THE WORLD OF LABOR — June 2, 2012

By Harry Kelber

Feeble U.S. Job Growth Raises Fear of a Revived Recession

For a third year, the economic recovery in the United States is floundering, raising fears of a global slowdown as the European crisis escalates Last month, the nation’s employers added the lowest number of jobs in a year, and the unemployment rate actually rose a fraction of a point, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The United States gained a net 69,000 jobs in May, for an average of 96,000 over each of the last three months. That is down from an average of 245,000 gain on average for the three month period of December-February. The unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent.

Unemployment checks will run out this summer for more than 100,000 people. Those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more will have an even smaller chance of getting a job in a weak labor market. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have come up with a sensible solution to the jobs problem.

G-20 Countries Urged to Use More Pension Funds for Investment

The green economy could be given a $301 billion boost from pension funds alone if barriers to investment are overcome. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for a 5 percent of pension fund portfolios in green investments by 2015, split across three asset classes to respect pension fund diversification rules.

Sharon Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said the low level of portfolio holdings in longer-term green economy investments is a crucial concern of workers. “We need 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water by 2050. There is both an imperative and an opportunity to invest in the green economy to create sustainable decent jobs,” she said.

The post-G20 financial reform agenda has been designed in a way that does not sufficiently take on board climate-changing priorities,” and could slow the flow of green debt and equity financing,” Burrow said. It is doubtful that many of the G20 countries will respond favorably to the ITUC proposal, especially those that are trapped in a deepening economic crisis.

French Unions Warn of Mass Job Cuts in Reform Talks

French president Francois Hollande was pressed by French unions at the start of labor talks on May 24 to prove his job-saving skills by handing his Socialist cabinet a list of looming company shutdowns that are threatening tens of thousands of jobs. Hollande has promised to reverse rising unemployment and to shore up the struggling manufacturing sector, partly by pumping investment into small and medium-sized companies.

The French president promised to honor a campaign pledge to raise the minimum wage, but said this would be tempered by the need to ensure firms were not saddled with unaffordable wage bills. The hard line union, CGT, named a list of 46 companies it said were planning to shut production sites, threatening as many as 90,000 jobs, directly or indirectly.

Firms planning to close factories ranged from carmakers PSA, Peugeot, Citron and General Motors to retailer Conforama, according to the list. Francois Chereque, head of the CFDT union, France’s largest by membership, said: “We are urgently requesting the state to focus on Jobs. Jobs are the number 1 problem.”

British Doctors Take Action for First Time in 40 Years

For the first time in nearly 40 years, British doctors will take industrial action over changes in the National Health Service (NHS) pension scheme, the British Medical Association confirmed on May 30. The first day of action will take place on June 21, and will see doctors providing all urgent and emergency care, but postponing non-emergency cases.

After considering the results of its ballot, BMA Council made the decision for industrial action. Overall, 50 percent of the 104,544 doctors eligible to vote took part. Across separate ballots covering the six branches of practice, a clear majority of GPs; consultants; junior doctors; staff; associate specialists; specialty doctors and public health and community health doctors were prepared to take part in industrial action, short of a strike, while a majority of occupational doctors voted against a strike.

Dr. Hamish Meldrum, BMA Council chairman, commented: “We are taking this step very reluctantly and would far prefer to negotiate for a fairer solution. But this clear mandate for action — on a very high turnout — reflects just how let down doctors feel by the government’s unwillingness to find a fairer approach to the latest pension changes and its refusal to acknowledge the major reforms of 2008 that made the NHS scheme sustainable in the long term.”

Journalists Protest Machete Attack in Bangladesh

Hundreds of journalists in Bangladesh are protesting an attack on their colleagues at one of the country’s leading online news outlets. A group of men wielding machetes broke into the offices of in the capital on Monday, May 28, seriously wounding at least two people and slashing other staff members. A photograph of the scene of the attack posted on the outlet’s website shows blood splattered all over the floor.

About 300 journalists gathered outside the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka, demanding the immediate arrest and punishment of the attackers. The demonstration disrupted traffic in the capital. So far, the authorities have arrested at least one suspect in connection with the violence.

Bob Dietz, the Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said his group believes the policy of the Bangladesh government and the larger political culture of the country are “very anti-media.” Journalists are often threatened, and there is a high degree of immunity for attackers.

Dockworkers Strike at Brazil’s Biggest Port

Dockworkers, who began a strike on May 30 at Brazil’s largest port, said they would continue the stoppage until their demands over working conditions were met, while the government threatened to fine them if operations were halted. Recent similar strikes have tended to be resolved in a day or two without causing major disruption.

The workers are striking over a move by the government to enforce rules that impose a minimum gap of 11 hours between shifts. Dockworkers are demanding that the rules be delayed and say they would restrict double shifts to exceptional circumstances, cutting dockworkers’ incomes.

“We want a delay. The strike will continue until we have an answer from the operators,” said Cesar Rodrigues Alves, acting president of the Santos dockworkers’ union. The Santos division of the public prosecutor’s office, said it would fine the union 100,000 reals ($49,600) per day if less than 70 percent of the workforce remained on the job.

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