THE WORLD OF LABOR: October 6, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Unions in Retreat across Europe

Trade unions have lost members and influence over the last 20 years in all European countries, with only five exceptions. The main reasons are high unemployment, an increasingly deregulated labor market and weaker safety nets which make many workers weary of putting their demands forward and becoming union members.

For a long time, Sweden was seen as home to some of the strongest unions in the world. Trade unions didn't need to put a lot of effort into recruiting; the numbers came regardless. But things changed in the mid-1990s and the number of members started falling by nearly one percent a year. By 2006, union membership had shrunk to 77 percent of all workers.

But the decline of the unions was not only a Swedish problem. The same development was seen in country after country in Europe. For example, the German Confederation of Trade Unions has been halved since the country's unification, from 12 million members to 6.1million members.

Amplats Fires 12,000 S. African Workers Ahead of Talks

A new round of talks between the platinum industry and South African unions got off to a rocky start Oct. 5 as Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) announced it had fired 12,000 striking workers. "Disciplinary hearings for striking Rustenburg mine employees have been completed; affected employees will be informed of the outcome today," it said in a statement.

Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant said: "They are still worrying about the numbers of workers on strike," as employer and union representatives met in Johannesburg. "It is important that stability return to the platinum sector as soon as possible," she said. Urgent interventions have to be found to avert further violent confrontations. "We cannot afford another Mankana," she added, referring to the Lommin mine where 46 people were killed in a strike in August.

Walmart Workers in Los Angeles Walk Off the Job

Walmart workers from nearly a dozen stores in the Los Angeles area went on strike October 5 in the first-ever Walmart associate walkout, in protest at attempts to silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job. It was the first walkout in Walmart's 50-year history.

Walmart workers have filed more than 20 charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the world's largest retailer has either fired or shortened the working hours of employees who registered complaints.

Seventy employees from nine stores were originally involved in the strike, but support for the strikers has quickly won national and international attention. Some 80 Walmart workers from European stores met with L.A. strikers to plan worldwide strategy. The L.A. strikers plan to return to their jobs on Friday. No one is quite sure what Walmart's response will be.

Greek Electricity Workers Call 48-Hour Work Stoppage

Greece's electricity workers said on Oct. 5 that they will start rolling 48-hour strikes as early as next week to protest austerity measures demanded by the country's international lenders.

Strikes at state-controlled utility PPC have in the past led to rotating power cuts across the country as the grid operator reduces the load to prevent wider blackouts. PPC is the country's single power retailer and produces about 70 percent of all electricity generated in the country.

The strike will begin as early as Oct. 1 if the government submits new austerity measures to Parliament next week, said PPC's union leaders. The walkout poses another challenge to the wage and pension cuts which Athens is negotiating with the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Iranian Teachers Are Jailed for Speaking Out

Authorities in Iran should immediately free seven teachers who are behind bars solely for speaking out against the government. Iran should also end the harassment of dozens of other teachers who are facing charges or who have already served time in prison on national security-related charges.

Iran authorities have detained at least 39 teachers since 2009. The arrests and detentions are symptomatic of the failure of the government to tolerate any advocacy on behalf of ethnic minority rights. While 32 of the teachers have been released, seven remain in jail.

Iran is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), but has refused to sign accords protecting human rights, including the right to form labor unions.

Egyptian Doctors Plan to Escalate Strike

Egypt's doctors plan to treat patients for free in the upcoming week, in what they are describing as the "free treatment strike." The move is the latest attempt at escalating the partial strike started by public hospital doctors on Oct. 1 The strike came as a result of a Doctors' Syndicate decision taken at their General Assembly last month and will enter its second week on Oct. 8.

"They are trying to turn the patients against us, so we will treat all patients for free. We will hit them where it hurts the most, their pockets," read a statement from an elected committee, tasked with negotiating and administrating the doctors' strike.

On Oct. 11, eight political parties released a joint statement announcing their support of the strike The parties also urged all citizens to show solidarity with the doctors.

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.