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Why Mandela's legacy lives on

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The values of solidarity and equality that Mandela stood for are as important today as they were during apartheid

This week South Africa is celebrating the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on 18 July.

And in the UK a new exhibition at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London charts the major moments from his life and the history of his struggle against apartheid.

Apartheid was a state system of exploitation based on institutionalising laws and practices that cemented division and hate as fundamental pillars of South African society.

By defeating apartheid, Nelson Mandela and the ANC won a victory for democracy and human rights, not only for South Africa but for the entire world.

Trade unionists played a major part in supporting and sustaining the struggle against apartheid.

That’s why we too are using this week to reflect on what Mandela achieved, and to continue fighting for the better world he wanted to build.

The fight goes on

Unfortunately, the values of freedom and democracy that Mandela fought for have not been reflected by Western governments of late.

So far this year we’ve witnessed:

  • The Italian and Maltase governments actively undermining international maritime law by denying ships carrying rescued migrants permission to dock at their ports. Nearly 1,500 people have drowned in the Mediterranean fleeing war and poverty this year.
  • Donald Trump pulling the United States of America out of the United Nations Human Rights Council and instituting a policy that has resulted in babies being torn from their mother’s arms and migrant children being locked in cages.
  • Viktor Orban’s Hungarian government continue to flout the UN Convention on Human Rights by introducing laws that mean jail time for people or organisations deemed to be hiding ‘illegal’ immigrants.

Meanwhile the Windrush scandal in Britain has exposed how laws introduced to create a hostile environment for migrants have systematically targeted British citizens and others.

As a result, many people have lost their homes, jobs, access to healthcare and even been detained and deported.

Workers’ rights are human rights

The values of solidarity and equality upon which trade unions were founded are as relevant today as they were during the struggles against apartheid.

We know that the rights of workers – whoever they are and wherever they come from – are the only way to guarantee that systems of democracy and accountability are in place and that human rights are respected.

After all, as Nelson Mandela once said:

The achievement of our rights as citizens and our rights as workers should indeed be celebrated together. Our history has made them inseparable. Trade union struggles have been part of our fight for freedom and justice. And organised workers were a vital force in the final years that dealt the death blow to apartheid.

That force is still needed to defeat the exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable that we see today.