THE WORLD OF LABOR — March 26, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Egyptian Workers Defy Draft Bill to Ban Protests

Workers, activists and labor organizations rejected a draft cabinet bill criminalizing “some protests, sit-ins and gatherings” and said they will continue protesting for their “legitimate demands.” Workers said that similar laws have been issued before but failed to stop labor movements. Their protests, they added, were a continuation of the Jan. 25 revolution, in which social justice was one of its main demands.

“The cabinet did something terrible. This decision won’t stop protests because they are fueled by legitimate demands and it will be condemned by the International Labor Organization (ILO), as it contradicts international agreements signed by Egypt,” said Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Center of Trade Unions and Worker Services

According to the draft law, those who organize protests or sit-ins that lead to obstructing work at one of the state’s institutions, public authorities or private and public workplaces will be fined between LE50,000 ( US $8,400) and LE100,000, or imprisoned. Those who organize violent protests that involve production tools, harm national unity or social peace, cause public disorder, damage or occupy public or private property will be imprisoned for no less than one year and fined between LE 100,000 and LE 500,000. The law would only be effective in a state of emergency.

”Protests will continue and we will challenge this decision. We are not afraid of being imprisoned or fined,” said labor activist Nagy Rashad. “Our slogan will be Unity for Egyptian Workers, and we shall show solidarity and support for every worker protest or sit-in,” he added.

Unions Ensure Noisy Start at European Summit

Thousands of protesters blocked traffic in Brussels, Belgium on March 24 as part of a coordinated campaign by European trade unions, who hope to influence the political decisions of EU leaders on social policies and economic governance. Heads of state and government from the 27 EU member states will be present at this third EU Council meeting this year.

The meeting will consider a package of proposals aimed at ensuring financial stability for the countries that use the euro. But the proposals contain austerity features that conform to pressures from global financial institutions. John Monks, the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said, “The central provision is that wages should go in a downwards direction, and that the adjustments to the financial crisis should be borne by the workers.”

“We will be arguing for a system of economic governance that’s positive on growth and positive on jobs, and is not, as it is at the moment, on austerity,” Monk insisted. The European trade unions are calling for urgent action to create job opportunities for young people.

Turkish Workers Launch Mass Strike at 21 Companies

On March 22, Turkish union Birlesik Metal-IS, an affiliate of the International Metal Workers’ Federation (ITF), declared strikes at 21 companies, eight of which are multinationals, to demand better wages and working conditions. On the first day of the strike campaign, all shop stewards from the 21 companies and all union officers were picketing with the striking workers,

The companies are members of the Metal Product Industrialists’ Association (MESS), which has signed an industry-wide collective agreement with Turk Metal that includes massive concessions on pay and working conditions. The agreement is negotiated every two years between the metalworkers’ unions and the employers’ group for about 80,000 metal workers directly and many more indirectly.

The union has rejected the agreement between MESS and Turk Metal, which gives a minimal wage increase of 5.35 percent, at a time when production and profits at the companies are very high. On the issue of flexible working conditions, the union insists on the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, not the country’s labor laws.

A Warning Against Restricting U.S. Workers’ Rights

Amnesty International has urged several American states to abandon planned legislation that would drastically restrict workers’ rights. Shane Enright, A.I.’s trade union adviser, said: “State governors must withdraw support for these measures, which, if adopted, would violate international law. The U.S. has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers, including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively, Enright said.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on March 25 that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.

Labor activists say that legislators in as many as 37 states have introduced hundreds of anti-union bills. Some affect negotiation of healthcare benefits, restrict freedom of association, place caps on the minimum wage and deprive workers of the right to strike. Similar measures that are being promoted in Congress would affect federal public employees.

Expect 300,000 at British Rally to Protest Austerity Plans

About 300,000 protesters against public sector cuts are expected to flood central London in the biggest political demonstration in a decade, say Trade Union Congress (TUC) organizers. More than 800 coaches and 10 trains have been chartered to bring people to the capital from as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness. Union members are expected to be joined by a broad coalition of pensioners to doctors, families and first-time protesters to football supporters and anarchists.

A Guardian/ICM poll showed the public divided over the government cuts. Of 1,014 people questioned this week, 35 percent believe the cuts go too far; 28 percent say they strike the right balance, and 29 percent say they don’t go far enough. 8 percent didn’t know. Two other polls put the balance more strongly against the cuts. A YouGov survey for Unison found that 56 percent believe the government acted too harshly, and a ComRes poll for ITV showed that two thirds felt the government should reconsider its planned spending cuts program.

The bulk of the march will be composed of trade unionists, with virtually all of TUC’s 55 affiliated unions represented. Also among the marchers will be a coach load of mothers and toddlers from Hampshire demonstrating against the closure of Sure Start centers in the country.

Polish Nurses on Hunger Strike Demand Arbitration

A hunger strike and occupation of the Polish Parliament in Warsaw is being conducted by five nurses in protest over a new draft law on medical services adopted March 25. The proposed legislation introduces labor contracts for staff instead of permanent forms of employment.

The trade union (ozzpip) is objecting to the contracts, which they say lead to exploitation of nurses who have fewer rights, longer working hours and less quality time for patients. Union chief Dorota Gardias says the government cannot introduce such basic changes to Poland’s healthcare system without prior dialogue with health professionals and patients.

The nurses, who have been protesting for seven days, have also written a letter to First Lady Anna Komorowska, calling for her intervention in the dispute “because she is a woman, and as a mother, is interested in the situation of nurses,” said one of the protesting nurses.

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