Colombia: Coke unionist’s family killed

On April 20 armed men entered the home of the brother-in-law of Coca-Cola union leader Efrain Guerrero, in Bucaramanga, site of one of Coca-Cola’s bottling plants. They killed Efrain’s brother- and sister-in-law and seriously injured one of their three children, the Campaign for Labor Rights reported.

The union, Sinaltrainal, is trying to save the jobs of workers at the bottling plants after Coca-Cola Femsa, Colombia’s largest Coke bottler, illegally closed 11 of its 16 plants last September. Since then they have pressured over 500 workers into “voluntarily resigning” in exchange for a lump-sum payment. Most union leaders have refused to resign, and the company has escalated its pressure against them.

In February the far-right Colombian government, siding with the company, authorized the firing of 91 workers, 70 percent of whom are union leaders, in a move to essentially eliminate the union.

Cyprus: AKEL urges dialogue

On April 24 the Greek Cypriot sector voted to reject a UN plan to reunite the island, while the Turkish-occupied sector accepted the plan. In a statement the same day, Demetris Christofias, general secretary of Cyprus’ communist party, AKEL, called for a meeting of leaders of progressive forces from both communities to work out common positions.

Before the vote, AKEL, with members in both communities and a long history of working for reunification, had urged postponing the referendum so voters could better understand the pros and cons, and remaining issues could be resolved. When postponement was not accepted, AKEL recommended a “no” vote.

Christofias emphasized that AKEL “aims and continues to aim at consolidating a broad ‘yes,’ the soonest possible also from the Greek Cypriot community.” He called on the government to make sure Turkish Cypriots feel fully a part of the island nation as it enters the European Union.

Sudan: Urgent appeal to feed refugees

The UN World Food Program is appealing for $98 million in emergency funds to feed 1.2 million people affected by the ongoing conflict in the western region of Darfur, the UN’s IRIN news agency said April 26. WFP Executive Director James Morris said the need is acute, with hundreds of thousands driven from their homes and farms. Most of the aid will go to people forced from their villages before they could plant, with special attention to women, who account for most of agricultural production.

Representatives of the Sudanese government and two rebel groups from Darfur met in Chad last week, following the start of a 45-day truce April 11. But the rebels have accused the government of violating the truce, and international relief agencies say gaining access to government-held areas is difficult.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch charges that government forces massacred 136 rebels in a coordinated operation last month.

China: Rural workers to receive training

The Ministry of Agriculture and five other ministries announced last week a special program to improve the work skills of 35 million farmers in the next seven years, so they can transfer to non-farming jobs.

China’s rural labor force now totals 480 million, out of a total population of 1.3 billion. Some 160 million rural Chinese work for rural firms and other non-agricultural enterprises. Another 320 million grow crops, raise animals or fish – but the government says agriculture needs only about 170 million workers.

The project will offer short-term training to 5 million workers this year and next, in major grain growing areas and regions where many farmers have joined the migrant worker pool. Another 30 million are to be trained between 2006 and 2010.

Haiti: Factory workers win victory

Workers at the Codevi factory in the “free trade zone” near Ouanaminthe, Haiti, on the border with the Dominican Republic, have won a victory in the fight for workers’ rights, according to the Haiti-based Batay Ouvriye and the Campaign for Labor Rights. After the illegal firing and physical abuse of 34 workers in March (see PWW, 3/20), the workers’ union, SOKOWA, along with labor solidarity groups, effectively pressured the owners to rehire the workers and recognize workers’ rights.

Final negotiations on April 13 involved the workers and representatives of Codevi FTZ, the World Bank, and Levi Strauss, whose jeans have been manufactured at the factory. After negotiations, Codevi agreed to reinstate all of the workers in the conflict, payment of medical services of the worker who had been most severely beaten, payment for the time they spent without work according to the present minimum salary, recognition of union rights within the factory and immediate negotiations with a union delegation to discuss the workers’ general demands. Workers note that management is already dragging its feet in rehiring the workers, but have vowed to hold management to its promises.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).
Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.

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