Ecuador: Warning strike

Ecuador declared a state of emergency in three Amazonian oil provinces last week as 4,000 oil workers participated in a two-day “warning strike” in a dispute over back pay totaling $51 million. The government declaration, which placed the eastern jungle provinces under military control, limited constitutional rights, including a restriction on public gatherings.

According to Bloomberg News, government spokesman Rigoberto Medina said the declaration was not connected to the nationwide 24-hour work stoppage called by the Workers’ Unitary Federation (FUT) to protest the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and the government’s policies toward workers.

Jaime Arciniega, leader of the FUT, told Prensa Latina, “Our rights are being trampled because there is no respect for the law and there are domineering attitudes.”

Ecuador is the 11th largest oil supplier to the U.S.

Southeast Africa: Mosquito-driven epidemic

Health experts say unless preventive measures are taken, rainy season in the Indian Ocean islands off the coast of southeast Africa will escalate the epidemic of a mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya. Named for the Kiswahili word for “that which bends up,” symptoms are difficult to distinguish from dengue fever, prevalent in the same region: fever, chills, a rash and joint pain causing a stooped posture. Although less than 1 percent of chikungunya cases are fatal, the virus attacks the immune system. There is no vaccine, no treatment and no cure.

According to UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 180,000 cases have been reported on the island of Reunion, others in Mauritius, the Seychelles and Madagascar.

Since the main preventative measure is to reduce mosquito breeding grounds, health experts on the islands are promoting public awareness, organizing community clean-ups to eliminate pools of stagnant water in cans, old tires and plastic waste in neighborhoods and dumping grounds.

Netherlands: Remembering 1941 strike

In Amsterdam every year on Feb. 25 there is an event to commemorate the 1941 general strike against the Nazis’ occupation and their attacks on Dutch Jews. On Feb. 24 of that year, workers’ councils made the decision to take action and the illegal Communist Party spread the word throughout the night: Strike!

Dock workers, civil servants, bus drivers, metal workers, workers from all sectors, members of all the political parties — virtually everyone — joined in, and the city was shutdown for two days.

Since 1946, a gathering has been held every year to commemorate the event.

“Respect, solidarity and humanity are values that must always be held high,” the 2006 February strike commemoration committee told expatica.com. Referring to recent anti-Islam and anti-immigrant incidents in Europe, it said, “It is important at times of high ethnic tension to remind everyone of the day in February 1941 when Amsterdam stood up against intolerance.”

Bangladesh:Garment workers call strike

Sixteen garment workers unions, including the National Garment Workers Federation of Bangladesh, called a nationwide strike to protest two factory fires within one week that resulted in more than 100 deaths and more injuries.

The workers’ demands include medical care for injured workers, compensation for the families of workers who lost their lives, an investigation into the fires, inspections to ensure building safety standards, establishment of a minimum wage and the right of the workers to bargain collectively, and penalties for all shops that continue to lock factory doors during working hours.

Amirul Haque Amin, general secretary of the NGWF, said the fires were the result of the “irresponsibility and negligence of four parties — factory owners, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Employers Association, the government and sourcing companies.”

Fiber2fashion reported the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation has also demanded an independent inquiry into the fires, saying the “tragedies were totally avoidable.”

Canada: Another Wal-Mart votes union

In September 2005, the workers at two Wal-Mart Tire and Lube Express locations in Surrey, British Columbia, held a union vote. The ballot box was sealed, however, pending hearings by the British Columbia Labor Relations Board. Finally, after seven months of wading through Wal-Mart’s legal challenges, a count was authorized.

At one location the vote was lost by a narrow margin, but the second shop voted by a majority of 7-2 to join the union. The workers were immediately certified by the labor relations board and have become the newest bargaining unit of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 1518, joining one other Wal-Mart in B.C. and four in Quebec.

“We congratulate our newest members in Surrey,” said Michael J. Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada, “for standing up and succeeding against Wal-Mart’s tactics to harass, delay and deny their constitutional right to join a union.”

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (psaffer@pww.org).

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