International notes

Colombia: unionists face death threat

Abandon the Department of Risaralda, or be killed, was the message to a dozen union leaders last week, on a poster signed by the region’s ultra-right paramilitary bands. In a statement issued Aug. 23, the Communist Party of Colombia pointed out that trade unions, political and human rights organizations have repeatedly protested against such threats, but the government has failed to protect the unionists. The CPC called on the government to act against the paramilitary bands, to investigate the origin of the continuing threats, and to work out with the unions an effective plan for protection and security. Messages supporting these demands may be sent to President Alvaro Uribe, auribe@presidencia.gov.co, and to People’s Defender Luis Eduardo Cifuentes, secretaria_privada@hotmail.com.

Canada: ‘Big Three’ face big strike

Over 40,000 workers at Canada’s major auto companies have voted overwhelmingly to strike if new contracts aren’t concluded next month. Canadian Auto Workers at GM and DaimlerChrysler voted 97 percent to strike if the final round of talks – to start this week – fail. At Ford the vote was 95 percent. CAW president Buzz Hargrove said his members have shown they are prepared to fight for better contracts, including higher wages and more job security. He said the union would select one of the companies as the target to establish the pattern agreement for 2002, and projected a strike deadline of midnight Sept. 17.

Portugal: Defense minister warns against general strike

Portugal’s Defense Minister Paulo Portas warned last Saturday that his government would act against left parties and unions considering a general strike to protest economic austerity and changes in labor laws making it easier to fire workers. 'If they want struggle in the streets, we also know how to go to the streets,' Portas told a rally of his far right Anti-Immigrant Popular Party. Portugal has seen an upsurge of strikes and street protests against the policies undertaken by the five-month-old coalition government headed by social democrat Jose Manuel Durao.

Slovakia: Anti-civil liberties move fails

A measure in the Slovak Parliament to ban 'the propagation of communism' failed in a second vote taken Aug. 19. In a first vote last month, the measure – an amendment to the 1961 Penal Code – passed without the absolute majority needed to become law. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster refused to sign the amended bill and sent it back to Parliament for further discussion. The second time, it received only 63 votes in the 150-member Parliament. If passed, the measure would have criminalized the Communist Party of Slovakia’s campaign for the September parliamentary elections. The CP now has no MPs, and hopes to poll more than the 5 percent of votes needed for it to win its first MPs since 1989. It has gained ground recently at the expense of the Party of the Democratic Left, which is part of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda’s highly unpopular 'right-left' coalition government.

Mexico: Workers aim to block private power plan

Mexico’s electricity workers are urging Congress to block a plan by President Vicente Fox that would let foreign firms compete with the state in generating electricity for the domestic market. 'Taking away the state’s income from the big industrial consumers, which is called for in the proposal, would mean the technical bankruptcy' of the state electricity company, the Mexican Union of Electricity Workers said this week in an ad in the weekly newsmagazine, Proceso. Congress has blocked earlier plans to permit more foreign firms to participate. Mexico’s electricity industry was nationalized in 1960.

Indonesia: Workers protest vs. Nike

Some 3,000 workers from PT Doson Indonesia, which makes Nike athletic shoes, demonstrated at the U.S. Embassy Aug. 20 to protest Nike’s plans to end its contract with Doson next month, putting some 7,000 workers out of a job. 'We hope the U.S. diplomats will tell Nike’s management to help its local partner resolve problems related to the workers, like providing severance pay for dismissed workers,' union leader Surono told the press during the demonstration. Though Nike has no legal obligation to workers hired by its subcontractor, Surono said, 'as a multinational corporation which has made large profits from the sweat of workers in the country, Nike has the moral obligation to guarantee the welfare of the laborers.' Nike, the world’s biggest athletic shoe maker, employs up to 60,000 workers at 11 factories in Indonesia. Most of the roughly 50 million pairs of shoes they make each year are sold in the U.S.