THE WORLD OF LABOR — September 24, 2011

By Harry Kelber

World Leaders to Discuss Unemployment at Annual Meeting

What do the Arab Spring, the London riots and the Greek debt crisis have in common? They have all happened in environments of rampant joblessness. In fact, it might not be far off to say that a big share of the world’s political and economic turmoil is fueled in one way or another by unemployment.

That is why when policy makers and economists meet in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, unemployment will be prominent on the agenda. It is the industrialized countries, not the poor ones, that have the biggest growth in unemployment. Developed countries account for 15 percent of the world’s labor force, but half the number of newly jobless since 2007.

High growth rates mean that employment in the emerging countries is at least going in the right direction. That is not true of many developed countries. Germany appears to be an exception. Unemployment has plunged to 6.2 percent from a peak of 10.6 percent in 2005. One reason is a series of policies that loosened job protections and put more pressure on unemployed people to find work.

23,000 Nurses Across U.S. Demonstrate for Patient Care

A one-day nationwide strike by 23,000 registered nurses took place on Sept. 20, with members of the Nurses National Union (NNU) walking picket lines, joining rallies and sending a strong message to three large employers that they will not accept reductions in patient services or cuts to nurses and other care-givers.

The walkout affected Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, as well as Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California. Sutter nurses protested up to 200 demands for sweeping concessions they say would restrict their ability to effectively advocate for patients. They say Sutter managers focus on the bottom line, forcing nurses to work when sick, dangerously exposing ill patients to infection.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who joined the nurses on the Sutter picket line, said the 23,000 nurses who took a stand were joined by “millions of patients,” and had the support of working people across the country.

Airbus Fails to Reach an Agreement with German Union

Negotiations have broken down between Airbus and the IG Metall Union on a work agreement for 16,000 employees in Germany, opening the way for possible strike action. “The employers remain inflexible on raising the productivity rate to 8 percent a year. We can’t demand that of our colleagues,” said two of IG Metall organizers.

The work pact covers a range of issues from an employment guarantee in the coming years to a ceiling on hiring temporary workers, The workers have offered a 2 percent productivity rate, which would amount to about one billion euros (39 billion U.S. dollars) between now and 2020, in exchange for guarantee of employment, and maintaining Airbus’s four sites in northern Germany.

Before the latest round of talks in Hamburg, an Airbus spokesman said there had been a “lot of progress” recently. The spokesman also said that the rate the aircraft maker was asking for was a 5 percent productivity rate, not 8 percent.

Honda Union Continues Struggle in Mexico

Honda workers in Mexico obtained legal recognition of their union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Unidos de la Honda de Mexico (STUHM). The company opposed the organization and prefers the protection union that has blocked independent unions at the Honda site in Jalisco, Mexico, for 26 years.

Despite the recent court’s decision on union recognition on Sept. 6.Honda dismissed two more workers after they openly admitted to be members of the new union. Both men have worked in the Honda plant for more than five years and were exercising their legitimate right to organize. Several other workers report that the local management is harassing and intimidating workers and offering them bribes and financial advantages if they sign letters renouncing STUHM.

STUHM is continuing to organize and defend the rights of auto workers. It has demanded a 30 percent wage increase for all workers. Honda pays the lowest wages in the auto industry, workers say.

Protests Shut Colombian Oil Fields

Colombian police fought protesters on Sept. 20 at Pacific Rubiales oil field, shutting around 225,000 barrels of oil per day. Colombia is enjoying a flood of investment after a successful U.S.-backed offensive. Oil output in Latin America’s No, 4 crude producer has hit historic levels this year.

In July and August, protesters rocked Rubiales, which has the largest producing field in Colombia. The police are putting a lot of pressure on workers to stop the protest inside the camp. They have launched tear gas from helicopters, protesters say.

Once considered a failing state, Colombia has turned its image around by battering leftist rebels and drug gangs, bringing in billions of dollars in foreign investment.

FIJI Unions Alarmed at U.S. Firm’s Power in Their Country

The head of Fiji’s Trades Union Congress, Felix Anthony, says the apparent drafting of an employment decree by a New York firm at the request of an airline chief may be a first for Fiji. His comment follows the leak of the firm’s itemized 24,000 U.S. invoice for three months’ work.

The documents show that Air Pacific’s CEO David Pflinger commissioned the Essential National Industries Employment Decree from the U.S. legal firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy earlier this year.

Anthony said that companies should have no role in writing laws, which should be properly considered by an elected government. “This is probably the first time that we have had lawyers sitting on the other side of the world drafting decrees or laws that would affect the people of Fiji.”

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