Trade unionists and revolutionary activists in Sudan and Britain exchanged messages of solidarity, pledging support for each others’ struggles at a conference organized by a wide range of unions from both countries on November 6, 2022. The hybrid event brought together around 30 participants in person in London, with around 100 more viewers online. A full report including recordings and transcripts of the speeches will be published shortly; however, you can read the highlights below.
The conference was sponsored by MENA Solidarity (Britain), National Education Union (Britain), Edinburgh TUC (Scotland), Doctors in Unite (Britain), Unite the Union, Barts Health Branch LE384L (Britain), Portsmouth Unison (Britain), Portsmouth TUC (Britain), UCU, Sudanese Teachers’ Committee (Sudan), and TAM – The Alliance of Demand-based Campaigns (Sudan). We had speakers from the NEU and from the UCU alongside nine speakers representing the active forces of the Sudanese Revolution. These included:
- Four Sudanese trade unionists including representatives of the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee, Sudanese Journalists’ Syndicate, the Alternative Port Workers’ Union, Port Sudan and a former union activist from the Kenana Sugar factory who was victimized and sacked due to his union activities and his role in organizing one of the longest industrial strikes in the history of Sudan
- Two civil groups – “No to Women’s Oppression” and “Reparations for Peace and Development”
- TAM – The Alliance of Demand-based Campaigns (represented by a representative of Abyei Civil Society)
- A father of one of the martyrs killed by the army during the massacre of protesters on June 3, 2019 at the sit-in in Khartoum
- A Representative from “Revolutionary Charter for the Establishment of People’s Power”
Trade union solidarity
Louise Regan of the NEU National Executive Committee and one of the organizers of the conference sent this message (read out by Una Doyle of Camden NEU):
“As we in Britain also face attempts by the Tory government and big business to make workers pay for the spiralling economic and social crisis, there is a lot that trade unionists here can learn from these struggles. At the same time, activists in Sudan need our support and solidarity in the face of our government’s collusion with the military regime.”
Louise highlighted how the NEU has worked over the past few years to support Sudanese teachers’ union activists.
“The National Education Union has been active in standing in solidarity with the Sudanese teachers – attending demonstrations, inviting them to our annual conference as international delegates and supporting them in their application to become members of Education International. An international body which organises and campaigns with education unions globally. We have much to learn from the Sudanese teachers and it is a privilege for us to work so closely with them. Solidarity from the National Education Union.”
Justine Mercer, national President-elect from University and Colleges Union (UCU) also addressed the conference. She said:
“I am delighted to bring solidarity greetings, in person, from the University and College Union. UCU represents around 120,000 workers in post-16 education, in universities, Further Education colleges, Adult and Community Education, and prisons. International work is a key element of our mission.
“The UK trade union movement has become a key player in the fight against austerity and the cost-of-living crisis. Over the summer, trade unions and community organizations formed a campaign group called ‘Enough is Enough‘. It is demanding fairer pay, lower energy bills, an end to food poverty and decent homes for all, paid for by taxing the rich. It is turning thousands of people into activists for social justice via meetings, rallies, and demonstrations in every corner of the UK. Obviously, I’m not equating our struggles with the violence and oppression experienced by the Sudanese people. But I am saying the two are connected because both groups of people share a common desire for radical change and social justice.”
Trade unionists from Sudan told the conference about their battles to build independent unions in order to fight for workers’ rights and take part in the struggle for democracy and social justice. Taher Al-Mu’tasim, Secretary of External Relations from Sudanese Journalists’ Syndicate explained how, for the first time in decades, Sudanese journalists were able to hold free elections for their union leadership, 33 years after the coup which brought dictator Omar al-Bashir to power dissolved the union’s executive.
“The Sudanese journalists have endeavoured to unite the various journalistic bodies. On March 26, 2022, they held their first general assembly, and it was a glorious presence of Sudanese journalists who are practising the profession, the profession of trouble. On the 26th of last July, the second general assembly was held, which approved the statute of the Sudanese Journalists Syndicate and elected a committee for elections led by Professor Faisal Mohamed Saleh.
“The Election Commission set the 27th of August as the date for holding the elections. In a bright democratic ceremony, the elections took place. Many of those who attended said that they had never put a ballot paper into the election box in their entire life, and this was their first time.
“In a large demonstration, the elections ended, the results were announced, and the Sudanese press gained its union and its legitimacy, and began accomplishing many goals and setting comprehensive plans to advance the profession of journalism.”
Workers shut down the port
Osman Tahir, president of the Alternative Port Workers’ Union in the Red Sea Ports, told the conference that under the dictator Omar al-Bashir trade unions were run by political parties, “didn’t represent the will of the workers.” Faced with the threat of privatization, workers decided to form their own, independent union to fight the attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.
“A lot of workers answered our call. Our arguments got a hearing in the media, people got to know us because of our resistance to privatization. We were successful in stopping the privatization project, which had been backed by the United Arab Emirates. The UAE did everything in its power to win this battle including providing support to the government because of the strategic location of the Red Sea and the 700 km-long Red Sea coast.”
The battle over the port saw striking workers demonstrate their power to challenge the government in Khartoum and the UAE, Osman said.
“We shut down the port with containers as part of our mass, peaceful collective action. We also played an effective role in the December revolution which toppled the regime of Omar al-Bashir. We were part of the demonstrations which brought down the regime.”
Teachers declare civil disobedience
Sami al-Baqir is from the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee which represents tens of thousands of teachers across Sudan and is leading mass strikes to demand better pay and conditions for teachers and more funding for public education. He told the conference that the STC began organizing resistance to the coup as soon as the military takeover was announced in October 2021.
“In the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee, we agreed that the announcement of the coup means a declaration of civil disobedience in education, and this is exactly what happened. On November 7, 2021, the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee marched a procession rejecting the coup towards the Ministry of Education as the first event that confronted the coup by the professional sectors, and the slogans of the procession exposed the behaviour of the coup which was returning the elements of the former regime to education.
“The procession was met with excessive violence, as more than a hundred teachers were arrested, and a female teacher suffered a broken leg and a broken hand, and another female teacher miscarried while under arrest.”
Workers can paralyse the state
Musab Elrifaii, a trade union activist from Kenana Sugar Factory, where workers organized a month-long strike two years ago, said that the military regime stoked up conflicts in order to try and keep itself in power.
“The people are supposed to be the supreme authority, but they find themselves unable to remove the government because of the various policies that the government uses to silence them, such as distracting them by creating crises and fabricated wars and other means that tyrants always use to stay in power. Workers’ resistance is the most powerful weapon that can paralyse the movement of the state. The narrow stakeholders bow to the demands of the workers, by means of mass pressure and civil disobedience, but often those who pay the price are prominent in any labour movement and are accused of being instigators and subjected to trials or at least dismissal from work.”
‘You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t stop the coming of spring‘
Women and girls have played a key role in the revolution, but they have also faced horrific violence from the state and in wider society. Ahlam Nasir from one of Sudan’s best-known women’s organizations, No to Women’s Oppression, told the conference:
“The human rights situation of girls and women has become bad, as they suffer from state and societal violence, and repression includes violence of all kinds, including sexual violence.”
The social crisis has deepened enormously over the past year, she explained, but this is driving resistance through protests and strikes.
“The economic and social situation is very bad, and the international community has stopped economic support because of the coup, which has led to a third of the population of Sudan suffering from poverty and hunger. Civil service institutions are witnessing a wide protest movement that includes strikes, sit-ins, vigils, and memoranda of demands to improve wages and the work environment. Civil service workers in Kassala State went on strike for twenty days.
“We thank you in the British unions and we wish success for your efforts to improve the conditions of workers in Britain.
“You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t stop the coming of spring.”
A rich culture of struggle
Kisha Abdelsalam is the father of Abdulsalam Kesha who was killed in the massacre of June 3, 2019, when military and Janjaweed militia forces stormed the sit-in outside the Army High Command in Khartoum and murdered over 100 people. He told the conference:
“We are a free people who are deprived of a decent life and cannot exercise our sovereignty as a result of military coups d’état carried out in Sudan by agents of foreign powers and conspiracies to plunder the wealth, capabilities, and resources of this nation. The invincible and unbreakable will of the Sudanese people rests on a rich culture of struggle extending from December 2018 until now, shattering the chains of internal conspiracies in Sudan…. The revolution continues until it reaches its goals.
“The revolution is a revolution of the people, the authority is the power of the people, the military must go back to the barracks, and the Janjaweed are being dissolved.”
Decentralization of wealth
The conference heard how the revolution has posed fundamental questions about the nature of the Sudanese state. Amani Gafaar from Reparations for Peace and Development said stopping the cycle of war and conflict was connected with giving people across the whole of Sudan a say in political decisions and a share of the country’s wealth.
“The Sudanese Revolution will continue, but the ranks have differentiated. We need a new alignment between groups or living forces committed to the slogans of the December revolution and groups demanding guarantees of real change which meet the aspirations of citizens for justice and freedom. This includes closing the file of war and the return of the displaced and refugees to their regions, participation in political decision-making through the decentralization of governance, and the decentralization of wealth. This will allow the enjoyment of the Sudanese state on an equal footing by all citizens, and these changes will be felt across the whole of the state, in school curricula for example, which combat hate speech and are based on principles of human rights and a culture of peace and peaceful coexistence.”
Establishment of a civil state
Yousif Mlouk from TAM – The Alliance of Demand-Based Campaigns, said that ignoring ordinary people’s demands and voices would lead to further injustice and violence.
“Supporting and promoting any attempt to reach a political agreement that ignores the opinion of the Sudanese masses means participation in the dissipation of the values of justice, the deepening of injustice, the continuation of war, the curtailment of freedoms, and the continuation of violations and impunity, that is to say, total destruction.
“Solidarity with the Sudanese Revolution with its multiple forces, the promotion of the people’s choices in freedom, peace, and justice, and the establishment of a civil state, with all its institutions, legislation, and tools to preserve it, becomes a practical and necessary act.”
The Resistance Committees, neighbourhood-based revolutionary bodies which have played a leading role in organizing popular resistance to the military coup, were represented in the conference by Osama Omar of the Revolutionary Charter for the Establishment of People’s Power. He explained how the Charter has been written through discussion and debate organized by Resistance Committees across Sudan and provides a framework for fundamental reforms to the state. The demands of the Charter include transitional justice, a peace conference addressing the root causes of Sudan’s internal conflicts, and the rights of the people displaced by these wars.
“The Charter also deals with how to establish a commission to reform the security system, because we want to reach the end of the transitional period after the overthrow of the coup to a single Sudanese army, whose main mission is to protect the constitution, protect the country’s borders, safeguard it against any external aggression, and to ensure that the army does not get involved with politics. Also, it proposes how to dissolve the Janjaweed militia and how to integrate and lay off all the armies of the armed movements. The Charter also talks about the establishment of a commission to reform the justice system, given that the thirty years of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood bequeathed us defective justice systems.”
The conference voted to adopt the following aims as a declaration and delegated Khalid Sidahmed to present the declaration to the British envoy to Sudan, Robert Fairweather, at a meeting in London the same night in order to convey to the participants’ strong condemnation of the British government’s complicity in the crimes of the military junta in Sudan.
The Sudanese Revolution urgently needs solidarity from around the world to amplify the demands for real change, genuine democracy, economic justice, and an end to military rule being raised in the streets and workplaces.
We, the organizers, speakers, and attendees at this event pledge to:
- Build solidarity for the Sudanese Revolution and resistance to military rule
- Create networks between trade unionists and activists from Sudan, Britain, and beyond and share experiences of democratic union organization out of workers’ strikes and struggles
- Pressurize the British government to end military and diplomatic support for the coup leaders and the regional powers (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel) backing them
- Publicize the leading role of the Resistance Committees and other popular and demand-based campaigns in the Sudanese Revolution
- Affirm our solidarity with Sudanese refugees as part of wider campaigns to welcome all those fleeing war, repression, and climate change
We resolve to deliver a copy of this declaration to British government representatives at the earliest possible opportunity and to publicize as widely as possible.
What you can do
- Send a message of solidarity to striking workers in Sudan – find out more about which unions are taking action here: https://menasolidaritynetwork.com/sudanstrikes/. Sudanese Teachers are on strike on 28 November demanding proper funding for the education system which is on the verge of collapse.
- Invite a Sudanese speaker to your union meeting – email email@example.com and we will try to connect you with trade unionists from the same sector in Sudan.
- Tell the British government you stand with the people of Sudan in their demands for democratic civilian rule and social justice – pass a resolution in your union branch calling on the British government to stop all forms of military and diplomatic support for the coup leaders and the regional powers backing them.
- Show your support for Sudanese refugees as part of wider campaigns to welcome all those fleeing wars, poverty, climate change, and oppression.
This article was originally published as “Report: Sudan Solidarity Conference 6 November” (Nov. 20, 2022) by the MENA Solidarity Network. For more information about MENA, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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