Israel: Public workers protest budget cuts

Nearly 1.5 million Israeli public sector workers struck for three hours Monday to protest government plans to cut next year’s budget and to demand wage increases compensating workers for inflation, the Histadrut Labor Federation said. The strike shut national and local government offices, railways, ports, government-owned companies, unionized private industries and banks.

“We are staging a symbolic strike and afterward we’ll give another chance for talks over the next two weeks,” Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz said. If there is no progress by that time, he added, “we’ll undertake a series of more serious actions starting Sept. 1.”

The federation is especially angry about a freeze of the minimum wage. In the first six months of the year, inflation has shot up 6.3 percent following a sharp depreciation of the shekel. Last month the cabinet approved cuts of over 4 percent to the 2003 budget to cope with a growing deficit caused mainly by the Sharon government’s repeated military assaults on the Palestinian territories.

Slovakia: Civil liberties at stake

The Communist Youth Union of the Czech Republic is appealing for protests against a measure passed by the Parliament of Slovakia making it a crime to “propagate communism in public.”

The bill, initiated by three rightwing deputies, was backed by deputies from the Social-Democratic Party of the Democratic Left. President Rudolf Shuster sent it back to Parliament unsigned. Another vote is slated for Aug. 19, and the bill might become law.

“By equating communism with fascism and suppressing free speech for communists, the deputies are paving the way for real fascism,” the Youth Union said. “It is the left and the working-class movement who are the real targets of this law. We call on all those who believe in justice and freedom to urge the Slovak parliament to let the law die.”

Protests may be sent to: Jozef Migas, Chairman, Parliament of Slovakia,
fax +421 02 544 15460, or e-mail predseda@nrsr.sk.

China: Low-cost housing to improve

China’s Vice Minister of Construction Liu Zhifeng told an international conference this week that his government is planning major investments in low- and moderate-income housing. While luxury housing has been built for the affluent minority over the last 20 years, more than half the housing built each year is for low- or moderate-income families.

Still, 150 million square meters of old or unsafe housing needs renovation, and over 1.5 million urban households do not have enough living space.

The Ministry of Construction says the country will speed up establishment of a sound housing security system and expand affordable housing projects, using new technologies and materials.

Bangladesh: Jute workers strike to reopen factory

Bangladesh’s Action Council of Jute-Yarn Textile Mills Workers has called a 24-hour strike Aug. 26 in all state-run jute, yarn and textile mills, to press for reopening the Adamjee Jute Mills, the country’s largest jute manufacturer.

The closure of the historic mills June 30 cost nearly 30,000 workers their jobs, and ended an era associated with the founding of the industry in 1949 by a Pakistani industrialist. The mill was taken over by the government after Bangladesh became independent in 1971.

The union’s statement said the government had cited financial losses as a pretext, but, in fact, the closing implemented an agreement signed with the World Bank in 1993. The jute workers’ federation also blasted the government for conspiring to sell out Bangladesh’s limited natural resources of oil and gas, allowing foreign firms to build a terminal it said would destroy the port of Chittagong, and letting foreign troops develop bases.

Uruguay: WFTU urges solidarity with workers

The World Federation of Trade Unions is calling for stepped-up solidarity actions with trade unions in Uruguay and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, protesting austerity programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

“Nationwide strikes and massive protest actions led by the national trade union center, PIT-CNT, and supported by all social organizations, are now taking place in Uruguay against the neo-liberal policies dictated by the IMF and World Bank and implemented by the Batle regime, which have become unbearable for the people of Uruguay,” the WFTU said in a statement earlier this month.

“The WFTU appeals to its affiliates and friends in all countries to further intensify their solidarity actions with the comrades of the PIT-CNT of Uruguay as well as the trade unions in all other countries” that are leading struggles against privatization, cuts in jobs and social benefits, and soaring international debt, the statement said.

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