THE WORLD OF LABOR — March 12, 2011

By Harry Kelber

International Women’s Day Celebrates 100th Anniversry

After decades of fighting the battles for women’s rights, the International Women’s Day celebrated its 100th anniversary this year on March 8. It was first observed on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million people attended rallies calling for women to be given the right to work, vote and hold public office.

As a women’s holiday, Women’s Day was short-lived, lasting just four years until the start if World War I, when Socialist opposition to the war caused the commemoration to fall out of favor. Washington recognized the European-founded International Women’s Day after it was formerly recognized by the United Nations in 1975. In the meantime, March 8 had become a Russian holiday, treated almost like Valentine’s Day, with gifts, flowers and well-wishes to women.

A new global economic report shows that women will find it more difficult to get jobs that pay better than poverty wages. Overall, the ranks of the working poor have swelled by more than 100 million people due to the economic crisis, with around 1.5 billion people — half the world’s work force —now in vulnerable employment.

1,500 Workers in Rangoon, Burma Stage Mass Strike

More than 1,500 workers at a factory in Rangoon have braved the heavy-handed reputation of Burmese authorities to go on strike, demanding an increase in their meager salary. The men and women of Taiyi shoe factory, who are now four days into their strike, are protesting wages of 70 cents an hour for a 12-hour day. Factory owners agreed yesterday to offer a pay raise of a penny an hour. Striking workers responded by saying they wouldn’t go back to work unless they received an additional 8 cents an hour.

Just over a year ago, a series of workers’ strikes rocked factories in Rangoon, Strikes by some 700 workers last month in two garment factories, United World and Oscar, met with success, after employers agreed to their demands for better working conditions. This has led to calls for stronger anti-union laws in Burma. That may soon be realized, given a recent announcement that a new trade union act has been through safety committees, an inherent part of the process.

French Riot Police Break Ferry Strike in Marseille

A large force of CRS riot police in the French city of Marseille has busted a month-long strike by ferry workers protesting planned job cuts. They arrested 14 strikers who were blocking the Mediterranean city’s port to oppose plans to reduce summer crossings from Nice to Corsica. Strikers fought back by spraying police with water hoses..

Trade unionists accused the CRS of heavv-handed tactics against the demonstrators. Strikers were arrested and hand-cuffed like thugs, “which is unacceptable,” said Frederic Alpozzo of the CGT/Marine union. At least 700 CRS police officers were deployed to forcibly end the strike.

Strikers want assurances from the ferry company that no jobs will be terminated by a reduction in scheduling. During their month-long work stoppage, strikers had commandeered lifeboats and had strung rope and nets across the port’s entrance. Talks with company managers at the weekend failed to produce an agreement.

Thousands Strike at Vietnam’s Yamaha Factory

About 3,000 employees of the Yamaha motorcycle plant in Hanoi walked off the job on Monday, March 7. Management responded by ordering its other 2,000 employees to stay home the next day, while discussions continued with the union. Vietnam bans labor unions that are independent of the ruling Communist Party.

Workers are seeking an increase in the basic monthly salary from 1.65 million dong (U.S., 78.57) to 2.03 million dong, along with a rise in their housing and other social allowances. The company had already agreed to a pay rise for some workers, but that was before the government increased the price of subsidized fuel by 18 percent in late February.

Pledging to fight inflation as its highest priority, the Vietnam government has adopted measures to rein in prices and stabilize the economy. Vietnam’s current inflation rate is 12.31 percent, far higher than in neighboring states, although rising consumer prices are emerging as a top concern for policymakers throughout Asia.

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