Union honours teachers fighting for rights abroad


Five inspirational nominees are on the shortlist for the International Solidarity Award 2013, presented annually by the NASUWT.

Five inspirational nominees are on the shortlist for the International Solidarity Award 2013, presented annually by the NASUWT.

They include Malala Yousafzai, 15, the Pakistani school pupil who was shot last year by Taliban marksmen for being an advocate for girls’ right to education. 

Following the incident, which attracted international condemnation, Malala was flow to the UK for treatment.

Two of the other nominees are teacher trade unionists in Bahrain. Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al Salman, of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, were imprisoned by a military court after taking part in peaceful protests calling for greater freedom, democracy and social justice in their country.

Mr Abu Dheeb, who was president of the association, remains in prison after being sentenced to 10 years, later reduced to five, for attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force and inciting hatred of the regime.

Ms Al Salman, who was vice-president, received a five year sentence and has since been released.  She was held in solitary confinement, subjected to torture and sexual assault and other ill treatment and forced to sign “confessions”.

Omar Combita, a teacher and trade unionist from Colombia and another nominee, is currently detained in Eliconia High Security Prison in Caqueta, accused of rebellion.  

Mr Combita, a member of the Colombian teachers’ union FECODE and director of the Santana Ramos Education Centre, was sentenced on the basis of an intercepted phone call with a supposed guerrilla and on a police intelligence report, the content of which has been changed twice.  He is one of nine trade unionist and human rights defenders to be detained for protests against government reforms to education.

Meanwhile, Karen Lewis, a teacher and president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU), a branch of the American Federation of Teachers, has been nominated for her campaign to try to secure fair pay for teachers, stopping the extension of merit pay, protecting benefits, health insurance and sickness entitlement, and better professional development for teachers.

She led the union in the face of a vicious anti-teacher backlash by the mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s business establishment and union-busting groups, which allegedly bank-rolled the opposition.

Despite being faced with anti-strike legislation, the CTU managed to muster a 98 per cent “yes” vote in favour of strike action – the law stated it must be at least 

75 per cent – culminating in the first teachers’ strike in the city in 25 years. Teachers ended the action after securing victory in the dispute.

Dr Patrick Roach, deputy generation secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Our awards are aimed at highlighting the work of individuals and organisations fighting for human rights and the rights of teachers and pupils across the globe, often at great personal risk and detriment to themselves. 

“The nominations show that the attack on trade unionism and access to education is a global phenomenon.”

This year’s winner will be announced at the NASUWT’s annual Easter conference.

CAPTION: Solidarity: Teacher Jalila al Salman was jailed after joining peaceful protests in Bahrain


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