ACT NOW to help Kenyan trade unionist fined for backing his members on strike

Francis Atwoli Francis Atwoli is the leader of the Kenyan Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union, and also General Secretary of the Kenyan union federation COTU. This month, he was fined 500,000 Kenyan Shillings (around £3,700), plus legal costs, for refusing to call off a strike by tea workers two years ago.

At the time, his union were working with employers seeking to mechanise Kenya's tea picking industry. Many firms negotiated with the union to do this sensitively, concerned to protect their workers' livelihoods, but the Kenya Tea Growers Association forced through changes in controvention of their bargaining agreement. As100,000 workers faced the threat of losing their livelihoods, they decided to strike.

Despite the union giving three times the legally required notice, to give more chance for a negotiated settlement, the employers waited until the strke had actually begun before going straight to the High Court of Kenya for an emergency injunction. Having complied with the law, Francis refused to stop the strike in the face of this highly irregular move by the High Court.

The strikers won in just 2 days, helped in no small part by Francis who when employers locked plantation compounds to keep workers isolated inside hired a helicopter to fly over the fence and help keep the strike solid. Soon afterwards though, Francis was summoned to the Court. His case took two years, ending on October 12th, when he was taken to the cells until the union paid up.

This hits the union movement in one of the world's poorest countries very hard, potentially restricting their activities for the future. Indeed there's some evidence that this chilling effect on unions is precisely what the employer wanted to achieve, seeking to avoid another strike as effective as the last.

So the global union movement wants to help show Francis and the Kenyan unions some practical solidarity. We aim to pay the union's costs for them to demonstrate that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that we will not be intimidated by rich and powerful employers.

Please help if you can with a donation, no matter how small. Going To Work are working with the ITUC to pass the money on to Francis' union, along with the solidarity of thousands of trades unionists worldwide.

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Terms: The TUC (Trades Union Congress, Great Russell St, London, WC1B 3LS) will send all funds donated through Going To Work, afterPayPal payment processing fees, via the ITUC to KPAWU and COTU. For information on your donation or if you need to seek a refund, please write to us using our contact page.