THE WORLD OF LABOR — December 12, 2009

By Harry Kelber

South African Pick ‘n Pay Workers Strike Against ‘Racism’

About 20,000 workers at South Africa’s second biggest retailer, Pick ‘n Pay, went on strike Dec. 11 to protest against alleged racism at the South African grocery chain. An estimated 3,000 workers, clad in red t-shirts and carrying placards with slogans, such as “Pick ‘n Pay are Masters of Slave Trade” and “Wage Gap is Racism,” gathered at the group’s head office in Johannesburg to deliver their demands.

The workers, who are members of the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers, are linked to the powerful labor federation, COSATU. They are demanding that the company address the wage gap between black and white workers and abolish the fast-track promotions for white “casual” staff over experienced black employees.

“We are here to uproot the legacy of apartheid. A black person cannot at all times be disciplined, while at all times white counterparts are promoted every day,” a strike leader said to loud cheers. Pick ‘n Pay has denied the charge of racism, but has not as yet responded to the memorandum from its protesting employees.

Daimler Agrees to Save Jobs for a Decade at Germany’s Biggest Plant

Workers at Daimler’s biggest car factory in Germany have struck a deal with company managers that secures their jobs for 10 years, a guarantee that brought an end to a dispute over moving production to the United States. All 37,000 employees of the Sindelfingen plant, which makes Mercedes-Benz limousines, will not face any forced reductions until 2019, Daimler said Dec. 10.

The deal is unusual even in a country where similar agreements for shorter periods were common before the financial crisis. It shows the lengths company executives were prepared to go to secure the support of the powerful IG Metall union for holding back on its plan to move production of its best-selling car to Tuscaloosa, U.S., where Daimler is to create 2,700 new jobs to compensate for delaying the move.

The jobs guarantee comes in spite of the worst slump in demand in the global car industry. Daimler sales fell 12 percent in the first 11 months of 2009. The union is prepared to moderate its wage demands across German industry in an effort to save jobs. There is an escape clause for Daimler if the economy deteriorates rapidly.

19 Turkish Coal Miners Killed in Explosion

An explosion at a coal mine in northwestern Turkey has killed 19 coal miners, burying them 220 meters beneath the surface, mine officials say. A dynamite explosion caused the collapse of the mine on Dec. 10. Rescue teams sent to the area were unable to immediately enter the mine due to the high concentration of methane gas. Seven surviving workers were taken to a local hospital and treated for gas poisoning.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, with safety violations and outdated equipment often contributing factors to mine tragedies. The worst disaster, at Zonguldak in 1992, killed 263 workers. An estimated 3,700 miners have been killed in work-related mine accidents since 1941.

Omer Dincer, Turkey’s labor minister, said the cause of the blast at the Bukkoy mine was not clear, and that an investigation would be carried out. “It was not a very powerful explosion, but the entire gallery, the buttressing totally collapsed,” he said.

Japan’s Unionization Rate Rises for First Time Since 1975

Japan’s overall unionization rate picked up for the first time since 1975, as the membership among regular employees has sharply increased, it was announced by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The estimated unionization rate (percentage of union members among all employees) for 2009 was 18.5 percent, up 0.4 points from the preceding year., according to the government’s survey conducted in June. Increased membership among non-permanent workers on top of shrinking labor population is considered to have contributed to the rise in percentage.

The union membership ratio in Japan stopped falling for the first time in 27 years in 2007, mainly because of the mounting expectation for demand for union help, as the unemployment rate remained high. The survey showed that the number of union members grew to 10,078 million, while the number of unions decreased by 269 to 26,696.

Among industries, accommodation and food services saw their unionization rate increase significantly by 11.2 percent, compared to the previous year, followed by a 6.9 percent rise for wholesale and retail industries and 4 percent for transport and postal services. While the rate deceased, both for construction work businesses and civil workers by 3.1 percent.

French Truckers Drop Strike Threat and Agree to Pay Deal

French truckers’ unions reached a pay increase agreement with employers on Dec. 11 and withdrew their threat of a strike that could have cut deliveries to shops over Christmas. “We have reached a deal,” said Richard Jaubert, a representative of the union, CGT. “The strike order will be lifted.”

Employers had agreed to increase wages by about 3.6 percent on average and to raise allowances to cover certain costs by 3 percent, Jaubert said. Unions had demanded a 4 percent increase for the 610,000 people in the sector. Union leaders say that wages in the sector have stood still for the past two years while haulers have said they cannot afford to pay more in an economic downturn.

French truckers have often staged winter strikes, blocking roads and railroads to delay goods and disrupt holiday business.

Global Campaign to Eliminate Blacklisting in Construction Industry

Construction unions from around the world have overwhelmingly endorsed proposals to stamp out blacklisting wherever it occurs. The decision was taken by the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), the worldwide Confederation of Construction Unions, at their conference in Lille, France.

The proposal was put forward by the British construction union, UCATT, which has led the campaign to outlaw blacklisting in the U.K., following the discovery, early this year, that over 40 major construction companies were involved in the blacklisting of construction workers.

Anita Normark, BWI’s general secretary, said: “Blacklisting is an obscene, anti-union practice used by unscrupulous companies all over the world to deprive workers of their rights and to rob trade unionists of their livelihood. We condemn blacklisting and believe it should be punished by law.”

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