70 years of fighting poverty and injustice
Swiss Labour Assistance (SLA) celebrated 70 years of defending workers' rights and democracy on Friday, in the presence of Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.
The non-governmental organisation's first challenge was to care for victims of the Spanish Civil War. Active in both Switzerland and abroad, it also provides humanitarian aid.
In her speech at the anniversary event in Zurich, Calmy-Rey, whose centre-left Social Democrat Party co-founded the SLA in 1936, praised the SLA's important role and urged Switzerland to combat its isolation.
"The SLA has made a vital contribution towards conquering social Darwinism and political intolerance in Switzerland and abroad," said the foreign minister.
"In the face of globalisation, Switzerland should not be blinkered and imagine that it is an island independent of the rest of the world."
The anniversary event, attended by some 400 guests, included a panel discussion on the question "Which work for which development?", focusing on the role of work in long-term development.
According to SLA, one in two workers worldwide live in poverty.
The NGO wants to examine what global companies - including Swiss ones - can do and how unions can react to unstable work conditions and unemployment.
"I'm pleased that we can have a such an important discussion on one of the key issues of our activity and open it up to people who contribute other opinions and perspectives," said Daellenbach, ahead of the occasion.
Speakers included former interior minister Ruth Dreifuss, as well as representatives from other aid organisations, the unions, the media and Swiss-Swedish company ABB.
Spanish civil war
SLA has come a long way since its beginnings in 1936 helping undernourished children from poor Swiss families and the victims of the Spanish civil war.
It is now active in 12 countries, as well as in Kosovo and the occupied Palestinian territories. The organisation helped to rebuild areas in Sri Lanka devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
In Switzerland SLA supports migrants and the unemployed and continues to run holidays for underprivileged children, especially aimed at improving integration.
Throughout its 70-year history, the left-wing NGO has placed value on working with local partners and trade unions, which forms its concept of solidarity.
Daellenbach said she was pleased that the NGO could mark this jubilee, but added a note of regret that poverty and injustice was still widespread.
"It would be wonderful if we didn't have to celebrate this anniversary. If you could say society has changed so much that the fight for solidarity is no longer necessary," she told swissinfo.
"But of course this is not the case - on the contrary. So there are always two sides."
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
Swiss Labour Assistance
SLA has projects in 12 countries, as well as in Kosovo and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Development aid projects are underway in Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Romania, Serbia and South Africa. Humanitarian aid is given to India, Chad and Sri Lanka.
SLA is part of Solidar, a European aid network, and a partner of Swiss Solidarity, the fund-raising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.
Its turnover is almost SFr20 million ($16.3 million) and comes from donations and membership fees as well as federal and community grants and Swiss Solidarity.
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