THE WORLD OF LABOR — October 22, 2011

By Harry Kelber

ITUC Council Sets Agenda for Global Action in 2012

The General Council of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), at its meeting in Elewijt, near Brussels, this week, has set out priorities for global trade union action through the end of 2012, with a determination to fight back against the attacks on labor rights and the loss of jobs, driven by the deepening world economic crisis.

Major areas of action include: The launching of a program of political organizing, focusing on countries where new attacks on union rights are emerging; an alternate job-centered growth model with guaranteed social protection and a minimum wage; stepping up campaigns against multinational companies which violate worker rights to union representation and collective bargaining; to ensure respect for ILO standards in nine “countries at risk”: Bahrain, Burma, Colombia, Egypt, Fiji, Georgia, Guatemala, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Libyan Oil Workers Continue Their Strike

Nearly 80 workers at the Waha oil company have been protesting for seven consecutive weeks because the oil and finance ministry overturned their deal with the national oil company to eliminate the venture’s management. The workers were demonstrating outside the ministry’s offices on Oct. 19 because they refused to return to the war-torn oil fields as long as the current management remains in office.

“We are very cautious to rebuild our country in a new way and we don’t want to see the same names and figures that used to exist in the reign of Muammar Qaddafi even for an interim period, because it is disrespectful to the blood of the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives,” the protester said.

Waha, which produces a quarter of the country’s crude output, has had to deal with production problems because of the ongoing war in Libya. Workers say that two of its oil fields, Dabra and Samali, are in good shape and that production would soon resume, resulting in a harvest of 180,000 barrels a day.

Wal-Mart Cuts Some Health Care Benefits

After trying to mollify its critics in recent years by offering better health care benefits to its employees, Wal-Mart is substantially rolling back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raising premiums for many full-time staff.

Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans. In 2009, Wal-Mart said 52 percent of its employees obtained health coverage through it, but on Oct. 18, it declined to give the current percentage.

These moves are also occurring in a post-recession period when Wal-Mart has been struggling to regain its footing after months of disappointing or flat sales. And with unemployment still hovering around 9 percent employers may feel less compelled to offer expansive benefits to people desperate for work. But Wal-Mart must know that in hard times, working families need more health care protection, not less.

30,000 Metalworkers on Strike in Finland

A strike by 30,000 metalworkers began on Oct. 21 after negotiations on a new national collective agreement broke down. A last-minute proposal put forward by a National Conciliator on a new 2-year agreement for more than 200,000 in the Finnish metal industries were rejected by both the unions and employers on the eve of the strike.

The main disagreements concern the pay structure and paid training leave. The union wants pay rises to be general, while employers insist on local-level negotiations. Aniti Rinne, Pro’s President, said that the proposal did not guarantee equal minimum pay to all, and that too much was left to the employer’s discretion.

The strike will last until Nov. 7, unless the parties can reach an agreement before that date. Senior salaried employees’ organizations have announced they will join the strike on Nov. 1.

Portugal Is Facing a General Strike

Portugal’s biggest unions said on Oct. 19 that it will stage a general strike next month against austerity measures by the government as it tries to meet budget goals imposed as part of a 78 billion euro (U.S. $107 billion) bailout.

The CGTP umbrella union called the Nov. 24 general strike after the center-right government announced an austere 2012 draft budget this week, which included freezing civil servants’ year-end and holiday bonuses for two years. Deep spending cuts, including in key areas, such as health care and across- the-board tax boosts, promises to send Portugal into its deepest recession in decades next year with an economic contraction of 2.8 percent.

Unemployment is currently at 12.1 percent, its highest since the1980s, and the government expects it to rise further to 13.5 percent next year.

Forty Factories Are Occupied in Uruguayan Strike

A national Metalworkers’ Union strike began Oct.10 in support of the union’s demand for a collective agreement to be signed. Metalworkers occupied 40 factories throughout the country and will continue their occupation until their demands are met.

The union’s demands include an inflation plus 3.5 percent pay rise every six months, reduction of the workweek from 48 hours to 44 hours without loss of pay, and an end to the employer misuse of attendance bonuses to undermine the union, and other pro-union benefits.

An official explained that the union had called an indefinite strike because the current collective agreement had expired on June 30, 2010. The union had been negotiating with the employers for months with no real progress. The union hoped the work stoppage would change the employers’ attitude toward negotiation.

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