Five things… to be proud of

This month Deputy EO and International Programs Manager, Ken Davis, shares five movement building moments from Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s history. We can be very proud of the part we play in supporting unions and allied movements to bring about substantial change.

  1. New Caledonia/Kanaky
    In the 1990s the indigenous people of New Caledonia, the Kanaks, were struggling for independence from France, and HIV was looming as a big threat. Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA supported the grassroots indigenous health movement, Developpement d’une Sante Pour le Peuple en Kanaky, (ADSPPK) to work on HIV prevention and primary health in villages across Kanaky, using Australian indigenous health promotion workers and issuing ten HIV leaflets in local indigenous languages, the first time these languages were written, other than for the Bible. This support to a grassroots movement was a strategic contribution to overall struggle for independence, alongside support for the indigenous union movement, USTKE. APHEDA played a key role in Australia and with unions in solidarity with the struggle against colonialism in the Pacific.


  1. South Africa
    The trade union movement was the engine that drove the democratic revolution, and the strongest of the social movements after the first democratic elections in 1994. Already Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA was working with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on HIV, which was starting to heavily impact on union members and families. In 2002, COSATU, with funds from Australia, issued a manual on HIV for all shop stewards, explaining both transmission and workers’ rights issues. Support from Australia enabled COSATU and South African unions to mobilise strongly with the mass action Treatments Action Campaign that won globally significant victories against Big Pharma and reluctant governments to ensure working people could get the medicines they need.


  1. Cambodia
    In 1998, APHEDA worked with the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency to organise sex workers in the Toul Kork red-light district of Phnom Penh to fight for their rights against brothel owners, police and clients, and to maximise condom use to prevent HIV. The Cambodian Prostitutes’ Union campaigns for workers’ rights and for occupational health and safety, and is made up of women in the sex industry, whether they work in the streets, brothels, karaoke bars or beer gardens.


  1. Aceh, Indonesia
    Just after the December 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh, Indonesian unionists created teams to go and help, clearing wells, running mobile clinics and building shelters. The Australian and international union movement, through Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA was able to build on that, establishing an office to assist with rebuilding and with skills training. Part of the efforts were to rebuild the offices of WAHLI, the local Friends of the Earth branch. Working with the unionists who had survived the tsunami, we helped rebuild the local branches of Indonesian unions, and to establish new Aceh- based unions. Since 2005 we have been supporting local training, networking and advocacy for 28 unions in Aceh.


  1. Pakistan
    With our sister organisation from Finland, and with the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) in Pakistan, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA has been contributing to a project to organise women home-based workers, who do piece rate manufacturing at home of bangles, bags, hair ties, embroidery, and similar items, for contractors and shops who take very high profit margins. LEF starts with literacy groups, and then helps neighbourhoods create grassroots civic committees to identify and solve immediate issues, such as pollution or violence. Later they have teams of women who go door to door to meet with home based workers and identify common problems, joining the women into groups that can negotiate together with the contractors or find help with occupational health and safety problems.

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