May Day 2021
May Day 2021

May Day: Trade unionists fight for democracy around the world

published 30 April 2021 updated 13 October 2023

On May Day, Education International recognizes and stands with the trade unionists fighting for democracy around the world.

From Myanmar to Hong Kong, to the Philippines, Belarus, Brazil, Haiti, Iran, Yemen and beyond, trade unionists are courageously leading the way towards liberty, human rights, and democracy.

They face attacks, sometimes deadly, from security forces. Trade unionists have been arrested, and some tortured for exercising fundamental rights. Others are targeted by terrorists to snuff out their lives and their freedom. Despite violence, intimidation, and fear, they persevere. Resistance continues.

Women are a key part of this struggle, they have mobilised massively, with thousands protesting and striking - refusing to be intimidated by violence. They have become leaders in the democracy movement. Young people are also joining and leading the way.

The energy and determination of women and young people fuel hope for progress on gender and other inequalities that have intensified during the pandemic and weakened democracy.

Educators are among the first victims of tyrants. They also take the lead in the fight for democracy.

Education trade unionists see democracy through the lens of unions, but also as educators. They understand, often through hard experience, that freedom to teach, like freedom to organise, requires democracy.

Fighting for democracy is not only taking place in countries where activists face bloody attacks and mass arrests. Those cases are visible and dramatic. Trade unionists are confronted with other grave attacks on their unions and on democracy in many insidious forms.

Teacher trade unionists in Bahrain, Cambodia, Jordan, Kenya, and Turkey are fighting for the survival of their unions as a powerful voice for their members. That is also a fight for democracy.

Defending democracy requires countering an avalanche of disinformation and organised hatred which often leads to violence.

The fight for democracy includes preventing its erosion and shoring it up. It means keeping representative institutions healthy. It requires strong and democratic trade unions in the community and at the workplace, as well as critical thinking and active citizenship in the classroom.

Democracy is about more than free and fair elections as important as they are. It is about transparency and accountability and delivering for the people rather than for the few who have more than their fair share of wealth and power.

The fight for democracy takes place in many arenas. It is the fight against inequality and intolerance and for social justice. It is also the fight for climate justice. They are all survival issues. They can all help build a viable global community.

The fight against tyranny and to build strong and sustainable democracies is local, it is also a global trade union struggle. Our shared values and solidarity, in word and deed, are the glue that holds the global trade union movement together. Solidarity means that those on the front lines of this fight are never alone.

Trade unions can only fully and freely function in democracies. Democracies cannot be complete without trade unions. That is why, on May Day 2021, Education International celebrates the brave and determined trade unionists who fight for both.