THE WORLD OF LABOR — March 5, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Global Unions Spotlight 28 Oil Multinationals on Libya

World trade unions representing oil and chemical workers, have written 28 multinational companies in the oil, infrastructure and chemicals industries concerning investments in Libya and their future intentions regarding that conflict-ridden country. These companies have had relations with Libya, and thus the Gaddafi regime, which exercised full control over the economy,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union .Confederation.

Burrow told the oil companies that they should “immediately stop further payments of any kind to the present authorities in Tripoli, and support the establishment of a fund to be administered by the U.N. or other body until such time as a democratic government that respects human rights is established.”

The letter from Burrow to the giant oil companies said that global unions were concerned “first and foremost” with the security of the oil and gas workers, both Libyan staff and expatriate workers,. Among the giant oil companies that received the letter were Exxon Mobil, Shell, Royal Dutch, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Dow Chemical and Total

Jobless Rate Drops to 8.9%; Add 192,000 jobs; Recovery Still Fragile

The U.S. added 192,000 jobs in February, a big increase over the 63,000 jobs it produced the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate dropped to 8.9 percent. However, threats to the recovery remain, including a surge in food and energy prices, and the uncertainties of oil output from the Middle East. Some economists say that it may take to 2017, before the jobless rate is down to the 5 percent, which it was before the start of the recession in December 2007.

In trying to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from state employees, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, may have unintentionally given the American labor movement the lift it needed after years of decline. That was the sentiment last week at the formal meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council of the nation’s largest labor federation.

“We’ve never seen the incredible solidarity that we’re seeing right now,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. He remarked that “People are giving us another look now. It will be up to us to keep it going and continue defining ourselves in ways that Americans support.” Trumka added:: “It’s the kind of attention unions have been craving for years, as leaders have tried without success to rekindle the vigor that organized labor enjoyed at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s..”

Labor and the Future of the Egyptian Revolution

Since Feb. 11 when Mubarak was forced to step down, the Supreme Military Council, which has assumed leadership of Egypt’s affairs until such time as free elections are held, has repeatedly and unsuccessfully called on Egyptians “to return to work.” It has even threatened to take action against striking workers in the name of national security. The civilian middle-class revolutionaries also seem to be insisting that the striking workers “return to work.” Even Sheikh Yusuf al-Quaradawi in his Feb. 18 Tahrir address before hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, urged striking workers to go home

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Independent Trade Union has published its demands. Some of the demands deal with raising the minimum wage and prohibiting differences in wages in excess of 15 times between senior managers and workers. Another demand is greater job security and a halt to the use of temporary workers. While some demands may appear unreasonable to the extent they decrease flexibility in the Egyptian labor market and would thus make the Egyptian economy even less competitive, others are reasonable, necessary and ought to be recognized immediately.

The Egyptian labor activists say that a strong labor movement with the power of independent collective bargaining can reduce the incidence of corrupt, self-serving management as well as aid in a more just distribution of national income. Establishing a “living wage” for workers would have to be a top priority of any new Egyptian government, they said.

Computer Giant Ignores Request from Chinese Poisoned Workers

In 2009, a number of Chinese workers from United Win, a Suzhuo-based electronics manufacturer and a subsidiary of Wintek Corporation, the Taiwanese company that is a supplier for Apple - were poisoned while using the chemical “hexane” to wipe Apple Iphones. In the ”Apple Responsibility Report,” released on Feb. 15, 2011, Apple admitted that United Win (China)was its supplier

The poisoned workers have written a complaint to Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, but have thus far received no reply. The workers say that, although 22 of them have returned from a stay in the hospital, some have received recurring symptoms of poisoning. The workers also reveal that although a fan system has been installed on the shop floor, two chemicals, “isopropanol” and ”acetone” have replaced the original “hexane)“ and contain irritating elements that cause headaches, dizziness and may cause cancer.

Among the 16,000 to 18,000 dispatch workers at United Win, almost half are outsourced by labor agencies. The dispatch workers do not have a labor contract and do not receive an allowance for their job positions. As to the workers poisoned in 2009, it is not clear how Apple will respond.

Final Round for Domestic ILO Convention

The final discussion on an ILO Convention for Domestic Workers will take place June I-17 at the International Conference in Geneva. Union action is crucial to ensuring adoption of a strong instrument. Although important battles were won in the discussions last year, the essence of the draft Convention — to provide domestic workers equal rights with other workers — was challenged by employers and some governments, including the European Union (EU).

At stake are issues that include working time regulations, remuneration (moving away from in-kind payment), health and safety coverage, access to social security, maternity rights and stricter control of labor agencies. The ILO Workers’ Group will need support from a majority of the governments to ensure that a strong Convention provides the long overdue recognition of these workers; trade union and human rights.

International union pressure is crucial. Trade unionists can act to ensure that your national center is well-informed about the domestic workers’ demands and that your government votes in favor of a Convention that provides domestic workers the same basic rights as other workers.

Facebook Is Used To Build Audience for Mass Protest

A Facebook page, created to air the plight of the nation’s young people, drew a huge response from users of the social network medium. More than 37,000 Portuguese Facebook users pledged their presence at one of the staged rallies. Another 32,293, said they “may be attending.”

Describing the initiative as nonpartisan, secular and peaceful,” Paula Gil, one of four organizers who created the Facebook appeal, told Luna News Agency they were among the first to be surprised at the surge of interest in the first social network of its kind.

The demonstrations are set for one week before a day of protest called by the country’s largest confederation to denounce government austerity policies, including cuts in public employee salaries. Unemployment in Portugal in January 2010 was 11.2 percent, the same as in December, with more than 600,000 people out of work.

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