The History of Labor Rights Now
Labor Rights Now has its origins in two important campaigns on behalf of jailed labor leaders.
The first occurred in 1980, when the military regime ruling Brazil arrested a Sao Paulo metalworker named Luis Inacio Da Silva for
leading a major strike. Known as "Lula," he was put on trial by the Generals for violating their National Security Law. Soon he came to be regarded
as the Lech Walesa of Brazil.
The United Auto Workers sent the late John Christensen, one of the founders of Labor Rights Now, to appear each day in the Brazilian
courtroom during Lula's trial and the union campaigned vigorously on the metalworker's behalf.
Lula won his freedom, went on to even more militant union and political activities, and, in 2002, won election as the President of
The second took place in 1987 when the apartheid government in South Africa jailed the president of the metalworkers' union, Moses
Mayekiso, and put him on trial for treasona capital offense for which he could have been hanged.
Don Stillman, then the UAW's Director of Governmental and International Affairs, helped launch a wide-ranging campaign on Mayekiso's
behalf. It included formation of a committee of prominent American jurists (former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Attorney General Griffin
Bell, and a number of high-ranking judges).
The Mayekiso campaign included posters, postcards, newspaper ads, demonstrations, and other tactics that quickly spread worldwide with
the help of the International Metalworkers Federation.
The stakes were high: a guilty verdict would have effectively criminalized many of the tactics of anti-apartheid unions and community
After a two-year trial, monitored by Stillman and members of the jurists' committee, Mayekiso was found not guilty, returned to run the
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), and, in 1994, won a seat in Parliament in the first post-apartheid elections that propelled
Nelson Mandela to the Presidency.
The UAW's campaigns on behalf of Lula in Brazil and Mayekiso in South Africa sparked the formation of Labor Rights Now. The idea was
simple: to use the same tactics on behalf of jailed worker activists and union leaders throughout the world.
New campaigns followed on behalf of those imprisoned in Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Korea, China, Burma, and many other countries
Labor Rights Now continues the fight today. And so do those LRN has helped to free.