THE WORLD OF LABOR — March 3, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Tens of Millions Join India’s One-Day Protest Strike

As many as a hundred million workers participated in a one-day, India-wide general strike on Feb. 28 to protest against the socio-economic policies of the Congress Party-led-United Progressive Alliance government and to express support for a 10-point charter of demands.

The demands included action to contain rising prices; a halt to privatization, and an end to government complicity in employers’ systematic violation of labor regulations. The petition also called for equal pay and rights for the large number of contract workers employed in industry and the public sector, and the provision of social benefits for the vast majority of India’s workers, who toil under sweatshop-type conditions in the so-called unorganized sector.

The strike was called by the eleven government-recognized national trade union centrals, including those affiliated with the two Communist parliamentary parties. The strike paralyzed the activities of public sector banks, insurance companies, post offices and government-owned ports across most of India.

Oil Services Giant Is Pressured over Egyptian Union-Busting

Schlumberger, the world’s largest oil services company has been scrambling to defend actions of local management in Egypt who fired the entire leadership of a nascent trade union. Pressure has been exerted by the ICEM and its affiliated Norwegian and Canadian unions to intervene and remedy the unacceptable violation of worker rights in Egypt. Schlumberger employs 2,500 workers in Egypt, 40 percent of whom are workers of subcontractors at 10 different work sites.

In April 2011, the process to establish an independent, company-level trade union at Schlumberger Egypt was begun, as part of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions. A month later, signatures and required documents were collected to complete the legal process of establishing a union. On July 3, the day of the new union’s general congress, the company reacted by discharging the entire union leadership.

Under Egyptian law, workers can only be dismissed from their employment, following a due legal process and a court ruling. The court procedure cannot even be initiated without justifiably serious reasons. The union plans to contact Schlumberger’s clients, the oil and gas multinationals that use the company’s services, if the firm’s violent union-busting attacks do not cease.

Europe’s Unions Protest ‘Straitjacket’ Treaty

In calling attention to job creation as equivalent to economic growth, working people across Europe on Feb. 29, led by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) are in a Day of Action in opposition to the European Council’s adoption of a budget discipline treaty. “In mobilizing on the same day everywhere in Europe for the first time, European trade unions are reacting with anger and exasperation,” said ETUC general secretary Bernadette Segal.

Today’s Day of Action will feature demonstrations, work stoppages, and information postings inside workplaces and government institutions, stating that the European summit’s Treaty of Stability, Coordination and Governance is a “straightjacket” that will plunge the Eurozone into a free-fall recession.

In the U.K., British trade unions used the day to gear up their defense of the National Health Service, for massive rallies on March 7. In Greece, workers will continue their resistance to the government’s austerity legislation with a three-hour work stoppage next week. Even in Georgia, trade unions will join the Day of Action with a rally at Parliament in Tbilisi.

Haitians Take Arduous Path to Brazil and Jobs

Gambling everything, thousands of Haitians have made their way across the Americas to reach small towns in the Brazilian Amazon over the past year in a desperate search for work, including a surge of hundreds arriving in recent days amid fears that the Brazilian government could slow the influx before it overwhelms the authorities here.

Their improbable journey — from the rubble of their island homes to remote outposts in the Amazon — say as much about the dire economic conditions that persist in Haiti two years after the earthquake as it does about the rising economic profile of Brazil, which is not only becoming a magnet for poor foreign laborers, but for growing numbers of educated professionals from Europe, the United States and Latin America.

About 4,000 Haitians have immigrated to Brazil since the 2010 earthquake, often going first through Ecuador, a poorer country with lax visa policies. Brazil has made an exception for Haitians in contrast to job-seekers from nations like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, who arrive via similar Amazonian routes but are usually expelled.

IMF Demands Reinstatement of 54 Dismissed Thailand Unionists

Since Ricoh Ltd. opened its manufacturing facility in Thailand three years ago, workers have protested regularly about poor wages and working conditions. When they formed a union and tried to engage the company to resolve their grievances, Ricoh Thailand responded by dismissing 54 workers who were active in the union out of a total workforce of 724.

Ricoh’s violations of labor rights include forced overtime; unfair distribution of wages and bonuses; docking time while workers use the restrooms, and having insufficient safety equipment. The dismissed workers are now protesting outside the Japanese-owned factory.

The Ricoh union was officially registered on Dec. 16, 2011 and is now an affiliate of the powerful International Federation of Metalworkers (IMF). The IMF has called on the Japanese ambassador to Thailand to intervene in the case and is supporting the dismissed workers at the Thai Labor Relations Committee.

Irish Workers Will Work an Extra Day Without Pay on Feb. 29

Irish workers, who receive an annual wage, will work the extra day without pay, because there are 252 working days to a leap year, as opposed to the 251 days they worked last year. The situation has not changed for salaried workers, but with the lack of consumer demand, perhaps an end-of-the-month contribution from employers might help boost spending to bolster the domestic economy.

Jim Power, chief economist with Friends First, said that due to the harsh economic climate, workers should be happy to work the extra day for free. Employers need everything they can get at this juncture, given the tough economic climate . . . Workers should regard this as a small sacrifice to make in order to keep businesses trading.

Many workers don’t see it that way. They’d like that extra day to rest and take care of heir private affairs.

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