THE WORLD OF LABOR — June 18, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Biggest British Strike in 100 Years, Says Union Chief

The leader of the largest public sector union promises to mount a campaign of industrial action the country has not seen since the general strike of 1926, vowing not to back down until the government has dropped its controversial pension changes.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, which has 1.4 million members employed by the state, described plans for waves of strike action, with public services shut down on a daily basis, rolling from one region to the next, and from sector to sector.

There is growing anger over a public sector pay freeze That could trigger more disputes further down the line, and the changes would unfairly penalize women, who form the majority of low-paid public sector workers, Prentis said.

Tories to Strip Canadian Unions of Bargaining Rights

The Canadian government has served notice that it intends to introduce back-to-work legislation to end the contract dispute between Canada Post and its 48,000 union postal workers. The legislation would strip the workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Meanwhile, at a news conference on June 15, Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Postal Workers Union, blasted the government corporation’s decision to suspend operations and halt mail service across the country, calling it “unacceptable” and accusing Canada Post of holding the mail “hostage.”

Lemelin said the union wants to meet with Canada Post CEO Deepak Chapra to focus on three key issues: First, he wants a public commitment from him that social assistance checks will continue to be mailed. Second, that Canada Post agrees to reinstate the current collective agreement. And third, that Canada Post negotiators be given a new mandate to discuss issues, such as the safety of the workers and the impact of the new technology.

Indonesian Workers Demand Social Security for All

Indonesian unions criticized their government for not ensuring social security for all Indonesian people as mandated in the Global Jobs Pact that was adopted by the International Labor Organization in 2009 and supported by the Indonesian government.

A statement by Indonesia’s unions, supported by major global labor federations, said: ”The people of Indonesia continue to face problems of low wages, which are not comparable with the needs of a decent standard of living; unsafe working conditions, with the expansion of contract work and outsourcing, and the absence of comprehensive social security for all.”

The statement also notes that “Indonesia is the most backward country in Southeast Asia in terms of delivering comprehensive social security for their people.”

New Unions in Egypt Clash with Mubarak Old Guard

The rise of independent unions across Egypt is expected to become a driving force for a nation in disarray after the revolution. The increasing strength of the unions, representing more than five million people, from textile workers to government employees, will enable them to play a leading role, as the economy begins to dominate the debate over the country’s future.

Unemployment in Egypt is at about 12 percent. Food prices are on the rise and the economy will run at a deficit, because of the drop in tourism and business, following the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The battle for union influence is being waged by two groups: the long-established Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which was friendly toward the Mubarak government and the upstart Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions (EFIU). Both organizations in recent weeks have been attacking their rivals and filing law suits against each other.

Unions Demand Equal Pay in Switzerland

Thousands of workers in Switzerland participated in a day of action and a national strike on June 14, demanding equal rights for women workers. More than 45 organizations participated in the event.

In Switzerland, women workers earn an average 10 percent less than men, but they take on twice the amount of unpaid work and face a much higher challenge than men to coordinate family and professional life.

June 14 marks 30 years since equality of the sexes was enshrined in Swiss law, and 20 years since the first women’s strike in the country.

Volkswagen Strike in Brazil Ends After 40 Days

Workers at Brazil’s Volkwagen plant in Sao Jose dos Pinhais returned to work after winning an agreement on June 10 that ended a nearly 40-day strike. The workers accepted a package that guarantees that in the next 12 months, they will receive 21,689 Brazilian Reals and a pay increase of from 15 to 20 percent.

The agreement includes a provision for Profit and Result Sharing (PLR) for this year and next year, an increase in base pay, pay bonuses, a new pay scale and early payment of the 13th salary for 2012.

The metalworkers’ strike began on May 5, after the company announced that it would only offer to share profits with the workers of Parana at the rate of 80 percent of what was paid in Sao Paulo. The contract was negotiated between the Union of Metalworkers of Grande Cuntiba and Volkswagen after several rounds of talks.

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