World unionists demand freedom for Cuban 5

Over 500 delegates from 75 countries, attending the 15th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions, last week demanded immediate release of the five Cuban nationals wrongfully imprisoned in the U.S. for anti-terrorism activities, Prensa Latina said.

Delegates signed a resolution Dec. 3 demanding freedom for the prisoners and an end to more than 45 years of U.S. blockade against Cuba.

Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba’s Parliament, briefed the delegation on the injustices against Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Fernando Gonález and Antonio Guerrero since their Sept. 12, 1998 detention. “Throughout the whole legal process the authorities hindered the defense, limiting its access to evidence,” Alarcon said.

S. Korea: Migrant workers occupy government office

Migrant workers calling for the immediate release of detained Migrant Workers Trade Union head Anwar Hossain last week occupied the premises of the National Human Rights Commission — a government office — in Seoul.

Hossain was beaten and forcibly arrested by over 30 Korean immigration officials last May, and has been held since then in Cheonju Detention Center, two hours south of Seoul.

The Human Rights Commission initially said Hossain’s arrest was illegal, but since has sided with immigration officials in refusing to release the trade union leader.

The MTU, which is affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), is also demanding an end to the harassment and intimidation of some 400,000 migrant workers.

The MTU, which says it is the only organization in South Korea organized and led solely by migrant workers, was founded in April 2005 after years of struggle against oppressive and racist immigration laws and workplace practices. The government refuses to recognize it.

Ireland: Massive turnout for protest

An estimated 100,000 union members and supporters marched and rallied in central Dublin, Dec. 9, for a national day of protest in solidarity with over 500 Irish Ferries workers fighting the company’s efforts to replace them with lower- paid foreign workers. Thousands more rallied in other cities in the largest labor protest in recent decades.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary David Begg told the rally the issue was “the exploitation of migrant workers, the displacement of indigenous workers and a ‘race to the bottom’ in pay and conditions of employment that will inevitably result.”

“There is a threshold of decency below which the Irish people will not accept anyone being dragged, no matter where they come from,” said Begg.

He said the rest of Europe is watching the situation closely, because similar developments are taking place in other countries such as Sweden and Finland.

ICTU President Peter McLoone said messages of support had come from the international trade union movement, including the British Trades Union Congress and the Latvian trade union conference.

El Salvador: Protesters block roads

Thousands of Salvadorans participated in a nationwide day of protest Nov. 30 against the neoliberal economic policies of President Antonio Saca, Weekly News Update on the Americas reported. The demonstrations were organized by the Popular Social Bloc (BPS) and supported by the left-led Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Actions included blocking major highways, rallies in front of government offices and distribution of literature about the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement set to go into effect Jan. 1 among five Central American countries, the Dominican Republic and the U.S.

The protesters demanded aid for communities hard hit by Hurricane Stan, rejection of a new law on land leases, rejection of privatization of water services, and a return to the national currency, the colon.

S. Africa: Call for trade justice

Ahead of the World Trade Organization’s sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong Dec. 13-18, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town called for trade justice, I-Net Bridge said.

Western Cape Cosatu General Secretary Tony Ehrenreich urged the South African government to work with other developing countries to make sure the terms of trade are changed “and to focus discussion on what needs to be done to promote sustainable development in a rapidly globalizing world.” He said the WTO’s trade rules had brought “rising gaps of inequality in the world and greater numbers of jobs being lost in developing countries” including South Africa.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane pointed out that if Africa increased its share of world exports by just 1 percent, about $70 billion would be generated in income, or “roughly five times what the entire continent receives in aid.”

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).

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