Dec 2006 - Celebrate those who ensured our liberties

01 June 2013

It is easy to become complacent about some of the freedoms and liberties we enjoy in this country. Trade unionists – quite rightly – are constantly seeking improvements and advances, and in the process we can easily forget how fortunate we are. We take for granted our right to criticise our employers and demonstrate against government decisions. It is not something we feel we need to feel grateful for – it is just a part of our society. Living in the UK, we can’t imagine a society in which this is illegal or impossible.

I was forcibly reminded of this last month when I was invited to a breakfast meeting organised by Justice for Colombia at which its workers spoke about the campaigns, reports and delegations they have organised in the campaign’s four years of existence. I felt conflicting emotions when they spoke about people who had been released from prison at least partly because of publicity and pressure generated by organisations like our own. Partly I was pleased with the success – but I was also angry at the fact these people had been imprisoned at all. They had done no more than we take for granted: they had defended their fellow workers or objected to state repression.

For this, they were imprisoned and often tortured. Worse, many had simply disappeared, to become an anonymous corpse in an unmarked grave.

I have asked our friends from JFC to write an article for this Journal which is on page nine. I hope you will find it as interesting and moving as I did.

None of this is an argument for complacency in the UK. There is much to do to improve conditions in our workplace and liberties in our society. When we do so, we not only improve our own situation – we also raise the level to which others can aspire. But it is important to be aware of the situation of other working people throughout the world. It makes us aware of a moral obligation to assist fellow trade unionists in less privileged countries – but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on how much our labour and trade union movement has achieved over the past century.

In particular it reminds us of how much we owe to the courage and sacrifices of all those who have been ASLEF members before us. When the founders of our union began their crusade they risked being blacklisted, unable to earn a wage because they were refused work by employers for being ‘agitators’. We enjoy the fruits of their bravery and commitment

Let’s remember them with pride over the coming festive season.

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