and attract foreign investment, and in absence of a system of consultation within society – precisely the role of unions – Lukashenko introduced taxes on the unemployed. This shifted responsibility for government failure onto the shoulders of the most vulnerable, leading to a wave of protests in 2017-2018.

Finally, Lukashenko handled Covid-19 badly. His response included denial and insufficient protection measures, leaving the population to deal with the pandemic on their own.

This was the last straw that led people to react strongly to the falsified election results.

Unions fear that Lukashenko will again use his repressive administrative machine to crush those who stand against him. It has already begun: striking workers have started to receive dismissal notifications.

Belarusian unions are calling for international support, saying that workers are first in line for repression, especially the most active and courageous who organize strikes.

The general secretaries of IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe, Valter Sanches and Luc Triangle, released a statement saying:

"Our organizations urge the Belorussian Government to immediately halt the violence, persecution and arrests, and release all imprisoned union leaders, activists, and civil society representatives."

IndustriALL Global Union, uniting the collective interests of more than 50 million industrial workers in 143 countries, calls on our affiliates and the workers of the world to stand in solidarity with the workers of Belarus.