THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 14, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Asia-Pacific Unions Are Creating a Global Federation

Unions representing manufacturing and resource sector workers from across the Asia-Pacific region are meeting in Sydney, Australia, to create a new global labor federation, bringing workers together to campaign on joint issues, such as banning asbestos, trade union rights and sustainable trade and development.

More than twenty unions from the region, including Bangladesh, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, are represented at the Sydney conference. Paul Howes, the National Secretary of the Australia Workers Union (AWU), opened the conference by stating: “We are meeting here to discuss the future of trade unionism and how we ensure that it best serves workers in the Asia-Pacific region, probably the most vital economic region on the globe. “

The proposed new global union federation will unite 50 million industrial workers in more than 130 countries across the globe. It will create a powerful counterpart to transnational corporations in the global campaign to organize the unorganized.

Finnish Paper Walkouts Intensify Because of Strike-Breaking

Ammattlitto Pro, the Finnish union, increased the number of strikes in Finland’s pulp and paper industry in response to strike-breaking and illegal coercion by industry’s management to a lawful overtime ban by the union. The escalation by Pro comes after the government mediation again failed on May 10 to resolve the two-month-old bitter dispute.

Seventy-five percent of 4,000 white-collar, technical and clerical workers in Finland’s paper sector are now on strike. The dispute is grounded on a principle that reduced workforces must not take on increased workloads without fair compensation. Because of redundancies and speedups across Finnish pulp and paper pl ants, Pro members have been asked to do more without pay and without recognition of higher job competencies.

The employers group, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation, has refused to agree to a national across-the-board fair wage increase. Employers have used threats, bullying tactics, and abuse to break the strike. Pro members have been pressured to train summer job workers, presumably to build a scab workforce to replace the strikers. No new negotiations are reported to settle the dispute.

AFL-CIO Seeks to Halt Trade Pact with Bahrain after Crackdown

The AFL-CIO is urging Washington to suspend a free trade pact with Bahrain in response to the Gulf nation’s crackdown, that includes purging union leaders accused of supporting pro-reform protests. The AFL-CIO seeks to push the United States government to make one of its first tangible censures against a key ally, Bahrain—home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet—for sweeping attempts to crush an uprising by its Shiite majority demanding greater freedom.

Suspending the free trade pact—which waives tariffs on industrial and consumer products—would send a strong message to Bahrain’s leaders that “their actions are moving in a very dire direction,” said Jeff Vogt, deputy director of the AFL-CIO’s international department.

The pact is just one of 17 such bilateral trade agreements with Washington, which also includes Israel, Jordan, and Oman in the Middle East. Vogt said it’s the first effort by the AFL-CIO to halt a free trade deal because of political pressures.

Greeks Stage Protests Against New Spending Cuts

Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets in Athens on May 11 for a largely peaceful protest against the debt-ridden government’s austerity drive, as a general strike by labor unions disrupted transport services and closed schools and other public services. The one-day strike came as the government—still struggling to get its financial house in order—is about to unveil yet another raft of spending cuts and tax increases.

Greece’s economy has shrunk far more than experts originally expected last year, when the government needed a rescue package of $140 billion rescue package to avoid bankruptcy. It shrank 4.5 percent last year and is likely to contract by an additional 3 percent, according to Greece’s Central Bank.

The labor unions that organized the strike want the government to revoke wage cuts and tax increases. They are particularly opposed to a privatization plan to raise up to $71.3 billion by 2015 through the sale of state utilities and venues built for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.

Egyptian Doctors Hold First Nationwide Strike

Egyptian doctors staged the first strike in public hospitals across the country, demanding better wages and conditions. The strike was organized by a committee that was elected by the Syndicate’s General Assembly on May 1. The work stoppage covered most public hospitals in Egypt and several university hospitals.

The strike was supported by 65 percent of the hospitals in Cairo and 90 percent in other governates, according to Dr. Rashwan Shaaban, a cardiologist and committee member. The strike was held between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., the normal hours of public clinics, and did not include intensive care units, emergency rooms, delivery rooms and emergency surgery.

The demands of the doctors include an increase in wages, a provision to increase security in the hospitals, and a rise in the health budget from the current 3,5 percent to 15 percent

Temp Workers in Germany Dismay Unions

Temporary employment, already a boom industry in Europe, is about to get more support when the last restrictions on labor mobility among European Union countries fell away on May 1—coincidentally the day that Europe celebrates the labor movement. Temporary employment agencies will now be able to remit workers to low-wage countries like Poland for jobs in Germany and elsewhere.

The loosening of Germany’s traditionally rigid labor market has been crucial to preventing at least some companies from shipping production abroad. “That will certainly raise the pressure,” said Sandra Siebenhuter, who has studied temporary work at the Otto Brenner Foundation, a research organization in Frankfurt.

“Our global competitiveness would deteriorate if we were unable to use the instrument of temporary employmen,” Bayerische Motoren Werke, the maker of BMW vehicles said in a statement, noting that 75 percent of the work force was in Germany, while 80 percent of its cars and motorcycles were sold abroad.

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