THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 7, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Millions March on May Day Amid Austerity Measures in Europe

Millions of people around the world marched on Sunday, defending workers’ rights in traditional May 1 demonstrations, in some cases clashing with police. In Europe, austerity measures amid budget cuts to stabilize the beleaguered euro currency, helped fuel protesters’ anger in countries, such as Greece and Portugal.

More than 420,000 people rallied across Germany, which is Europe’s biggest economy and is pushing for bigger budget cuts among some poorer neighbors. Protests were largely peaceful in Berlin, the German capital, normally a hotspot for left-wing extremists on the International Workers’ Day. One of the biggest turnouts was in Istanbul, Turkey, where an estimated 200,000 people marched to demand worker rights and better wages. There were large May Day turnouts in Moscow, where May Day is an official Russian holiday.

There were fears that violence would erupt on Sunday after about 4,000 far-left protesters clashed with police in Hamburg, leaving ten police injured. Meanwhile, in Portugal fully dependent on outside financial aid, tens of thousands of people marched in Lisbon, with a union leader shouting, “We will never accept being colonized!”

Italian Union Declares a General Strike on May 6

The Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), with 5.5 million members, has declared a general strike on May 6, whose aim is to call for a change in the economic policies of the Italian government. “This is the only way to solve the current crisis and stop our country’s decline,“ the union said, adding: “The government seems hell-bent on making this decline irreversible.”

The CGIL proposes a detailed set of policies that cover employment and development, a fairer tax system, restoration of the standard employment contract, “based on the rules of democracy and worker representation.” It also addresses the condition of immigrant workers in Italy, stating that “immigrants must be seen as a resource for development.” It advocates that they should be allowed to vote in local elections.

The CGIL proclaims that it is a “multi-ethnic trade union confederation that stands up for immigrants, because the defense of human rights does not recognize ethnic barriers.” The union statement says: “We, men and women immigrant workers will strike en masse and demonstrate in the streets and piazzas that the defense of our rights as immigrants is possible only if we stand up for the rights of everyone.”

Progress Reported toward New Global Union

A joint task force of 37 delegates from three worldwide unions met in Frankfurt on May 5 to continue the process of creating a global union for workers in the extractive and manufacturing industries, which would create a powerful counterpart to transnational corporations, The objective of the task force is to establish a ”strong, self-reliant” global union that could protect and assist campaigns to organize the unorganized throughout a corporation’s supply chain.

The task force agreed on a proposal for an affiliation fee system for a new global union federation, which would unite 50 million industrial workers in more than 130 countries. Progress was also made on the draft statutes for the new organization. The framework for regional and sectoral activities was near completion. Further discussions will be held on the size and role of decision-making bodies and the gender balance.

The three federations that are establishing the new global union are: International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation ((ITGLWF). The task force’s proposals will be presented to delegates of the three global federations in Geneva on May 25.

Sixty Big-Name Brands Continue to Use Sweatshop Labor

A lobbying group examined the working conditions of 100,000 workers in 83 factories in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines to assess how the workers who supply western retail chains are treated. The report found that Adidas, Converse, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Billabong, among others, are “routinely breaking every rule in the book when it comes to labor rights.”

A huge number of high street chains and sporting goods retailers are named in the report, which lists 60 brand names The report found that no factory in the three countries examined paid a living wage, and that some paid their workers below the minimum wage in that region. In Indonesia, factories had adopted measures to interfere with union activities. The number of workers on short-term contracts was as high as 85 percent in some factories.

The study found that young women working in factories in Sri Lanka were told their employers preferred that they did not marry, and that some factories carried out pregnancy tests as part of the recruitment process. The report was sponsored by the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.

Finland Seeks to Improve Social Security for Self-Employed

Trade unions for the Public and Welfare Sectors have put a fairly new item on their agenda: the safeguarding of the interests of those who are self-employed. Some 160,000 people earn their living as self-employed persons, which makes up seven percentage of the total labor force, far less than in many European states. In the last two years, the number of self-employed in Finland has grown by 20,000.

The major problem for the self-employed is this: Finnish labor and social security legislation is built around a binary distinction between employees and entrepreneurs. Self-employed persons are defined as entrepreneurs, even in cases where they are completely dependent on one contractor. The legislation, as it now stands, makes no real provision for the self-employed.

“We demand that the next government program include a clear statement which will effectively improve. this group’s social situation,” said Paivi Niernie-Laine, a trade union research director. “As far as social security rules go, there is clearly a need for the self-employed to be separated and dealt with separately from entrepreneurs. This would create a new group of wage and salary earners.”

A Deal Is Reached with a Codelco Copper Mine in Chile

Codelco, the state-owned mining company of Chile and the world’s largest copper producer, reached early terms with three of its five mining unions at El Teniente in Region VI ten days ago. The 40-month agreement will take effect on July 1, 2011 and will cover 2,500 of El Teniente’s 4,000 miners.

The collective agreement includes a 3.85 percent wage increase on July 1 and a17,680 euros (U.S $25,324) bonus, which matches the bonus paid miners at other Codelco divisions.. It also includes a 10 percent increase in the annual bonus that comes in Chile’s national day, in September.

FTC Sindicato No. 1 Vice President Hector Roco said the union, and three other FTC branches at Chuquicamata, want workers to be given the opportunity to transfer to areas where retirements have lowered job roles, and they also want a say in the planning of the transition to underground mining.

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