January 6, 2004

Swaziland: Unions plan more pro-reform protests

Swaziland's labour unions have vowed to stay at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, promising more street demonstrations for 2004. "When bad government policies result in price rises, so wages cannot keep up, then you cannot separate shop floor issues from political issues. When R28 million (US$ 4.3 million) is wasted on a deposit for a luxury jet for the king - and this is money that should go to schools and clinics used by our members - then we are obliged to make our voices heard," Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) Secretary-General Jan Sithole said. He furthermore announced that the SFTU would take the country's new draft constitution, which promised freedom of assembly, at its word. Hence, after the constitution would be ratified by royal decree that year, unionists planned to test the clause by demonstrating for political reforms.

In August labour-led protests against the rule of King Mswati III, demanding the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, were broken up by the police using tear gas and batons. "If the authorities follow their usual instincts and suppress us, which we believe they will, we will mount a court challenge," the Secretary-General said by emphasising that Swazi unionists would seek international support from "partners in union solidarity" such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which had backed the August protest action with a blockade of border posts, and the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organisations. The SFTU leader moreover plans to head a delegation of Swazi unionists to the International Labour Organisation's annual meeting in Geneva in June to present a case against the government's alleged abuse of workers rights. (IRIN)


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