THE WORLD OF LABOR — December 10, 2011

By Harry Kelber

European Union Shifts Economic Aid to Poorer Countries

The European Commission has decided to cut aid from its 2014-2020 budget to 19 emerging economies together, with big economies like China, India and Brazil, and also including Argentina and 10 Latin American countries, the EC announced Dec, 8. “These countries are now able to ensure their own development, and our aid does not any longer have a high impact on their development,” said the EU in an official statement.

The EU commissioner said that the decision was taken to bring about a “shift in our relations with emerging countries and focus the aid on the poorest countries” between 2014 and 2020. The 27-state European Union is the world’s biggest donor, accounting for 50 percent of the world’s aid, with 53.8 billion euros (US $72 billion) handed out last year. The European Commission manages 20 percent of that aid — or 11 billion euros.

“An over-reliance on macro-economic data averaged at the national level hides the reality of poverty and inequality between countries. Aid should not be instrumentalized for EU strategic interests. We’re talking about public money aimed at poverty eradication,” said Sarah Kristine Johansen, who says the CONCORD confederation represents national aid agencies and 1,600 non-governmental organizations.

Italy’s New Prime Minister Offers Austerity Plan; Unions React by Strikes

Trying to push through a tough austerity package, Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Monti, saw a sharp decline in his popularity and was faced with a three-hour national strike on Dec. 12 by the country’s three most powerful unions. Public sector workers will stop work for eight hours on Dec. 19 to protest the government’s imposition of costly pension changes and a boost in property taxes.

Monti, a former European Commissioner, who formed a government of technocrats on Nov. 17, said in a television interview last week that the package was vital to avoid the risk of Italy becoming insolvent and no longer being able to pay public salaries or pensions.

From the start of 2012, pensions will be calculated only on the basis of contributions paid into the system, rather than from an end-of-career salaries. The minimum age for retirement was increased to 62 from 60 for women., and to 66 from 65 for men.

Organizing Workers in the Global ‘Informal’ Economy Is Major Challenge

The majority of workers around the world eke out a living in the “informal” economy, left vulnerable to exploitation, and are trapped in a hopeless existence. Caught in a daily struggle to make ends meet, workers in the unorganized economy — among them domestic workers, street and market vendors, agricultural and day laborers and workers who have been pushed from. permanent jobs into short-term, temporary work — often cannot organize and fight for better working conditions.

The issues, needs and experiences were the focus of a two-day conference in Cape Town, South Africa, organized by the Solidarity Center, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Dec. 2-3 meeting brought together informal workers, union leaders and researchers from around the world to explore ideas and strategies to help precarious workers improve their livelihood and lives.

Despite the odds against them, workers and their supporting organizations described how they have overcome significant challenges and won key victories. As examples, they cited how domestic workers created a national trade union center in Hong Kong; newspaper deliverers organized network to win improvements in wages and benefits in Pakistan, and how taxi drivers had organized a union in the New York taxi industry.

Egypt’s Independent Unions Are Harassed by Military Police

The perceived gains won by Egyptian workers and independent trade unions in the wake of the 18-day uprising have given way to stark realities under the military junta’s counter-revolutionary rule. After a wave of strikes and workers’ actions, a growing independent trade union movement began to assert itself unilaterally moving to dismantle the government-supported union.

In March, Egypt’s manpower minister, Ahmed Hassan El-Borai, announced the right of Egyptian workers to establish their own unions and federations an action hailed by the International Labor Organization (ILO). But a new trade union law is yet to be established by Egypt’s military rulers.

In the parliamentary elections that began last week, first-round results show strong electoral gains by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm. The Freedom and Justice Party, garnered 30 percent of the votes. It will be interesting to see the total votes for the young, Western-style militants who played a key role in forcing Mubarak to resign.

Civil Service Strike Looms in Zimbabwe

Plans for a crippling civil service strike is moving ahead toward the New Year, triggered by a groundswell of discontent over inadequate pay packages for public workers. Unions have given the coalition government up to the end of this month to have their salary concerns addressed or risk a national strike.

Most civil servants currently earn about U.S $250 a month. About 96 percent of public service workers earn below the Poverty Datum Line, now set at US $540. The workers’ current salary includes a raise they received last July.

They had been promised another pay raise in January 2012, but the Finance Minister Tendal Bili, but he recanted from that pledge, complaining that wages were eating up 60 percent of the government’s revenue.

Unilever Workers in Britain Begin First National Strike

Employees at Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company, have begun strike action for 24 consecutive hours over an “unacceptable attack” on their pensions. More than 2,500 staff members took action at 11 sites throughout England. A spokesman for Unilever said the company was “very disappointed.”

Members of Unite, Usdaw and the GMB unions are taking part in the 24-hour stoppage, the first national strike at Unilever, over proposals, which staff’ employees say, will cut their retirement income by up to 40 percent.

Jennie Fomby, a a national officer at Unite, said: “Their pension fund is financially robust and yet, Unilever, a highly profitable company, has shown little willingness to negotiate seriously to avert this dispute..”

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