THE WORLD OF LABOR — April 2, 2011

By Harry Kelber

AFL-CIO to Conduct Nation-Wide “Day of Actions” on April 4

With its members united and energized for the first time in years, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates will conduct a nation-wide “Day of Actions” on April 4, 2011, aimed at defending the rights of workers and their unions, that are now under fierce attack from Republicans and right-wing zealots. Under the banner, “We Are One,” AFL-CIO leaders are expecting as many as 400 events around the country on that day to dramatize their determination to preserve collective bargaining and other basic labor rights.

The Ohio legislature has approved a bill that would deprive 350,000 workers of the right to engage in collective bargaining with their employers and also restrict their ability to participate in electoral politics.

The bill would bar public employees from striking and would prohibit binding arbitration for police and firefighters. It would allow bargaining over wages, but not on health coverage and pensions. In Michigan, where the unemployment rate is among the highest in the country, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder reduced benefits for the unemployed by six weeks. In Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor.

Arab World Unions Call for Support for Labor Rights

Unionists in the Arab world have called for continued support for free trade unions in the region, as pro-democracy movements sweep across the Middle East. Transport union leaders from 25 unions from 10 Arab countries met in Amman, Jordan at the ITF Arab World Committee meeting on March 22-23 to evaluate and plan for future strategies during this critical period.

In a statement released on March 25, the delegates said they recognized “the great revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt,” which had led to changing regimes in both countries, and expressed their deep concern about the situation in Libya, Yemen, Bahrein, Syria and other Arab countries. They also pledged “full solidarity” with all workers in the region who had joined the people’s struggle for democracy and a decent life.

The statement included a call on the ITF and transport unions in the region to be ready to support new democratic unions that were expected to emerge in Arab countries. Earlier this week, the ITF, along with the International Trade Union Confederation, condemned plans by the Egyptian government to criminalize strike action in the country.

Honk Kong Unions Threaten to Boycott Cargoes from Japan

Airport ground staff unions in Hong Kong have called on the government and airport management to improve safety measures for employees handling cargoes from Japan. The unions said the request was not properly met by the airport authority and the Civil Aviation Department Therefore, they will not rule out the possibility of refusing to handle cargoes from Japan if their work attire remains the same.

Honk Kong’s airport unions held a joint media conference on March 29, blasting the inadequate safety measures to protect some 10,000 workers handling ramp services against contamination from arriving cargoes. Fears of radiation contamination mounted among the ground crews, charged with unloading 90,000 tons of cargo, arriving on board of 30 flights from Japan every day.

Besides exchanging work procedures of the ground crews and Custom officers, and providing suffifient safety measures, the unions called on the government to request the Japanese government to make sure that all cargoes coming into the city are free from contamination. ..

Canadian Workers Occupy Legislature after Defeat of Bill

Union members and their supporters are refusing to leave the legislative chamber of the the Ontario government after a bipartisan, union-sponsored measure to ban the use of replacements (“strikebreakers”) during strikes and lockouts was defeated. The protesters say they won’t leave until they can meet with Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Bill 45 would ban the growing practice by employers of hiring replacement workers to avoid collective bargaining. “The very nature of labor relations is altered by this well-planned and financed practice, and workers and communities would suffer,” said Wayne Fraser, Ontario Director of the United Steelworkers, who is leading the sit-in at Queens Park. Fraser pointed to the year-long strike against Brazilian mining giant, Vale, and several multi-year disputes in Toronto, Nanticoke and Brantford.

“McGuinty is saying to all of Ontario that workers’ rights to free and fair collective bargaining is no longer valid. He has set the stage for a Wisconsin-style attack against every unionized worker in Ontario. He needs to tell us why he has chosen insecurity over community-building and therefore what is he prepared to do to solve these terrible unnecessary strikes and lockouts,” Fraser.said.

Saudi Women Step Up Equality Demand

Activists among Saudi Arabia’s women, who can’t drive or vote and need male approval to work and travel, are turning to the type of online organizing that helped topple Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to force change in a system, they say, that treats them like children. The “Baladi” or “My Country” campaign is focused on this year’s municipal elections, only the second nationwide election that the absolute monarch has allowed.

Saudi Arabia strictly enforces the segregation of the sexes in government offices, workplaces and public spaces, such as restaurants. A Saudi man can end his marriage by telling his wife: ”You are divorced,” while women must go to court or an authorized cleric to get a dissolution. Custody of children above a certain age are usually granted to the father.

The election board said on March 30 that women will be excluded from the Sept. 22 vote. Another group, the Saudi Women’s Revolution, citing inspiration from the Arab activism that grew into revolts against Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, is pressing for equal treatment and urging international support.

Thousands of Mexicans Protest Outsourcing and Firings

Thousands of unionized Mexican workers have protested in Mexico City, the nation’s capital, against a bill that seeks to legalize outsourcing and makes it easier for employers to fire their workers. The proposed legislation, introduced by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) promotes outsourcing, extended probation for new employees, limits the right to strike and extends the cooling-off period in labor conflicts.

The workers marched from the Zocalo, Mexico City’s giant main square, to Congress, where lawmakers are expected to approve the bill before April 30. Telecom’s union leader, Francisco Hernandez Juarez, said during a rally outside Congress, that the bill “violates the rights won by workers and promotes dismissals and informal employment.”

The bill was introduced as an accommodation to employers who demanded greater flexibility over their work force, so they could become more competitive. Academics and labor lawyers agree that passing the measure would spur the the growth of the underground economy and the migration of young people to organized crime.

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