LABOR AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS — February 25, 2005

400 Workers Stage Strike at Top Baghdad Hotel

The Public Service Workers committee at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad called a strike on Feb. 20 after negotiations with the hotel management for a wage increase broke down. Four hundred workers are involved in the work stoppage. Talks between representatives of the union and the hotel are expected to resume next week. The strikers say they intend to continue their walkout until their demands are met.

Workers at the nearby Sheraton Baghdad hotel conducted a successful strike, winning a wage increase and better working conditions. The Public Service Workers Union is an affiliate of the International Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions (IFTU).

Venezuelan President Launches Worker Co-Managed Factory

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that the government would take over a formerly private paper company, Venepal, after it had declared bankruptcy, following a long and bitter dispute with its unionized employees. The 900 workers were laud off in September 2004, but 350 workers remained, threatening to occupy the factory if the government didn¹t expropriate it.

The new paper company expects to start production next month with a $7 million grant from the national government. It will be co-managed by representatives of the workers and the government. A workers’ assembly representing all employees at the factory will eliminate bureaucracy, and merge production and administration, President Chávez said. “The structure will be put to the test, and we’ll adjust it as necessary, because we are inventing our own model,” Chávez added.

Strong Effort Needed to Gain Chinese Worker Rights

China’s 800 million workers, nearly one-fourth of the world’s labor force, are denied the most basic freedoms. China routinely ignores and violates international standards against forced labor and child labor and refuses to allow workers to form independent unions. Chinese workers are poorly paid and work long hours under often-dangerous conditions, according to a study by the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Solidarity.

The study calls on multinational companies operating in China to adopt basic worker rights, including the freedom to form independent unions. It also urges trade unions around the world to adopt a coordinated approach and action plan to promote worker rights in China.

British Workers Demonstrate Against Unpaid Overtime

More than five million workers in the United Kingdom regularly do unpaid overtime, giving their employers billions of dollars of free work every year. If you are one of them, why not take some time to reflect on how well (or badly) you’re balancing your life?

Feb. 25, 2005 is the day when British workers who do unpaid overtime will finish the unpaid days they do every year, and start earning for themselves. We think that’s a day worth celebrating.

Take a proper lunch break, not just a sandwich at your desk and leave on time to enjoy your own time on Friday evening. Why not get together with your friends or colleagues, and go for a meal, a pint or take in a show? You deserve it! This is one day of the year for your boss to appreciate your efforts and for you to appreciate yourself.

Cambodia Police Open Fire to End Factory Protest

Cambodian riot police fired assault rifles and used electric batons on Feb. 22 to break up a protest by 1,300 workers demanding severance payment from a garment factory that shut down last month.

In an unprecedented effort to ease tensions, the government stepped in to lend the company $1.2 million to pay workers their final monthly wages. But the loan did not cover the severance pay to which many of the workers were entitled.

In the last four months, at least 20 garment factories have closed in and around Phnom Penh, putting several thousand women out of work. The industry employs about 240,000 people, mostly women.

Next Trade Battle: Stopping CAFTA

Workers and their allies are mobilizing for the next battle in the struggle for fair trade: to stop the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), signed last May by the United States and five Central American countries. The Bush administration plans to present the deal to Congress later this year.

CAFTA, which does not include provisions to protect workers’ rights or the environment is the first bilateral and regional agreement the Bush administration has pushed under the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). If approved by Congress, it would eliminate tariffs from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The Bush trade agreement would extend to Central America the disastrous job loss and environmental damage caused by 10 years of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), under which U.S. workers lost more than 850,000 jobs and real wages in Mexico dropped sharply.

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