“The Arab Spring is a courageous stand for freedom and decent work”

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One year after the Egyptian revolution toppled Mubarak, Diana Holland, Unite Assistant General Secretary addressed Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa 'demonstration for a human rights revolution' in Trafalgar Square, on 11 February 2012. Her speech is copied below.

Amnesty International demonstration

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'I am honoured to bring the warmth of the trade union movement to this powerful demonstration in support of basic human rights and the people of the Middle East and North Africa, and to pay tribute to Amnesty International for bringing us all together here and across the world.

The one and a half million members of my union Unite, which I am proud to say represents people originally from the Middle East and North Africa, the TUC and Britain's 6 million trade unionists, and the millions of trade unionists internationally in the ITUC.

And as Chair of the International Trade Union Women's Committee, I want to pay a special tribute to women of the Middle East and North Africa, who have led the marches, defied the bullets, carried the banners - women who have stood firm.

In Tunisia, trade unions were the backbone of the revolution.

In Egypt, they operated underground for decades keeping the flame of freedom alive.

And in Libya, new unions are springing forth from the ashes of the dictatorship.

But in Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Bahrain and Iraq, the struggle continues against the most horrifying forces and against terrible odds.

We stand with them in their unfinished revolutions.

They have given every one of us here inspiration and hope - so desperately needed in these times of austerity.

And the achievements have been breathtaking!

Barely twelve months ago, in Egypt, a handful of workers in Tahrir Square declared the birth of a new independent and democratic trade union movement.

Last week, they held their first Congress, gathering some two million workers under their banner.

Today, they are holding a general strike, pushing back the dangerous tide of counter-revolution.

And let me take the opportunity, coming from this country's major transport union, to send a message of solidarity with the International Transport Workers Federation, to the 1200 dockers on strike in Egypt's Port Sokhna in their struggle for justice.

Diana Holland

And we celebrate too that Egypt's Women's movement is part of this struggle. The women's and labour movements can and must walk arm in arm.

In the Middle East and North Africa, two in five young women are out of work - the International Labour Organisation has said that this is the worst rate in the world.

And for those women who have a job, it is still very hard - our sisters have told us of extreme overtime, poverty wages, high levels of sexual harassment.

As we near 8th March International Women's Day this year, I am very proud that International Women's Day last year saw the establishment of the ITUC Arab Women's Network 'Changing for Equality'.

Their declaration and action plan calls for women to be involved on an equal footing with men in the decision making process towards democracy, for trade unions in the region to increase their commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women's rights, and for quotas such as those in Egyptian trade unions, where at least one in four leadership positions must be held by a woman.

And today, we also join as trade unions and Amnesty, to campaign for Jalila Al-Salman a leader of the Bahraini Teachers' Association appealing a six year sentence for her role in leading members in peaceful protest last year.

And we campaign too with the millions of migrant domestic workers across the region working in prison-like conditions - to get governments to sign up to the ILO Convention on the Rights of Domestic Workers - united not just in the Middle East and North Africa, here in the UK and across Europe too.

Our sisters and brothers from Tunis to Tahrir, from Benghazi to Baghdad, have taken a courageous stand for freedom and decent work.

Thank you to Amnesty for bringing together such a tremendous coalition.

We are the 99% - and we are standing up for

Basic human rights

For men

For women

for all.

And in this human rights coalition, we must never forget

that women's rights are basic human rights, too.


To show your solidarity with trade unions in the Middle East, including in Egypt, please donate to the TUC Aid Middle East and North Africa Appeal

For more information see:

ITUC Middle East and North Africa Observatory

A year of Rebellion: Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa

(Both photos have been provided courtesy of Mac Urata. No part of theses photo to be stored, reproduced, manipulated or transmitted by any means without permission. NUJ recommended terms & conditions apply. Moral rights asserted under Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988.)

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