India: Union to organize IT workers

The Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which has close ties with the Communist Party of India-Marxist, has launched the West Bengal Information Technology Services Association (WBITSA) with the aim of organizing information technology (IT) workers in a state governed by the CPI-M for 30 years.

The union’s political backing worries employers, as does the prospect of a revival there of once prominent labor militancy. Employers are particularly concerned about possible job actions that might disrupt their call-center services for U.S. clients.

The CPI-M-led state government envisions the IT sector growing from 44,000 workers to 200,000 by 2010, according to Inter Press Service.

WBITSA leaders accuse IT companies of failing to protect worker rights and depriving them of medical and pension benefits. A test of the new union’s influence will come on Dec. 14, when it participates in a national general strike called by CITU.

Sweden: Unions resist gov’t attacks on workers

Trade unions are poised to challenge Sweden’s center-right government that took over in September after 12 years of social-democratic rule. The government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has proposed major cuts in worker benefits. Union demonstrations are on tap nationwide for December.

A banker told the Financial Times of London that the proposed changes “will tend to weaken the trade union movement in the long term.”

A spokesperson for the Swedish labor federation that represents 1.83 million workers said that the proposed changes would reduce unemployment benefits from 80 percent of salary to 65 percent, causing particular hardship for women. She stressed that the upcoming demonstrations, only the third nationwide mobilization in 10 years, will not constitute a strike. Instead, she said, “We will gather and protest.”

Zambia: Gov’t seeks revenue increases, expanded social services

Public services in copper-rich Zambia have waned following the privatization of state-owned resources in the 1990s, while world copper prices have been rising. Consequently, according to Inter Press Service, revenue authorities are proposing an increase in mining companies’ royalty payments to the government from 0.6 percent of annual earnings to around 3 percent, a figure more in line with royalty payments worldwide.

Unfortunately, under World Bank pressure, the privatization deals were consummated hurriedly, and the original agreements lack an expiration date. As a result, the mining companies are expected to launch a legal challenge to the rate hike.

The government has indicated that increased revenue would be applied to education and health programs. Concurrently the mineworkers’ national union is pressuring the companies to apply some of their increased profits to workers’ benefits. In a related development, Zambia’s Congress of Trade Unions is pushing the government to widen its tax base and combat widespread tax evasion, according to allafrica.com.

Great Britain: Oxfam condemns rich nations for putting patents before people

Marking the fifth anniversary of the Doha agreements aimed at protecting the public’s health against rigid application of intellectual property rules, Oxfam International released a report claiming that patents hurt the poor.

Four million people have contracted AIDS since 2001, the nonprofit aid and development group said, but monopolies control 74 percent of the anti-AIDS drugs, and 77 percent of infected Africans go untreated.

The United States comes under special criticism for requiring poor countries signing new trade agreements to abide by patent restrictions. Colombia, for example, will be upping pharmaceutical payments by $940 million annually and the costs of medicines in Peru will increase 100 percent over 10 years.

India provides the developing world with 67 percent of its generic drugs, but that situation may change if multinational pharmaceutical companies succeed in challenging their production under world trade laws.

“The rich countries have betrayed the Doha spirit,” a Spanish Oxfam spokesperson told a reporter at aporrea.org.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @ megalink.net).

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