THE WORLD OF LABOR — May 19, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Thousands of Chicago Marchers Urge G-8 to Adopt Transaction Tax

Several thousand demonstrators filled a plaza in downtown Chicago on May 18 for the first major rally in what is expected to be a weekend of protests, as President Obama and foreign leaders gather before a two-day NATO meeting. Members of the National Nurses United (NNU), wearing green felt caps, called for a “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street. An international transaction tax, even at low rates, could generate hundreds of billions of dollars annually for job creation and economic growth.

A far-larger “anti-NATO” march is scheduled for Sunday, the first to take place in an American city outside of Washington, It has Chicago residents on edge. Businesses have shut down or been boarded in the expectation of violence in the streets. Police started arresting protesters even before the start of the Friday march. Anti-war contingents expect a big turnout during the NATO meeting. The Occupy Wall Street movement will be actively involved in the protests.

For some, the outcome of the weekend’s protests will be viewed as a trial of the strength of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Demonstrators have been arriving on buses from Occupy-related groups across the country. There is much curiosity about what role the Occupyers will play in the Chicago weekend drama.

Germany’s IG Metall Wins Highest Pay Rise in 20 Years

Germany’s largest industrial union, IG MetAll, will get the biggest pay raise in 20 years after agreeing to a 4.3 percent pay increase with employers at the end of marathon talks that culminated before dawn on May 19. The deal, which is more than double Germany’s inflation rate of 2 percent, will give 3.6 million engineering workers a 4.3 percent pay rise, for 12 months, starting May1.

The size of the deal is a signal that Germany is willing to tolerate higher wages, even if it pushes up inflation, in order to help weaker euro members on Europe’s southern periphery. German government leaders have made unusual forays into the wage talks this year, urging employers to give workers higher pay, after a decade of restraint.

More money in the wallets of German consumers could boost the demand for imports from European partners, even though Germans have had a visceral aversion to higher prices, ever since the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

Three European Labor Federations Merge to Form Union of 7 Million

On May 16, in Brussels, Belgium, there was a historic merger of three giant labor federations formally merged to become the Industrial European Trade Union (IETU), a new federation representing 7,000,000 workers. The three unions, each organized in several industries, are the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (EMCEF), the European Metal Workers’ Federation (EMF) and the European Trade Union Federation for Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Footwear (TCL&F).

About 270 delegates from 125 unions attended the celebration of the founding of the new massive union. There were also 375 invited guests and visitors to witness the extraordinary event. The new federation will become a dynamic fighting force, aimed at making European industry the motor for both job growth and sustainable economic growth. It will begin functioning as of June 1 of this year.

Michal Wolters, EMCEF General Secretary, said: “What Europe needs is a quality of growth based on more public spending and mandated for worker-friendly and socially-enriching initiatives that drive our economies forward,” Wolters said. “The work that starts here today is focused on just that,” he added.

Dutch Workers ‘Wages Are Among the World’s Highest.’

The wages of workers in the Netherlands are among the highest, not just in terms of gross salaries, but also in what workers actually receive after deductions for taxes and premiums. These are the conclusions of a 2011 study carried out by the WageIndicator Foundation, and the vacancies and career web Monsterboard among workers in 23 countries.

Wages in Western Europe are generally high, compared to other continents, but the Netherlands is in the European vanguard along with Germany and the United Kingdom. South Africa is notable for its relatively high wages. WageIndicator conducts research on wages and working conditions in 65 countries.

The Dutch manager earns a slightly higher hourly wage, $26.19 dollars, compared to his U.K. colleague’s $24.50, but a British manager has a little left over after deductions of taxes and premiums. A South African manager makes $22.50 an hour, of which he can actually spend $16.10.

New French Cabinet Takes 30% Pay Cut

The newly-elected French president ordered 30 percent pay cuts for his ministers, amid calls to renegotiate the EU fiscal agreement. France’s new left-leaning government will take the pay cut in order to “lead by example, “a statement on a ministers’ code of ethics has revealed. The 34 ministers, the country’s first Socialist government in 17 years, have also been urged to shun free holidays, reject expensive gifts and cut personal travel expenses.

Meanwhile, the government’s new finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, has said that France would not ratify the European’s pact on fiscal discipline unless it was amended to include ambitious commitments to economic growth. The new French government is committed to serious management of public finances, but also wants a strong pro-growth strategy.

Laurent Fabius, who becomes prime minister, also emphasizes France’s need for economic growth. “Something that we French agree with is the need for budgetary firmness, but it takes two legs to be able to walk,” Fabius said.

Walesa, a Polish labor icon from the 1980s, Criticizes Solidarity

Former Polish President Lech Walesa said on May 16 that members of Solidarity, the trade union he once led, deserve to be beaten for a disruptive protest they staged last week in Warsaw. The comments by the outspoken Walesa underline the deep split between him and the labor movement he led in the 1980s, when it was the key dissident group that eventually helped to overthrow a pro-Soviet government..

Last week, Solidarity led a picket line for days in front of Parliament to protest a law raising the retirement age. Enraged Solidarity activists prevented lawmakers from leaving the building for some time. Walesa, 68, said that Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a pro-market leader who fought for the retirement age, should have dealt firmly with the protesters.

Walesa, a Nobel Prize winner, gave up his Solidarity membership in 2006, and said at the time that he had become estranged from its leaders, who support Law and Justice, a conservative and nationalist party, that is fighting Tusk’s pro-market changes.

It may be helpful to you if you know how workers and their unions are responding in foreign countries to the same problems that are troubling you. Read our weekly “The World of Labor,” posted here and on our two web sites: and