THE WORLD OF LABOR — August 5, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Italy’s Beaches Are Empty as Umbrella Men Strike

Italian beaches were denied of their usual August crowds on Friday as beach clubs staged a short strike, the latest in an emotive conflict over right of access to the Mediterranean country’s sun-soaked coast. The strike, organized by the beachworkers’ union during the peak season, to protest against the government’s plan that would see the right to operate patches of seafront decided by auction from 2016.

Although it is state property, access to much of the Italian coast has long been controlled by the beach clubs, which blanket the sands with umbrellas and sun-burgers, and charge beach goers to use them. Access to beaches is a hot political issue in Italy, where it is traditional to abandon the sweltering cities for the coast during the August holiday season.

But as temperatures edged up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 on Fahrenheit) on Friday, rows of colorful beach umbrellas the length of Italy remained unfurled.

Environmental groups have long protested that the beach club’s grip illegally prevents free public access to the sea, staging protests to reclaim the beaches in a campaign, which the Italian media have dubbed “the beach umbrella war.”

German Union Vows No Closing of GM’s Opel

General Motors said this week it hopes to soon reach a “comprehensive” agreement with its German unions to restructure its troubled Opel subsidiary, as union leaders insisted that plant closures were “off the table.”

“Opel management and German unions are continuing to discuss a broad range of issues to help ensure the sustainability of the business, including productivity, cost and capacity, said chief executive Dan Akerson. “We expect to have a comprehensive agreement this fall.”

In response, the IG Metall union said bluntly that it would not discuss plant closures. Rainer Einenkel, head of the Works Council at Opel’s Bochum plant, “We will do everything in our power to make sure that no other European plant closes in Spain, England or Poland,” he added.

Crackdown on Striking Swaziland Teachers

King Mawali, one of the last of the African monarchs, has demonstrated many times in recent years that he is not one to back down in the face of protests. He has proven it again. Five weeks into an exceedingly bitter strike by teachers, the Swazi government has done what it does best to silence its opponents.

In a normal country, the government would have seriously negotiated with the teachers, who are demanding a 4.5 percent salary increase for three years, and a way below the inflation rate, which currently stands at 9 percent. But Swaziland is not a normal country. It is an absolute monarchy, and the king absolutely refused to show his government negotiating with teachers.

The minister has cut wages far beyond what conservative countries consider acceptable, and even worse, he has fired 250 teachers who had participated in the five-week strike.

Spain’s Anti-Privatization Rail Strike Disrupts Train Schedules

Hundreds of trains were cancelled throughout Spain amid a one-day strike by rail workers protesting against privatization plans. The government wants to sell off half the country’s rail sector in a drive to slash the public deficit.’’

The workers also oppose minimum service levels being imposed on hiring hiring than those before — and not only on passenger trains. One Madrid passenger, sympathetic to the rail strikers, a civil servant worker hard hit by the country’s austerity program, said the government should make “more cuts at the top, then we’d react differently.”

The unions claim that privatization could jeopardize the safety and quality of public transport and affect about 100,000 jobs. They are planning another nationwide strike on September 17. .

A Proposal for the Largest Private Sector Union in Canada

The blueprint for the creation of what would be Canada’s largest industrial union was released Aug. 4 at a press conference in Toronto. Representatives of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions of Canada (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) approved the final report of the joint committee for the creation of a new union.

The new union will represent more than 300,000 union members across Canada with a strong presence in every province. It will make organizing in the private industry a top priority for new members, by setting aside a $50,000 fund for organizing purposes.

“The proposal for a new union was built on principles of democracy, transparency and progress for working people,” said Dave Coles, president of CEP. This report is the first step toward reaching out beyond traditional workplaces and increasing the political influence of working people in Canada.”

Egypt’s Transport Authority Workers End Sit-in After Talks

Dozens of Egyptian Public Transit Authority Workers ended their sit-in at the Authority headquarters after meeting a delegate from President Mohamed Morsi, who promised them that the president would personally intervene to resolve the crisis, they said.

Tareq al-Beheiri, spokesperson for the Independent Syndicate for Authority Workers, said the protesters have handed the president’s delegate a statement of their demands, which he promised to deliver to the president. The move comes ahead of an expected presidential decree that would either delegate the Authority to the Transportation Ministry or turn it into an in independent holding company.

The President has ordered the Authority managers to resolve their problems and to overcome all obstacles that hinder their work. Workers were told that the Authority’s management had decided to adopt paid sick leave and to increase the distinctive drivers’ incentive LE-7 to LE-10 per driver per day.

To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, read our weekly “The World of Labor,” posted here and on our two web sites: : http://www.laborsvoiceforchange.org and http://www.laboreducator.org.