THE WORLD OF LABOR — November 26, 2011

By Harry Kelber

The U.S. Is ‘Dead Last’ Among 21 Nations in Unionization Rates

The United States is ‘dead last’ among 21 developed nations in both unionization rates and union coverage of the workforce. Instead, a new study, in both unionization rates and union coverage of the workforce, says it’s not because of globalization or high technology.

The new study, Politics Matter: Changes in Unionization Rates in Rich Countries, 1960-2010, states that the freedom of unions to bargain and organize are the determining factors in both union coverage and union density.

The biggest membership decline was in New Zealand, down 47.7 percentage points since 1980. And while the U.S. union membership dropped by 12.4 percentage points since 1980, it started from a lower base than the other 20 countries., and rested at 13.3 percent in 2007.

Chinese Workers Strike at IBM Parts Supplier and Lingerie Factory

Thousands of workers in southern China went on strike in the last week to demand higher pay and better treatment, disrupting work at companies that included one that supplies equipment to Business Machines Corp. (IBM).

In Shenzhen, 1,000 workers struck on Nov. 22 at a factory owned by a Taiwanese computer parts-maker, after the company required staff to work overtime from 6 p.m. to midnight and set unachievable production goals. As many as 200 employees at Top Form’s Shenzhen lingerie factory, staged a 5-day work stoppage before returning to their jobs.

Workers in China’s coastal provinces are quicker to strike now because inflation exacerbates any cuts in their pay and because of concern that their employers will relocate abroad or to the country’s inland areas. Food prices in October rose 11.9 percent from a year ago, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

General Strike Shuts Down Portugal

A general strike against European Union International Monetary Fund austerity shut down most of Portugal’s transportation networks and public services. Most flights in and out of the country were canceled because of the Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving Day) strike.

State employees and factory workers responded to the strike call of their unions. Hospitals provided emergency services only, and trash was not collected. Demonstrators in Lisbon, the country’s capital, were predominately peaceful, except for an incident in front of the Parliament building, where seven protesters were arrested.

“It was a strike with a very strong signal against the impoverishment of the country,” said Carvalho da Silva, the leader of the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, Portugal’s largest union. “There is a real sense of outrage,” he said.

Egyptian Protesters and Police Observe Temporary Truce

After violence had killed 39 people in five days, protesters and police reached a tentative truce on Nov. 24. But protesters vowed they would seek an end to army rule with a mass rally on Nov. 25 in Tahir Square, supported by the trade unions.

The ruling army council again promised that parliamentary elections would start on time next week, after offering a faster timetable for a handover to civilian control. “The people demand the execution of the marshal,” crowds chanted, referring to army chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years.

The Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation called for a workers’ march to Tahir. Another labor rights group called for a general strike to back the protests. Labor unions played an important role in the movement that toppled Mubarack.

Nigerian Workers Begin Industrial Action over Troops and Facilities

The National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) on Nov. 25 deplored the decision of the Federal Government to deploy troops to guard the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) installations nationwide. They described the action as irrational, considering that talks are still going on over the privatization of PHCN.

The union asked its members to embark on peaceful demonstrations across the states to protest the military occupation of the installations. NUEE president Mansur Musa said the peaceful marches are intended to protest the non-payment of the 50 percent salary increment since June, as well as the harassment of its members by security officials.

The union leader described as false and misleading the claim by the government that the troops were deployed to guard the installations from attacks by the Boko Haram, an alleged terrorist organization. Joe Ajaero, NUEE general secretary, alleged that the government deployed troops to ensure that the sale of PHCN goes on without a hitch,

Fate Is Uncertain for about 600 Bangladeshi Garment Workers

The future of about 600 Bangladeshi garment workers, mostly women in Jordan, has become uncertain as Taiwanese factory Maintrend International shut down last month. The factory shuttered last month because of losses allegedly caused by a series of strikes protesting abusive treatment.

About 600 skilled female garment workers were sent to Jordan through a state-owned Bangladeshi recruiting agency about seven months ago. The male workers have been in Jordan for several years. According to officials of the Bangladesh embassy, in Amman, the Jordanian authorities are not allowing transfer of these workers to other factories as they had promised. As a result, the jobless workers went on strikes, which is illegal in Middle East countries.

The strike had ended with a deal in which Maintrend International agreed to give each worker three and a half months’ pay, a one-way ticket to India and compensation for unused care. The management said the disruptive strikes had caused hem $1 million.

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