Bahrain's Left loses another leader

Much as he spent his life, Jaleel al Hoori died trying to shed light on the work of the labour movement and reinvigorate the country's Left.

MANAMA // Much as he spent his life, Jaleel al Hoori died trying to shed light on the work of the labour movement and reinvigorate the country's Left. Al Hoori, 65, who had been receiving treatment for a heart condition, died on Saturday of natural causes in front of Manama's Financial Harbour during a labour sit-in . His death, and the death of fellow activist Majeed Marhoon in February, are the latest blows to Bahrain's left-leaning labour movement. Hasan Madan, the secretary general of the Progressive Democratic Tribune Society (PDTS), Bahrain's leftist opposition movement, said: "It feels that with their passing we are at the end of an era for a phase in Bahrain's history. The consolation we have is that some of the things they fought and sacrificed for have been achieved.

"When it comes to political freedoms and labour rights, positive things have been achieved, but when we consider what the unions had been set-up for - which is raising the standards of living for the workers and protecting their rights - that has not been achieved. As a matter of fact, today the burden of the global financial crisis is falling on the working class but not the companies." Al Hoori and Marhoon were both members of the underground Marxist-Leninist Bahrain Liberation Front, which was established in 1955 aiming to resist the British occupation and secure labour rights for Bahraini workers. The front does not operate officially in Bahrain, but PDTS is seen as its offshoot organisation.

Al Hoori died a few hundred metres away from where he took part as a labour activist in clashes with the authorities in 1972, in an area now towered over by the newly built skyscrapers. He was retired and receiving treatment for a heart condition, but opted to join in Saturday's protest for laid-off workers from the Bankers Union, only to collapse as his heart gave in while he chanted slogans in their support. He is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Abdulnabi Salman, the PDTS deputy secretary general and former MP, said: "Al Hoori always championed the workers' causes. That is why he was at the protest despite just returning from Germany to receive medical treatment and having to ride the bus to get there. He was a working class man, who lived and died poor." Al Hoori was one of the first workers to establish a short-lived committee in 1971 that sought to secure the right of workers to unionise. The committee is largely seen as the cornerstone of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), which was established in 2002.

Jaffar Khalil, the GFBTU spokesman, said since the days of al Hoori's early activism, the ceiling of demands for the workers' rights have been raised, but that the demands remained the same. "Raising wages, better job security, equality in the workplace are things that we have been demanding all along. We have unions but the laws governing the right to strike are unfair and does not allow for unions to be set-up in the public sector," Mr Khalil said.

Mr Khalil said that this year's annual May 1 rally for workers will honour those who had fallen and march to the National Assembly under the slogan: "Hand in hand for better social co-operation in the economic development." "Every day the workers face the possibility of losing their jobs and the number of decent jobs that ensure proper rights for the workers are decreasing," Mr Khalil said, adding that layoffs, non-payment and the delay of wages, and the right to unionise would be the issues highlighted during the march.

The workers rights movement also suffered a blow with the death of Marhoon. Nicknamed "Bahrain's Mandela", he spent almost as much time in jail as the South African leader, Nelson Mandela. Marhoon spent 22 years in prison, the first four of which were in solitary confinement, after he was accused of taking part inassassination attempts against the British colonial security officer Bob Langdale, and his Jordanian assistant, Ahmed Mohsin Yahman, in March 1966.

Both Mr Madan and Mr Salman, from the PDTS, said that despite the deaths of the two stalwart activists, they believed that the ideas and values will live on in the young who will carry on what they started. Hussain al Oraibi, a board member of the Bahrain Shabeeba Society, the youth group of the PDTS, said: "There is a long list of names that have sacrificed to achieve that and their sacrifices inspire us to continue on that path."