We can all be ’Heroes’

As part of the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will screen the world premiere of Working Class Heroes at the ILO Cinema Room in Geneva on Thursday, 13 June.

This documentary uncovers the struggles of trade unionists in Indonesia and Colombia fighting for social justice and welfare for all, as well as a fair share for workers in middle-income countries which are currently experiencing high economic growth.

It is widely acknowledged that addressing inequality should be at the heart of the post-2015 Development Agenda. The landscape of global poverty has changed.

Today 960 million poor people live in middle-income countries. This ‘new bottom billion’ accounts for 72 per cent – almost three-quarters – of the world’s poor.

Indonesia and Colombia are an example of two emerging economies where workers benefit little from the economic growth. Unions that want to put union rights into practice meet fierce opposition.

For example, Working Class Heroes shows that our mobile phones made by Samsung and the coal imported to provide us with heat when it is cold, come at a high price for the workers, their families and leaders.

The documentary offers a dual portrait of trade union leaders, both in Indonesia and in Colombia.

The union leaders Said Iqbal from Indonesia (from the ITUC-affiliated Indonesian Trade Union Confederation, or KSPI, and the IndustriALL-affiliated Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers’ Union, or FSPMI) and Igor Karel Diaz from Colombia (from the IndustriALL-affiliated National Union of Coal Industry Workers, or Sintracarbón) have, for many years and with considerable success, devoted themselves to securing social and labour rights for their fellow citizens, metal workers and mineworkers.

Their struggle is exemplified by the Indonesian female worker of an electronics factory and the Colombian worker of the Cerrejón coalmine, followed by the filmmakers Huub Ruijgrok and Arno Van Beest at home and at work.

Some say mobile phones are more important for people than human rights. I would say on the contrary: workers and trade union members in Indonesia are using mobile phones to get their human rights – even when working in a mobile phone assembly plant.

When Said Iqbal received the FNV Febe Elisabeth Velasques Award for trade union rights at the FNV Congress last month, an online news article reporting this, received 82,272 Facebook hits in Indonesia – in just one day!

These hits came from workers who are increasingly aware that the right to organise is essential. They are the real Working Class Heroes and they deserve a fair share of their country’s economic growth.