The Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center in Palestine was established in October 1993 as the result of a series of workshops on “Democracy in Palestine and the role of civil society organizations in building a state of institutions and the sovereignty of law” convened in various parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The participants of these workshops reached a consensus on that workers would have a major role to play in building a Palestinian society based on democracy, social justice and the rule of law.
At the time, Palestinian workers were increasingly affected by growing restrictions on freedom of movement between Israel and the Palestinian territories, including the introduction of work permits to access their workplaces in Israel. While closures and checkpoints made the way to and from work in Israel into an increasingly insecure and lengthy ordeal, the permit itself conferred tremendous power to Israeli employers over their Palestinian employees. As cheap labor for Israeli employers, Palestinian workers were victims of discrimination, violations of their rights at work, violence on their way to and from work, and inside the workplace, whereas neither the Histadrut (the Israeli trade union federation) nor the Palestinian trade union federations--weakened by their lack of elections for their leaders--defended their rights and interests.
To respond to the needs of the Palestinian society, DWRC was established by a group of lawyers, academics, trade unionists and prominent figures in the Palestinian society to defend Palestinian workers’ rights and promote principles of democracy and social justice in the Palestinian territories. The founding members of the Center are: Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, Pr. Raja Shahadeh, Dr. Manawal Hasasien, Dr. Jan Qattan, Dr. Ghasan Al-Khatib, Hasan Barghouthi, Khalil Tuma and Dr. Raja Bahloul
Thanks to a volunteer staff and donations from the local community, DWRC started its activities in 1993-94 in Ramallah, West Bank, by providing legal aid to Palestinian workers in the Israeli and Palestinian labor markets, as well as raising their awareness of their rights. DWRC opened the first office with bits and pieces of furniture gathered by the staff, paid its first rent out of local community donations and secured a small grant to buy some basic equipment.
In 1996, DWRC launched its Training and Education program in order to develop the first training trainers’ materials in Palestine for workers’ education, train qualified trainers, and implement a training program addressing the needs of Palestinian workers and unionists. This program has been growing ever since. Through the continuous work of the training unit and through direct contact with target groups, DWRC has developed a training strategy for educating workers using curricula of different levels, including training for qualified multipliers.
In parallel, DWRC initiated a Research and Studies program with a special focus on economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) issues and continued to develop research and awareness-raising on these rights in subsequent years.
DWRC established a branch office in Gaza to extend the geographical scope of its activities to the Gaza Strip.
In 2001, we started our first pilot job creation project for unemployed workers in the Gaza Strip, as part of our program for Fighting Poverty and Unemployment. The project was re-conducted in the following years. In 2006, for the first time, we were able to extend it to the West Bank. Since 2008, we are focusing on developping new initiatives to assist and organize informal economy workers.
In 2003, the Center launched two new programs to reflect progressive changes in its activities: these programs are Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize and Occupational Health and Safety.
Since its inception, DWRC has been developing international and regional activities and increasing memberships as well as engaging in international advocacy for Palestinian workers’ rights.