THE WORLD OF LABOR — October 15, 2011

By Harry Kelber

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Fights Eviction Threat by New York’s Mayor

Tens of thousands of people rallied behind ‘Occupy Wall Street,’’ using a barrage of e-mails and phone calls to block a threat by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would have effectively evicted the protesters from Zuccotti Park, where they are encamped.

A confrontation between the protesters and city police was averted when the park’s owner sent an e-mail to Mayor Bloomberg indicating that he was withdrawing his clean-up orders and that the protesters could continue to stay at the park. The Mayor’s office agreed to the cancellation, and the police were informed of their new orders.

The ability of “Occupy Wall Street” to marshal such massive support in less than a few hours indicates that the protesters are becoming an important social force that commands attention. The protest group’s New York victory will raise the spirits of similar groups around the country.

German Chancellor and Global Organizations Call for G20 Jobs Action

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of five key international bodies have called for coordinated G20 action to improve growth and employment, boosting prospects for a positive jobs outcome from the coming November’s G20 summit in Cannes. In a joint statement with the ILO, International Metal Workers’ Federation, World Bank, World Trade Organization and OECD, she has called for top priority to be given to “job-generating enterprises of the real economy.”

“The G20 coordinated action to stabilize the global financial system in 2008, but this has not been followed through in the real economy. More and more jobs are being lost, and the world is again on the brink of a serious recession, causing even more hardship to ordinary people. G20 cooperation is urgently needed to tackle skyrocketing unemployment and to regulate banks and finance effectively,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The international union movement is insisting that the Cannes Summit agree on far-reaching global economic reform and for policies of growth, not cuts. A key demand is the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax to help fund the real economy and reduce damaging financial speculation.

Myanmar (Burma) Workers Win Right to Strike

Workers in military-dominated Myanmar will be allowed to unionize and go on strike for the first time in decades, officials said on Oct. 14 under landmark new legislation welcomed by the United Nations. The law was signed into effect on Oct. 11 by President Thein Sein and replaces the repressive 1962 Trade Unions Act in the latest sign of tentative reform by the authoritarian regime.

The legislation stipulates that workers, with the exception of the military and police, can set up a union with a minimum of 30 members, and decide on their own name and logo. Employers must be given up to 14 days advance notice of industrial action. Unions must specify in advance how many workers will take part in the strike.

The past week, the regime pardoned about 200 political prisoners in a much-anticipated amnesty, though critics said the gesture did not go far enough, because there are more than 2,000 political activists s still in prison.

Collective Agreement Reached in Swiss Watch Industry

Representatives of UNIA and the watch-making industry have just signed a new collective agreement in the watch and micro-technology sector. It will apply to the approximately 400 mostly small and medium-sized watch-making industry.

The five-year agreement creates a flexible retirement scheme. Workers will now be able to reduce their working time by 20 percent two years before the legal retirement age with the assurance that the employer will cover half of the lost pay at his expense. It will also be possible to reduce working time by 40 percent one year before retirement, with the employer covering the lost pay.

The contract also improves starting minimum pay and increases the employer’s contribution to the health insurance fund. Union leaders’ access to the plants will also be improved with UNIA delegates to industry conferences receiving one day of paid leave per year to attend them. The employers’ attempt to raise working hour from 30/45 to 30/48 was rejected.

Romania’s IMF-Inspired Labor Laws Creating Hardships for Workers

Romania’s labor laws, introduced at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, have stripped away key protections for the country’s work force and are denying large numbers of workers the right of union representation. More people are now forced to take a second job to make ends meet, as labor market conditions become more precarious and incomes stagnate.

The new laws, which the Romanian trade union movement is trying to have amended, exclude workers in the “liberal professions” from the right to union membership. The government has introduced a series of legal and procedural methods to remove workers’ collective bargaining rights. The government’s claim that its laws have reduced unemployment are not supported by its own statistics.

“Powerful corporate and financial interests are succeeding in turning back two decades of democratic progress for Romania’s workers. These laws are a threat to the country’s economic and social stability,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow.

Brazil’s Post Office Strikers Are Penalized by Court Intervention

After 28 days of strike, it will take between seven and 10 days for the Brazilian Post Office to normalize mail delivery. The Post Office estimates that some 185 million items were not delivered since the beginning of the work stoppage.

Brazil’s Superior Labor Court ordered that striking workers be docked for seven days pay and that the other 21 days they were on strike must be compensated for by working overtime. The postal workers union can be fined 50,000 reals (US $28,000) per day if it refuses to pay.

The penalties against the strikers are unusually harsh. It is not clear whether the unions will challenge the court order. They will be contending with a majority of angry citizens, who favor docking workers the seven days pay.

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