THE WORLD OF LABOR — January 22, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Tunisian Union to Call General Strike for a New Government

Tunisia’s main trade union is set to stage a general strike to demand the resignation of the prime minister and other ministers who served under the country’s ousted president. Members of the General Tunisian Workers’ Union (UGTT), the country’s main national union, which has more than half a million members, are expected to go on strike on Jan. 22, as they join forces with opposition groups, who called on members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally party (RCD) to vacate posts in the new government.

The call for the general strike comes against a background of continued protests against the new government with many Tunisians expressing outrage over the appointment of several members of the previous regime in the “unity’ government announced last week. Weeks of street protests and a growing public outcry over high unemployment rates and the government’s crackdown on opponents last week resulted in the historic overthrow of the 74-year-old Ben Ali, whose 23-year reign was tainted with massive human rights violations.

According to the latest tallies by the interior ministry, as many as 78 civilians were killed, many shot by the police, during anti- government protests that led to the “Jasmine Revolution” in the North African country. The general strike is expected to cripple the country’s transport system, as well as other public services across Tunis, the capital.

Chicago Teamsters Form Partnership with Chinese Unions

In an act of global cooperation, Chicago‘s Teamsters Joint Council 25 has met and signed an official memorandum of exchange and cooperation with the Shangdong Provincial Federation of Trade Unions of China (SPFTU) The Teamsters, including Joint Council President John T. Coli, welcomed five delegates from the Chinese labor federation to Chicago in September 2010 to sign the agreement in an effort to promote more cooperation between organized labor in China and the United States.

Representatives from Joint Council 25 and the SPFTU will begin making biennial visits between China and the United States as part of the agreement and protection of workers’ rights. The unions are expected to share information on organizing and management techniques.

Shangdong is China’s second-most populous province, home to 95 million people. Agriculture, mining and petroleum industries are large components of the regional economy. The province produces many companies with international brand names, such as Tsingtao beer and Haier and Hisense electronics and appliances.

Jobs on Agenda at Monetary Fund and World Bank

Leaders of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have told global labor leaders that “jobs are central to recovery” during a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. “Income-led growth is the key to securing recovery and ending the kinds of social deprivation and misery we’re seeing in countries like Tunisia,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC).

“We have to stop the financial elites regaining control and sowing the seed of an imminent new crisis at a time when workers are still suffering the unemployment caused by the last one,” Burrow said. In response, IMF managing director Strauss-Kahn agreed that tackling the jobs crisis would be a central priority for IMF actions in 2011. He reiterated the IMF’s commitment to working with the ILO to establish a universal social protection floor.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick committed the Bank to consult trade unions effectively at the national level as well as sectorally, and by improving their protocols of cooperation at global levels.

Trade Unions May Be Allowed Back into Burma

The Burmese government is set to table new legislation that could allow workers to establish trade unions. The proposal has been welcomed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which says it is working with the Burmese government to improve worker rights in the impoverished nation.

Recently, suspected trade unionists were still being arrested and imprisoned, despite the government having already ratified the ILO convention on Freedom of Association. But international pressure has seen the government adopt a lighter approach to workers’ dissent.

Since November 2009, there have been a series of strikes in Rangoon, with workers protesting and demanding higher wages, with little or no interference from the armed forces. But many, including Dr. Myint Cho, an exiled Burmese who now heads the Burma Office in Sydney, say they are skeptical about the government’s motives.

Walmart Challenged in South Africa by a Coalition

A growing number of progressive organizations around the world are very concerned about Walmart’s recent expansion into South Africa. Walmart burst into the South African market by purchasing 51 percent of Massnart, one of the country’s major retailers.

“Walmart has come into our country and tried to claim that it is union-friendly, but we know from our friends and colleagues from around the world, and especially in the United States of America — the company’s home country — of Wamart’s relentless attacks on workers and unions,” said Tyotyo James, first Deputy President of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

The U.S.-based United Federation of Commercial Workers (UFCW) has been a long-time adversary of Walmart. The company’s investments outside of North America have had mixed results: its operations in the United Kingdom, South America and China are highly successful, while it was forced to pull out of Germany and South Korea when ventures there were unsuccessful.

Thousands Rally in Jordan Against Economic Policies

More than 5,000 people have rallied in Jordan to demand the government resign in protest over its economic policies. The protesters have taken to the streets, angered by rising prices and unemployment.

The government recently announced a $125 million package to reduce prices, as well as measures to boost salaries. But demonstrators say the measures are insufficient, and that they will continue to protest until Prime Minister Samir Rifai steps down.

The Jan. 21 protests, dubbed the “Day of Rage;” took place in the nation’s capital, Amman, and several other cities, and were the largest so far. The protesters have been emboldened by the demonstrations in Tunisia that led to the fight of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali.

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