Canada: Wal-Mart workers gain
The British Columbia Labor Relations Board has certified a union at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express in Cranbrook after a majority of workers there voted to unionize with UFCW Canada Local 1518, the union said last week. Workers at three Wal-Mart locations in Quebec are already certified as UFCW Canada bargaining units and first contract talks are under way there, the union said. Meanwhile, Quebec’s Labor Board ruled last week that Wal-Mart had failed to prove the closing of its store in Jonquiere last spring was “real, genuine and definitive” as required under the province’s labor code, because Wal-Mart has kept its 20-year lease on the store building without trying to sublet it. The Toronto Globe and Mail said the board will now determine the “appropriate remedies” for the store’s former employees. As many as 79 of the store’s 190 workers have filed for compensation under the labor code.

China: University launches gay studies course
Fudan University in Shanghai is launching China’s first undergraduate gay studies course this month, The New York Times said. The class, “Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies,” will examine gay social, legal and health issues, said sociology professor Sun Zhongxin, who will oversee the class. The initial 100 places for the course filled quickly and more will be added to accommodate several hundred interested students, Sun said. A course on homosexual life had earlier been initiated in the university’s medical school. “For such a university to have a specific course like this, with so many participants and experts involved, will have a very positive impact on the social situation of gay people, and on the fight against AIDS,” said Zhou Shenjian, director of a gay advocacy group in Chongqing.

Nigeria: Protest fuel price hikes
Thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital city, Lagos, last week to protest a 30 percent rise in fuel costs after the government cut subsidies last month, BBC News said. At one point, the demonstration — the start of two weeks of peaceful protest — stretched for nearly two miles through the city’s streets. Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka joined the march. The Nigerian Labor Congress said that after the two-week protest, it will decide if further action is needed. Last year the NLC called three general strikes against fuel price increases. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, it must import fuel because it does not have enough refining capacity to meet its own needs. Two-thirds of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day and the unions say fuel price hikes will be hard on all Nigerian workers.

Germany: Left gains in elections
In an election ending in almost total confusion, some things were clear. The anti-social policies of the main government party, the Social Democrats of Gerhard Schroeder, were punished severely by angry voters. But so was the major opposition party, the Christian Democrats of Angela Merkel, which despite its approval of the same painful policies, had counted on a pushover. Both got stuck at about 35 percent, almost record lows.

Many Germans were bitterly angry at Schroeder and his party for cutting jobless pay, reducing pensions, increasing medical payments and watching unemployment climb to the 5 million level. The Christian Democrats began their campaign with a nearly 24 point lead. But as voters realized the plans the party and its business-friendly partners the Free Democrats were advocating, they backed away.

But the real news in the election was the newly formed “Left” Party, a combination of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a young party of disgusted Social Democrats, trade unionists and left forces in west Germany, the WASG.

Headed by PDS leader Gregor Gysi in the east and former Social Democrat leader Oskar Lafontaine in the west, it won 8.7 percent of the vote, more than double its vote in 2002. Thus, it is now a regular caucus in the Bundestag, with over 50 seats out of around 600, and is in a position to offer significant pressure on key economic and political issues.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel @ Victor Grossman and Tim Pelzer contributed to this week’s notes.