THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 1, 2011

By Harry Kelber

May Day, a Workers’ Holiday, Is Celebrated Around the World

May Day (May 1) is a workers’ annual holiday that is celebrated by labor movements in scores of countries around the world. Traditionally, Labor Day is marked with parades and picnics, often with games and recreational activities, especially with families and children. On this day, there are often meetings where union leaders celebrate achievements and problems still to be solved.

May Day was founded in the 1888s during worker struggles for an 8-hour workday. In 1882, the Central Labor Union of New York City adopted a Labor Day proposal and arranged for a procession and a picnic, urging other unions to join in the festivities. Originally, Labor Day was held on the first Monday in September, but after the Haymarket riots in Chicago, the date was changed by the authorities to May 1.

Today, most Americans regard Labor Day, now officially celebrated on the first Monday in September, as just another day off Many collective bargaining contracts specify Labor Day as a paid holiday. Although banks, post offices and other public facilities are closed, it is a big shopping day.

Workers’ Memorial Day Honors the Dead, with a Vow to the Living

On April 28, working people and their unions paid their respect to those who have lost heir lives because of an injury or illness they sustained on the job. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act OSHA), Many union leaders, staffers and activists fought for years to get Congress to finally approve health and safety legislation.

In 1971, 14,000 workers were killed on the job , but over decades, the number was reduced to around 4,400 fatalities The most recent data on workplace fatalities show that deaths rose 2 percent in 2006 to 5,840, the highest level since 2002. The rate of fatal injuries per 100,000 workers remained flat over that period, according to the Department of Labor. The AFL-CIO has criticized Republican budget cuts in health and safety programs.

Here is a list of the 10 most dangerous occupations, with the number of deaths per 100.000

(1) loggers (85);
(2) airline pilots (109);
(3) fishers and fishing (38);
(4) structural iron and steel workers (3i));
(5) refuse and recyclable matrial collectors (35) ;
(6) farmers and ranchers (307) ;
(7) roofers (94);
(8) electrical power and installers/repairers (36);
(9) driver/sales workers and truck drivers (905) and
(10) taxi drivers and chauffeurs (67).

Building Unions in the Arab World

Labor unions are a key piece of nascent democracies in Egypt and across the Arab world. Unions are being fostered in Egypt’s ‘ transport industries, particularly with seafarers, and also in the West Bank, with the assistance of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which includes 781 unions, representing more than 4.6 million workers in 155 countries.

David Cockroft, ITF general secretary, recently spent two days visiting Israel and the West Bank, conducting workshops to help form unions throughout the Middle East, He wrote that on the second day of his visit, the workshop “produced a huge list of ideas for the future: better communications and the use of websites, Facebook and other basic education and training Internet tools to put union activists in touch with each other.

Participants at the workshop agreed to a major program to assist union-building in the Arab world in all branches of transport, starting with maritime unions, There is another online source about democratic movements in the Middle East that can be utilized to bring together the campaigns for labor and women’s rights.

U.S. and Colombia Near Trade Pact, Despite Murders

With the announcement that it has extracted concessions on human rights from Colombia, the Obama administration is edging closer to endorsing a trade pact with that Latin American country. The White House said Colombia had promised to expand is protection program for labor union leaders, enforce its labor laws more vigorously and hire 480 more labor inspectors.

The AFL-CIO has strongly opposed the trade pact with Colombia for years, pointing to the more than 3,000 murders of trade unionists that have been committed in the past three decades by paramilitaries, with little effort by the government to punish the perpetrators of these crimes of violence. In the past year, 51 union organizers and members were murdered.

U.S. labor leaders claim that the Colombia trade deal, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would mean a loss of a lot of jobs for American workers. They doubted that the Colombian government would live up to its promises to eliminate violence against workers, and that the Obama administration was too quick to accept those promises in order to hasten the adoption of the trade treaty by Congress.

Argentina Labor Leader Call for Street Rally of Half-Million Workers

Argentina’s top labor leader is calling a half-million members into the Capital’s streets in a show of support for President Cristina Fernandez—and as a warning that unions must be taken care of to avoid unrest that could make the country ungovernable. Not content with this year’s pay raise of 24 percent or more for his truckers and other union members, Hugo Moyano wants union loyalists to be installed in key government posts, and even corporate boardrooms.

As leader of Argentina’s biggest union confederation, known by its initials, CGT, Moyano’s main goal is to push private companies to open their books and share 10 percent of their profits with workers. Moyano has been accused of money- laundering as well as of a scandal involving union-run medical plans that provided diluted, expired and stolen rugs to cancer and AIDS patients.

The CGT’s 4 million members can cause paralyzing strikes at a moment’s notice, closing down highways, airlines, trains, garbage collection and other essential services in this country of 40 million people. Opponents of Moyano within the CGT—and there are a variety of them—dismissed the rally as an expression of his personal ambitions, rather than the labor movement’s needs.

Labor Unions Demand Better Conditions at Sodexo

Labor unions from six countries gathering in Brazil launched a global campaign on April 27 against Sodexo, demanding the French catering and food services giant respect the rights of thousands of employees. Unionists from the United States, France, Colombia, Morocco and the Dominican Republic joined organizations from Brazil at a press conference to highlight what they say are glaring abuses by the company, which employs some 380,000 people in 80 countries.

“Sodexo must respect the rights of workers to organize and respect the laws of different counties,” said Jean-Michel Dupire, representative of the French union, CGT. “We also have demands for decent wages, better working conditions and respect for workers in general,” he said.

Sodexo has been in conflict for years in he United States with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which accuses the French firm of union-busting and poor working conditions. The company has also been criticized for lack of medical assistance to employees after workplace accidents.

To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, read our weekly column, “The World of Labor,”which we post here every weekend and on our two web sites: and