Brazil: Fighting for the 40-hour week
It was the largest demonstration in Brazilian labor history, , according to rebelion.org. Some 40,000 unionists organized by the Confederation of Brazilian Workers, affiliate of the World Federation of Trade Unions, marched Nov. 11 in Brasilia. Their purpose was to pressure the Brazilian Congress into approving a constitutional amendment reducing work hours from 44 per week to 40 hours without a wage cut. Praising labor unity, confederation President Wagner Gomes recalled employers’ warning in 1988, “when we fought to cut the 48 hour work week to 40, ‘Brazil could not survive.’ they said.” However, he noted, “Brazil did not break apart” even though a 44 hour limit was imposed. Union spokespersons say two million new jobs would result from introduction of a 40-hour work week.
Yemen: Government spurns Iranian overture
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki last week called upon the government of Yemen to join “collective efforts” to end war against Houthis rebels in the North backed by Saudi Arabia. A government spokesperson cited by Al-Jazeera condemned Iranian “interference in its internal affairs.” The Asharq Alawsat newspaper agreed, alleging Iranian efforts to create “pockets of influence” throughout the region. The rebels have fought for autonomy for four years. With hostilities increasing on both sides and casualties mounting, Saudi Arabia carried out air attacks on Nov. 5. So far, almost 200,000 Yemenis have been displaced. Many who crossed into Saudi Arabia have been pushed back. Some 20,000 are confined to camps.
India: Call goes out to support Tetley workers
The Foodworkers’ International Union reported last week that West Bengal tea workers had formed an action committee aimed at unionizing the Nowera Nuddy estate owned by Tata corporation, producer of Tetley Tea. The workers, mostly women, are demanding payment of wages withheld for three months. Owners closed down operations on Aug. 11 after employees protested abusive medical treatment rendered to one worker who was eight months pregnant and had collapsed. Two weeks later Tata agreed to reopen the plantation on condition that August wages averaging $1.35 a day not be paid and that eight activist workers be fired. Most of the 1,000 workers rejected the arrangements, leaving their families, say observers, close to starvation. To express solidarity, go to IUF.org.
Canada: Beat the boss, go global
Beginning in July, 3,500 nickel mining workers have been on strike at four Canadian operations belonging to the Brazilian-based Vale Inco corporation. Its profits last year were $13 billion. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard received kudos on straightgoods.ca for having pioneered an international campaign that may be taking hold. Steelworker members have gone worldwide to mobilize support from Vale workers and allies in Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, and New Caledonia. Their presence last month at the New York and London stock exchanges forced cancelation of events aimed at celebrating optimistic third-quarter profit and production figures that union analysts established as spurious. Plans by the world’s second largest mining conglomerate to cut wages and pension benefits triggered the strike.
Uganda: AIDS patients are victims, again
Geneva-based Doctors without Border issued a report early this month titled “Punishing success: Early Signs of a Retreat from Commitment to HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment.” Although four million HIV-infected people worldwide presently benefit from antiretroviral therapy, funding agencies show signs of withdrawing from commitments. Facilities in Uganda and elsewhere supported by the U.S. PEPFAR program now deny treatment for new patients, according to Allafrica.com. Budgetary shortfalls in Washington are given as the cause, with “flat funding” anticipated for international AIDS care in 2011. Last year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria removed $1.5 billion from previously approved programs. Dr Eric Goemaere, Doctors without Borders spokesperson in Southern Africa, diagnosed “international betrayal” leading to “medical apartheid.”
Cuba: Retamar honors Marti
Heads of state, Pope John Paul II, and former President Fidel Castro had all spoke at the University of Havana’s Great Hall, which seemed to add weight to the address there Nov. 10 delivered by poet Roberto Fernández Retamar. Inaugurating the 7th International conference on Marti Studies, the writer and Casa de las Americas president praised Jose Marti’s contribution to Latin American unity and his inspiration of a “second Cuban revolution,” led by Fidel Castro in 1953. Although Marti studied imperialism long before Lenin authored his classic on the subject, Marti, “born poor and died struggling,” was no Marxist, asserted Retamar. Yet Marxism shaped by Marti thought is essential, he suggested, for building socialism of the 21st century. Retamar’s speech is accessible at laventana.casa.cult.cu.