Ecuador: Banana workers fight for union

Though international solidarity is growing rapidly, Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador’s biggest banana tycoon, refuses to negotiate with banana workers seeking to unionize on his plantations. Last May, Noboa was forced to admit he hired armed goons to attack strikers on his Los Alamos plantations. Now, the union says Noboa seeks to block the workers’ efforts by forming a “company union” including members who don’t even work on the plantations.

Ecuador supplies a quarter of the bananas consumed in the U.S. Almost none of the country’s 300,000 banana workers are unionized. Last April, 1,400 workers at Los Alamos stopped work to demand a union, higher wages and health care (the latter two clearly within the terms of Ecuador’s labor laws). After workers struck again on May 6 to protest mass firings, 400 hooded goons attacked workers’ homes on one plantation, injuring many.

U.S. and international trade union organizations and human rights groups have mobilized delegations and protests supporting the banana workers. Readers can send a message to Alvaro Noboa, Grupo Noboa Inc., 555 W. 57th St., New York NY 10019, or e-mail

Vietnam: Gov’t sets 2003 social & economic agenda

Vietnam is aiming for an economic growth rate of over 7 percent in 2003, the government announced earlier this month. Plans include intensified focus on agricultural restructuring, increasing the competitiveness of both industrial and service sectors, and alleviating poverty in disadvantaged mountainous regions.

In agriculture, scientific and technical innovations will be applied to crop cultivation and aquaculture, and investment in processing industries will be stepped up to raise quality and competitiveness. Factories and enterprises will cut production costs and make better use of local resources, and reorganization of state-owned industries will continue. Services are to be developed in rural as well as urban areas, including tourism, legal and financial services.

Burkina Faso:
Thousands march vs. privatization

Thousands of striking workers marched through Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, July 18 to protest privatizations that have cost thousands of jobs, and to demand higher wages.

“Through this strike and procession we just want to demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the government’s silence on the legitimate demands of workers,” said union spokesman Liliou Jean Mathias.

Workers are demanding a 25 percent increase in salaries and retirement benefits, and a cut in income taxes. Salaries have scarcely increased since 1994, three years after the landlocked West African country started implementing programs prescribed by the International Monetary Fund. But basic services and commodities have gone up – water by 114 percent. Nearly half Burkina Faso’s 11 million people live below the poverty line.

New Zealand: Unions say overwork hurts families

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) this week released the first installment of a research project into the impact of work hours on families. The study “clearly shows many families are under severe pressure as a result of long work hours and changing work-hour patterns,” said CTU president Ross Wilson.

“The negative effects of excessive working hours … have become an unwelcome feature of life in New Zealand in the past decade,” Wilson added. “It is becoming increasingly clear that there is strong public support for regulation of excessive working hours, and the introduction of family-friendly workplace policies.”

Issues included excessive hours of 45 to 55 hours a week or more, unpaid and/or involuntary extra hours often in high-pressure work settings, intrusion of work into non-working hours via cell phones and other electronic communication devices, and increased workplace accidents toward the end of long shifts. Most workers also noted negative effects on family life and on ability to participate in community activities.

Cuba: Education a continuing priority

At a graduation ceremony for teachers last week, Cuban President Fidel Castro affirmed that Cuba has the best educational indices in the hemisphere, and said efforts are continuing to improve the education system.

Castro said Cuban primary school students demonstrate almost double the knowledge of their continental peers, with all children in that age group attending classes. Today, the number of university graduates and intellectuals is twice the number of those who finished sixth grade in 1959.

But, he added, one of Cuba’s greatest aims is to make the country one huge university in order to extend that level of study to the municipalities – an unparalleled and unprecedented action. The Cuban leader also cited the new class size of 20 students, to be implemented in the next academic year, to improve the quality of education.