THE WORLD OF LABOR — February 12, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Mubarak Resigns; Egyptians Win Battle for Freedom

An 18-day rebellion by the people of Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, forcing an end to a despotic regime that had governed the country for nearly 30 years and overturning the established order in the Arab world. Tens of thousands who had bowed down for evening prayer leapt to their feet, dancing with joy and crying: ”Lift your head high. You Are an Egyptian!”

Mubarak, an 82-year-old former air force commander, left without comment for his home by the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheik, His departure overturns, after six decades, the Arab world’s original secular dictatorship. He was toppled by a radically new force in regional politics—a largely secular, non-violent, youth-led democratic movement that brought Egypt’s liberal and Islamist opposition groups together for the first time under its banner.

Mubarak’s fall created foreign policy uncertainties for the Obama government in the Middle East. The United States, its Arab allies and Israel are now pondering whether the Egyptian military, which had vowed to hold new elections, will give way to a new era of democratic dynamism or to a perilous lurch into instability or Islamist rule.

Tunisia Is Pressed to Act on Country’s Social Needs

Tunisia’s main labor union urged the government on Feb. 10 to begin talks immediately to defuse a ticking social bomb that threatens to derail the country’s nascent democratic process. “It is in the interest of the government to rapidly launch negotiations with the main union because the social situation is explosive,” said Abid Briki, who heads the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT).

Public anxiety has simmered despite the ouster of President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali, who ruled the country for 23 years before his ouster on Jan. 14, stoked by frustrations over poverty and unemployment. While the jobless rate is officially at 14 percent, the percentage of graduates out of work is twice that number.

Organized and spontaneous strikes have slowed down the country’s economy, and the new government’s pledge to cut ties with the former regime have done little to appease resentment among the poor. The trade unions also need to tackle discontent over the presence of members of Ben Ali’s former ruling party in various industrial sectors and companies, Briki said.

A U.S. Governor Would Use Military to Back Anti-Union Bill

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker says the state’s National Guard troops are ready to quell any protests that may arise because of the introduction of an anti-union bill. He wants to end collective bargaining for nearly all public employees because the state is broke and there’s no point in negotiating with the unions when there is nothing to offer.

Union leaders and Democrats, powerless to stop Walker’s plan from passing the Republican-controlled legislature next week, were reeling. They blasted the proposal as a naked power grab that will gut Wisconsin’s deeply-organized labor tradition and result in layoffs that will devastate the economy.

Walker, who took office in January, argues that his proposal is an alternative to ordering furlough days and laying off 12,000 state and local employees over the next two years to balance a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Algerian Military Worried About Marching Protesters

If the Moroccan authorities have agreed to let anti-government protesters hold a rally on Feb. 20, the Algerian government seems less self-assured to allow Algerian non-governmental organizations to march on Feb. 12 in Algiers. With all the talk about the announced lifting of the State of Emergency in Algeria, President Boutaflike, along with the Algerian military establishment, are still adamant in their refusal to let Algerians protest against their regime.

The Algerian government ban on the planned march has hardened the opposition, making a showdown between the security forces and the marchers likely to turn violent. Algerian independent media are reporting on another massive deployment of police and anti-riot forces all around Algiers, the capital, in anticipation of confrontation with potential demonstrators.

The National Committee for Change and Democracy, a coalition of Opposition and non-governmental groups that are sponsoring the march, insists on marching into Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Algiers as a way to reference to the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Such allusions are making the Algerian military nervous and uneasy with any possible “unintended consequences” of the upcoming march,

Women Activists Seek Change in Union Structure

In March 2010, the Berger Marks Foundation invited 30 women activists to New Orleans for a conversation about how unions can attract young workers, especially women, and support them in key leadership roles.

What organizers found was that many women (defined as under 35 years) want to spend their adult lives supporting the organized labor movement. Whether they actually do so depends on how quickly unions and allied organizations respond to their needs.

While the under-35 group expressed support for the work of unions, many are already thinking about moving on to other social justice organizations. Here are recommendations made by the under-35 group:

• Develop a broader social justice agenda.
• Foster leadership development by creating pathways for new activists to move up in the ranks.
• Be open to new ways of communicating.
• Create a sense of community among young women
• Include younger activists in decision-making.
• Teach basic skills (how to run a meeting) etc.
• Plan union events so they have substance and maximum participation.

Can unions meet these requirements?

Finland Creates Temp Jobs for Unemployed Youth

Finnish stakeholders in a new project believe thst it is both Possible and imperative to organize at least temporary work for all young people who are not studying. The goal is ambitious as youth unemployment is high also in Finland, In November 2010, the jobless rate of people from 15 to 24 was 16.1 percent.

The project is to be implemented in five municipalities. In the municipality of Vantaa (pop. 200,000), the challenge is to find work, by April 1, for about one thousand young unemployed people. The idea is to employ these young people for at least two months to give them valuable and confidence-building work experience. In Uusikaupunki, the goal is even more ambitious, as the project aims to offer work for three or four months.

In each of the five municipalities, the concrete project model will be developed locally, but the starting point in all is close cooperation between the municipality, companies or local units of larger companies and local youth organizations.

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