On Labour Day – March for the Freedom to Defend One’s Rights

This year, we will celebrate May Day – International Labour Day – in Lithuania with a march (starting at 11am at the Parliament Square) and a rally demanding that workers’ rights and freedom to strike should not be restricted.

Strike action is often the only means for workers to defend themselves against exploitation at work. It was not without strikes that rights were won that we cannot imagine our working life without today: an 8-hour working day, weekends off, holidays, sickness and unemployment benefits, etc. Without strikes, workers have no real counterweight to employers, who have vast resources and power on their side.

Article 51 of the Lithuanian Constitution states: “Workers shall have the right to strike in defence of their economic and social interests”. However:

  • Current law obliges workers to go through at least three bargaining procedures before they have the right to strike. In practice, these procedures can take up to two years. During this time, employers can prepare for a strike and workers cannot change their demands, otherwise the procedure starts again. As a result, some of the demands raised in collective bargaining simply become irrelevant and obsolete once the bargaining procedures have been completed.
  • The Labour Code prohibits in practice any strike to defend the social interests of workers. Strike action is only allowed on workplace issues. A strike over, for example, inadequate pension reform would therefore be prohibited and considered illegal.
  • Back in the 2000s, the International Labour Organisation called on Lithuania to change the regulation of strikes to ensure that workers’ right to strike is guaranteed. In 2023, the United Nations is still calling on Lithuania to guarantee the right to strike without being obliged to follow formal and unworkable bargaining procedures.
  • The strike is not an end in itself, but it is the most effective means of implementing a fair social dialogue, ensuring corporate democracy and defending workers’ interests in public policy. Without an effective right to strike, collective bargaining is equivalent to begging and social dialogue remains to exist only on paper. In order to achieve a stronger and happier Lithuania, we must guarantee the freedom of citizens to strike, just as we guarantee the right of citizens to organise protests and assemblies freely

In an ideal world, trade unions should be able to declare a strike in accordance with their statutes. This would bring at least some balance between workers and employers. Those who think that this will be abused and that anyone can strike whenever they feel like it are mistaken. No trade union will give itself a death sentence by calling a strike if it knows that the workers are against it.

But it takes time and political will to strike such a balance. And this will, as history shows, usually serves the side with more power – business and capital. This is also demonstrated by the current government’s initiative to further weaken workers’ power.

Under the pretext of allegedly good intentions to strengthen the workers’ movement (without even consulting their representatives!), the draft amendment to the Trade Union Law submitted to the Seimas proposes to impose an additional burden on workers’ organisations by obliging them to provide their activity and financial reports to third parties. This will not only increase the costs of trade unions, which are often not very large and often do not even have employees, but will also make them very vulnerable. Employers, knowing the financial situation of a trade union, will easily be able to manipulate the situation, delaying negotiations even longer through costly legal disputes in the courts. After all, it was not for nothing that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise was adopted to prevent such things from happening, and ratified by Lithuania in 1994. Ratified, and now threatening to violate.

Therefore, on 1 May, which has been attempted many times to be taken away from us, but which is still a public holiday in Lithuania, we must take to the streets and make it clear that we will not only not tolerate the curtailment of workers’ rights, but that we will also demand the real right to strike. Let us give meaning to these demands with a large march down the central street of Vilnius, Gediminas Avenue, and a rally in front of the Government. The march will start at 11 am at the Seimas.

Against the restriction of workers’ rights! For the freedom to strike!

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