International notes

Italy: Huge anti-war demo



At least half a million demonstrators – including many from Denmark, Greece, Spain, Britain and elsewhere – marched through Florence, Nov. 9, to protest the U.S. threat of war against Iraq, and the negative impact of corporate globalization. Organizers said the march started an hour earlier than planned, because there was no place for the unexpectedly large crowd of protesters to go.

Headed by a banner reading, 'No War,' marchers followed a four-mile route before gathering near the soccer stadium for a concert.

The protest took place during the Nov. 6-10 conference of the European Social Forum – the European branch of the World Social Forum, which meets annually in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The conference itself drew 35,000 participants from a wide variety of organizations.





Britain: Thousands protest war threat



London, Brighton, Nottingham, Liverpool and other cities marked Halloween with marches, demonstrations, sit-downs, vigils, teach-ins and a 'Pedal for Peace Halloween Ride Against War.'

Anti-war activists – some dressed as witches and holding candle-lit pumpkins – filled London’s Parliament Square. Among the demonstrators were many trade unionists, students, artists and political personalities. 'We represent the overwhelming majority round the world,' progressive Labor Party leader Tony Benn told the crowd.

In Wales, a weeklong protest ended with a torchlight march through Cardiff to the U.S. consulate. Besides well-attended public meetings, the week featured anti-war banners draped over bridges and an enormous postcard addressed to Queen Elizabeth II.

The latest polls show Britons’ support for military action slipping to 32 percent.





Colombia: Gov’t undermines justice



A new report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch says Colombian Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio has blocked investigations of far right paramilitary groups. The report says that in the last 15 months, at least nine prosecutors or investigators assigned to paramilitary cases have been fired and another 15 forced to resign. During the same period five prosecutors and investigators examining links between paramilitaries and military units have been killed..

High profile cases now stalled include a January 2001 massacre of 26 villagers by paramilitaries working with naval officers, and an investigation of ties between Gen. Rito Alejo del Rio and paramilitaries in northwest Colombia.





Cuba: WFTU urges release of the Miami 5



The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) has asked the Atlanta Federal Court to review the case of the five Cuban anti-terrorism fighters imprisoned by the U.S. government, and immediately release them.

The WFTU’s document said the charges against the Five – Gerardo Fernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez – are lacking in substance. Instead, the WFTU said, the five men were looking for information in order to uncover terrorist acts regularly organized by extremists of Cuban background now living in Florida.

Noting the very cruel terrorist acts perpetrated with impunity against the Cuban population in the last ten years, the WFTU said the Cuban people have the right to take protective measures. But rather than cooperating, the document said, U.S. authorities had unjustly convicted and incarcerated the Five on allegations of spying.





Mozambique: Privatization costs jobs



The country’s largest trade union federation, the OTM, said last week that the privatization of nearly 1,500 former state-run firms under Mozambique’s 15-year-old structural adjustment program has cost some 120,000 workers their jobs and left thousands owed back wages.

OTM spokesman Dionisio Nhangumbe told journalists the pace of layoffs had quickened toward the end of the ’90s, with some 20,000 workers losing their jobs in the worst period, from 1999-2001. The OTM said that contrary to promises by the new owners, many privatized factories failed to acquire new equipment, and subsequently collapsed.

Hardest hit was cashew processing, where 90 percent of workers lost their jobs after the World Bank demanded the industry be stripped of its government protection. The OTM is demanding the 'reindustrialization' of the cashew sector, but so far the government has not responded.





Germany: Unions predict ‘Winter of Discontent’



Michael Sommer, head of the Confederation of German Trade Unions, said last week the winter promises to be 'dispute-filled' in Europe’s biggest economic power.

Sommer, also the deputy head of the public sector workers’ union – the country’s biggest union – said the coming wage talks would be 'one of the most difficult wage rounds the public service has ever seen.' The public workers are demanding wage hikes of more than 3 percent at the same time that state and local governments have seen their corporate tax revenue drop under pressure of recent tax reforms and economic stagnation.