THE WORLD OF LABOR — April 23, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Earth Day Is Celebrated by Countries Around the World

Earth Day was founded in the United States on April 22, 1970 with over 20 million people participating that year. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmental activist, took a leading role in organizing the celebration, hoping to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda. Today, Earth Day is now observed by more than 500 million people and several national governments in 175 countries.

Sen. Nelson modeled Earth Day on the highly effective teach-ins of the Vietnam War at that time. Earth Day was first proposed in a prospectus to President Kennedy. Nelson favored Earth Day to be a decentralized, grass-root effort, in which each community shaped its own action around local concerns.

Nelson had conceived the idea of Earth Day, following a trip he took to Santa Barbara, right after the horrific oil spill off the coast in 1969. Outraged by the devastation and Washington political inertia, Nelson proposed a national teach-in on the environment to be observed by every university campus in the United States.

U.S. Banana Firm Hired Colombian Paramilitaries

Chiquita Banana, the giant multinational company, has been more involved with Colombian paramilitaries and guerrilla groups than its owners have acknowledged. While most payments were made in the early 1990s to guerrilla groups, an August 1993 memo indicates that the company’s subsidiary in Turbo had begun channeling security payments to the Colombian army through a banana association known as “Agura,” at a price of three cents per ton of bananas shipped..

“Chiquita’s apparent quid pro quo with the guerrillas and paramilitaries responsible for countless killings belies the company’s plea deals with the Justice Department,” said Michael Evans, NSA ‘s chief researcher on Colombia. “What we don’t know is why U.S. prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions.”

Nearly 150 unionists have been murdered in the past three years alone, according to Colombia’s main human rights group. The Justice Department has investigated the case for four years and said it found no involvement of Chiquita with the goals of the terrorist groups.

Labor Board Orders Boeing to Shift Production to a Union Site

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ordered Boeing, the giant aircraft manufacturer, to move their airplane production from a non-union site in South Carolina to a unionized one in Washington State The board’s action has aroused both fear and indignation from employers that the Labor Board is becoming a pro-union agency.

Lafe Solomon, the labor board’s acting general counsel, said the company’s motive consisted of illegal retaliation against workers for exercising their right to strike. The biggest surprise has been the activist stance taken by Solomon, a career civil service employee at the board for 39 years.

While the unions are obviously pleased with the labor board’s decision, they have to be prepared for a showdown battle with powerful employers on the composition of the board, which now consists of three Democrats, two Republicans and one still unfilled’ position.

Egyptian Workers Strike for a Better Textile Industry

About 4,000 Egyptian workers started a strike on April 23, together with a manager of a bakery, in the industrial city of Mahalia, protesting against the rise of prices of cotton from China.

The sit-in occupants also demanded that the former agricultural manager be held accountable for the deterioration of the country’s cotton industry, and that the union of textile industries be dissolved for working against the interests of the industry. Strikers also demanded that cotton prices be subsidized by lifting the sales tax, halting the exportation of raw cotton, supporting local industries, and supplying local factories with gas at subsidized prices.’

On the national level, a massive labor rally is planned for Tahir Square on May I to Celebrate May Day. The gathering is expected to begin. at 4 p.m. and will include songs by popular singers and a poetry recitation by poet Sayed Hegab. The celebration is being organized by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions.

Turkish Tekel Workers Face Eight Years in Prison

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has filed a lawsuit against 111 Tekel workers for breaking the law regulating protests, leaving them to face eight years in prison after being clubbed and pepper-sprayed by the police. Thousands of workers with the former state-owned alcohol and tobacco monopoly, or Tekel, demonstrated last year in protest of a government change in their working conditions that they said would restrict their employment rights.

One of the individuals involved in the case is Suleyman Celebi, the former chairman of the Progressive Confederation of Trade Unions, known as DISK, who played an active role in the protests.. He is currently a deputy candidate for the Republican People’s Party in the June general elections.

The formal criminal charge prepared by the prosecutor said permission was not given for the protest by the authorities, and that the protesters from various provinces had been warned against gathering in Ankara. The protest took place despite warnings on April 1. Demonstrators were warned again during the protest, but they did not back down.

French Riot Police in Uproar at Ban On Lunch-Time Booze

The notorious Companies Republicaines de Securite, or CRS, are outraged at an official decree stating they can no longer drink wine or beer with their lunch. Until now, civilized tipple was part of the daily lunch menu. The controversial police force, lauded by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose trademark black body armor and riot shields are a regular feature on French streets.

A glass of wine, beer or cider—but not spirits—was always permitted with lunch, including while on duty. Even packed lunches, provided out of riot vans while they were patrolling demonstrations, came with a can of beer or a glass of wine. But in October last year, authorities were annoyed when pictures published on the web site Bakchich showed uniformed riot police swigging beer on the sidelines of a protest against pension reform.

The web site reported that having told locals it was too dangerous to go outside during the high school demonstration, uniformed officers stopped for a beer on a street corner in full view of the public.

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