Fiji union leader forced out of his post to contest elections

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The long-standing leader of the main Fijian national union centre, Felix Anthony, has stood down from his union post to lead the People’s Democratic Party in the upcoming September elections.

Felix Anthony, who led the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) for 15 years, has warned he is skeptical about the fairness of the upcoming elections, which should end the reign of the coup-imposed dictator Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Under duress Anthony quit all his union positions before announcing he would contest the upcoming elections. The military regime has banned union members from running in the Fijian elections.

The FTUC leader – who has previously been attacked by military thugs for his union work – was also General-Secretary of the economically important Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union.

Due to the draconian election rules, specifically targeting unionists, other senior Fijian union leaders have delayed making announcements about leaving their union posts and contesting the elections.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in its last annual report on violation of trade union rights listed Fiji as one of its top seven countries of risk. The ITUC World Congress being held later this month in Berlin will debate support for Fijian workers and their unions.

Already there is discussion about how best unions in the Asia-Pacific region, and across the globe, can help ensure free and fair elections in September, to end the anti-worker dictatorship.

In the best traditions of trade unionism, Anthony’s election platform for the People’s Democratic Party puts it primary focus on human rights.

Not just re-establishing workers’ rights, but also rights for women and rights to education for all the people of Fiji and iTaukei rights.

Anthony told the Fiji Times the decision to step down as a leader in the trade union movement was not easy.

The Fiji unions created the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after a public falling out, over the role of unions in the political process, with the leaders of the Fiji Labour Party.


Unions abandon Labour Party

Labour – which had once formed government in Fiji – had originally been set up by the unions but its leaders were seen as having abandoned their base.

“The decision to form the People’s Democratic Party was taken after lengthy discussion debate, consultations and a number of national council meetings of FTUC,” Anthony told the Fiji Times.

“It did not happen overnight, it was a process that took months and it was after that on 12 January when we had the special delegates conference in Nadi that the FTUC finally decided to form a political party.”

Anthony has strongly denied that the PDP is simply a Labour break-away.

Felix Anthony has previously accused the Labour leader, and former Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry, of turning his old party into a personal fiefdom which is not responsive to the needs of Fiji working people.

Labour – once a multiracial party – has become a Fiji-Indian only party, according to the former Fiji union leader.

Chaudry has faced embezzlement charges in Fiji – and most commentators believe Fiji Labour has lost most of its original widespread support though some unionists still are part of Labour.

While the FTUC created the People’s Democratic Party, the second Fijian national trade union centre, the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions – a breakaway from the FTUC – is currently lined up behind another political party, the National Federation Party, for this election.

This article was originally published on Working Life.