THE WORLD OF LABOR — November 19, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Mass Arrests at ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests

Some 250 people were arrested in New York alone, as thousands of protesters marched across Brooklyn Bridge in one of several U.S. rallies of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The rallies marked two months since the movement against inequality began.

The march across the Bridge had had been planned before demonstrators were swept two days ago (Nov. 15) from New York’s Zuccotti Park, where they had camped since September. Protesters accused the police of brutality, with TV images showing a man with a bloodied face being arrested. By Thursday evening, protesters were joined by union activists as they moved on to the Brooklyn Bridge. Seven officers and 10 protesters were injured during the day.

Despite police attacks and arrests, Occupiers did not stop their protests in cities across the country. In Los Angeles, 500 marchers chanted anti-bank slogans. In Portland, Oregon. Activists tried to “occupy” a Wells Fargo bank branch. Rallies were held at bridges considered in disrepair in Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Boston and other cities, as activists called for infrastructure projects to create jobs.

Support for the Occupy movement also came from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Union Wins Pay Equity Case Against Canada Post

The Public Service Alliance of Canada won a final victory Nov. 16 in a pay equity case against Canada Post that goes back a generation. in a rare ruling from the bench, delivered by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the court sided with the union in the $150-million dispute. The unanimous court said the reasons will be submitted later.

“Today we celebrate a hard-won victory for equality,” said Patty Ducharme, the union’s national executive vice president. “But the fact that this took 28 years is completely unacceptable. Canada needs a proactive pay equity law that ensures that women won’t have to wait decades to be compensated for the value of their work.”

PSAC claimed in August 1983 that women were being discriminated against under the Canadian Human Rights Act, because they made less pay than men in comparable Canada Post jobs, The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compared wages between 6,000 current and former mainly female clerical staff and the predominantly male postal operations group as evidence of discrimination.

Mexico’s Mine Labor Leader Receives Meany-Kirkland Award

Exiled leader of Mexico’s mine workers union, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, was honored with the AFL-CIO’s 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in a ceremony at Federation headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 16.

Since 2006, Gomez Urritia has lived in exile in Vancouver, Canada, forced to seek asylum after the Mexican government filed numerous criminal charges against him. The government not only went after him with a vengeance, they launched an intensive attack on the union itself. Employers were urged to set up a company union to replace the legitimate union, popularly known as “Los Muneros.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Gomez Urritia a “truly courageous man, who has shown us how difficult it is and how important it is to be an independent leader of a democratic union.” Gomez Urritia couldn’t come to Washington to claim the AFL-CIO’s prestigious award, because the Obama administration wouldn’t give him a travel permit.

Mass Firings at Site for Brazil’s Amazon Dam

At least 141 workers have been fired at the construction site for Brazil’s controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon, following a dispute over working conditions. Jose Antonio Cardoso, a representative for the workers, said the consortium in charge of the $11 billion project, had promised to help resolve the dispute, but instead announced that 134 workers were being fired without explanation.

Last month, more than 400 activists occupied the site of what would be the third largest dam in the world — after China’s Three Gorges dam and the Haipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Construction of the Belo Monte dam has been the subject of legal wrangling for decades.

Brazilian President Dilma Roussoff’s government has insisted has insisted the project should be allowed to go forward. The project is expected to employ 20,000 people directly in construction.

Hyundai’s New Union Leader Demands End of Overnight Shift

Hyunda Motor Co.’s new labor union chief said that workers will demand that South Korea’s biggest carmaker end overnight shifts and improve medical benefits. The union will also insist on a review of Hyundai’s overseas expansion plans, said Moon Yong Moon, who beat incumbent Lee Kyung Hoon in this month’s election to lead the 45,000-member union for a two-year term.

Last year, the company’s overseas plants delivered 1.9 million units or 52 percent of production, exceeding domestic for the first time, according to company data. Hyandai had an annual operating profit of $49,730 per employee, the highest among the world’s biggest carmakers.

The most recent strike, in 2008, cost the company at least 691 billion won (about U.S. $800 billion) or the production of 44,645 vehicles. The new South Korean labor leader at Hyundai said: ”We are willing to yield and negotiate but we will not be forced just to sacrifice,” Moon said. “If they won’t talk to us, we will make them talk.”

Thai Floods Force 100,000 Myanmar Immigrant Workers Home

Thailand’s devastating floods have forced nearly 100,000 Myanmar immigrants to return home, raising the governments concerns about declining remittances, international labor sources said. Floods swamped Thailand’s central plains and parts of Bangkok since last month, affecting a total of 21,257 businesses and some 834,995 employees.

Thailand’s migrant labor registration is complex. Only 600,000 registered workers have passports and permission to travel, while the remainder have permits to work in designated provinces and are not free to travel. There are also an estimated one million unregistered migrant workers who have neither passports nor permits.

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