Tonga: Public workers’ strike continues

Thousands of public workers continued their strike last week, after rejecting a proposal by Princess Regent Pilolevu to grant them salary increases of 60 percent to 80 percent, but only on a temporary basis while negotiations continued, and only to strikers who returned to work Sept. 1 and workers who had remained on the job.

The workers, on strike since late July, are also demanding political reforms. Tonga is one of the world’s last feudal monarchies. Strike leader Finau Tutone said the workers had not initially wanted to seek a political solution, but had been forced to demand a cabinet of elected representatives instead of royal appointees. The government “did not show any respect to us so we had to fall back to the political situation,” Tutone said. “There is a need for political renovation in order for the government in the future to listen to the people.”

Iraq: Protest gov’t anti-union crackdown

The Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions is strongly protesting the transitional government’s Aug. 7 decree setting up a new committee for labor and social rights and giving it control of all trade union funds. Under Decree 875, the committee, including the ministers of justice, interior, finance, national security and other government officials, was mandated to review all previous government decisions on labor rights, and to “take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing any such monies.”

“Today … the Iraqi working people and their legitimate trade unions are subjected to unjust attacks and clear open interference in their internal affairs … to prevent working people from organizing free and democratic trade unions,” the IFTU said in a statement. “Saddam Hussein’s anti-union Law 150 of 1987 is still being applied.”

The IFTU said it would mobilize workers especially in the oil, transport and docking industries to uphold trade union rights by all democratic means including protests, strikes and court actions.

China: 7,000 coal mines to close in safety crackdown

The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety last week made public a list of 1,324 coal mines it is ordering to stop production and meet national safety standards, and said the total would rise to 7,000 by the end of the year.

China’s 24,000 coal mines supply about 70 percent of the country’s energy needs, but the effect on coal supply was expected to be minor, because most of the mines involved are small.

In the first half of 2005, some 2,700 miners died in accidents in China.

A government spokesperson said provincial and local governments would be required to take responsibility for coal mine safety, with severe sanctions for failure.

China Daily said some local governments and officials had been protecting poorly equipped mines, and the national government had ordered local officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises to get rid of their shares in mines.

Britain: Gate Gourmet won’t take back ‘militants’

Dave Siegel, global head of Gate Gourmet, the catering firm that fired 670 mostly Asian women workers after they spontaneously protested the hiring of contract workers, said last week the company will not take back “a couple of hundred” workers it regards as “militants.”

A sympathy action by a thousand British Airways workers grounded all BA’s flights from Heathrow Airport for over 24 hours, disrupting flights for tens of thousands of passengers worldwide.

The company’s position is expected to be a major obstacle in upcoming talks with the Transport and General Workers Union.

The London Guardian quoted Siegel as saying, “We will not take these militants, these radicals back. They have been the source of the core problem for the company, they have been holding the company hostage.”

Argentina: Museum displays effects of foreign debt

A new museum in Buenos Aires illustrates the severe consequences of the country’s foreign debt. Among displays are a “black hole” representing the country’s foreign debt. The hole sucks in signs with words like “education” and “dignity.” Visitors can understand the decline of the country’s industry by counting a diminishing number of bolts, while growing mounds of beans show the increase in foreign imports. Steadily increasing unemployment is illustrated with figurines of San Cayetano, the patron saint of work.

The economics faculty at the University of Buenos Aires developed the idea for the museum, to help citizens become more aware of the reasons for the debt and its consequences in their lives.

Under IMF and World Bank pressure, Argentina declared a nearly $130 billion debt default in 2001. People lost jobs and savings, millions demonstrated, and the presidency changed hands four times in 10 days.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (