THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 5, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Workers of the World Mark May Day 2012

Millions of workers around the world marked May Day by taking to the streets against exploitation and war. Workers turned out in droves in Greece, France and Spain to denounce European- Union-mandated austerity, and called for policies that boost living standards and economic growth.

In the United States, unions and Occupy activists staged demonstrations, joined picket lines and committed acts of civil disobedience to protest anti-labor attacks. The largest rally in Asia was organized by Indonesian unions. About 10,000 workers massed in Jakarta, the country’s capital, demanding better pay and job security.

In Germany, groups of demonstrators called for “Marshall Plan” stimulus programs to revive the economies of crisis-hit eurozone nations. In Moscow, 100,000 people took part in May Day festivities

In China, the country’s leaders visited street cleaners and bus drivers in Beijing and offered May Day greetings to the nation’s workers. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban citizens participated in the annual May Day.

Jobless Rate Reaches New High in Euro Zone

Unemployment in the Euro zone rose to a new high in March, according to figures released May 2. The data came a few days before the crucial elections in France and Greece, and it is likely to prompt more intense calls for an easing of Europe’s austerity drive.

Unemployment in the 17 countries that constitute the euro zone rose to 10.0 percent in March. Last year, it was 9.9 percent for the same month. The monthly increase, the 11th in a row, translates into more than 17 million people, and is in line with other recent indicators that shoe the euro zone economy remains distressed. Manufacturing hit a 34-month low in April.

As growth has faltered, around the euro zone, some policy makers have begun to talk more about the need to balance budget-cutting with measures to promote growth. But it is not yet clear how they will do so, with investors reluctant to lend governments any more money, and citizens in wealthier countries like Germany, are not willing to subsidize their neighbors.

Strike at Amazon Project in Second Week

A strike by 7,000 workers seeking better working conditions at a contested dam in Brazil’s Amazon region was in its second week on May2, despite a court ruling declaring the protest illegal., the consortium in charge of the project said. However, workers have defied the court order. The stoppage began April 3, with workers demanding a free airfare and a nine-day break to visit their families every three months, instead of the current six months.

They also want a higher food allowance. Last week, the strike by Sintrapay, the union, was declared illegal on the grounds that the union’s demands violated the terms of a collective bargaining deal reached only a few months ago.

Sintrapay, however, said the workers could not resume work because of a lack of transport. It said that the union would meet soon to decide what to do next.

New-Look Dutch Labor Federation Should Be More Democratic

The new-look FNV trade union federation should give union members more control, making it a more democratic institution, troubleshooter Jetta Klijnsma said last week. Klijnsma was brought in to try to restore order to the country’s biggest unions, which have been hit by internal division over policy.

Kiljnsma recommends the federation set up a membership council to work alongside the traditional board composed of union chiefs. In addition, the federation’s chair should be directly elected, and members should be able to draw up referendums on strategy.

The FNV, which will be renamed De Nieuwe Vakbeweging (the new union movement), has been beset by in-fighting over its decision to back the new pension system. The two largest Dutch unions are positive about the democratic structure and will hold a congress on May 30, at which individual members will have their say.

Irish Workers Celebrate as 139-day Sit-in Ends

After 139 days of round-the-clock sit-ins, the 23 former employees of Vita Cortex have finally secured a severance deal with their former employer, which will allow them to go home within a fortnight. The workers were paid their statutory severance in February, but for almost five months, they have maintained their protest in pursuit of an 0.9 percent weeks pay per year of service they claim they were promised.

The breakthrough came after talks at the Rochestown Park Hotel on May 2. At the end of four hours of discussion, an offer was made to the union that was “significantly” greater than the approximate 185,000 euros put forward last March. The sit-ins will continue for the next two weeks until the money is received.

Tim Burke, an employee of the company for 43 years, said it had been a hard struggle. “The 23 stuck together through cold nights and mornings,” he said. A company spokesman said they were “satisfied” with the outcome and welcomed the agreement achieved through negotiation.

Workers Stage Warning Strike in Germany

Over 30,000 manufacturing workers warned employers with strikes across Germany, after negotiations between IG Metall and the employers’ association, Gesamtmetall, came to a stalemate at the end of April. Warning strikes started on May 2, when workers in the manufacturing sector went on strike at more than 100 companies across the country.

IG Metall is asking for a 6.5 percent wage increase for all its members this year. It has rejected as “a provocation,” an offer of a 3 percent pay increase over 14 months for 700,000 workers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, made in April. The union demands are based on an increase in productivity development, as well as projected inflation in 2012 and 2013.

Last weekend’s warning strikes began on April 28 in the eastern city of Zwickau in Saxony state, where hundreds of young metalworkers conducted a motorcycle parade. Other demonstrations occurred in Bavaria, Berlin and other important manufacturing centers.

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