WORLD NOTES Argentina, Egypt, China, Georgia, Afghanistan, Cuba

Argentina: Worker-run plants continue As the country slipped into financial crisis in 2001, owners of the Zanon Ceramics factory in Neuquén Province fired all employees, holding back on pay and pensions. Workers there and in 200 other plants occupied workplaces.

Since then, some 470 Zanon workers have maintained production in Argentina’s largest worker-operated factory, despite government eviction attempts. Now the provincial legislature is about to expropriate the factory and provide workers with legal protection, even paying off a portion of pre-2001 debt.

The current employment of some 20,000 workers by factory cooperatives provides welcome relief as Argentina’s economy recedes. Workers are taking collective pay cuts rather than accept layoffs. In 2008, eight additional factories came under worker management, according to upsidedownworld.org.

Egypt: Textile workers end strike Workers at the Nile Cotton Ginning Company struck a month ago after owners cut back on incentive payments. Over 200 of them demonstrated last week outside the National Assembly, accusing the company of having held back on wages for months despite a strike settlement last year awarding workers a 10 percent pay increase. Strike spokespersons cited by Daily News Egypt say the company was trying to force government mediation, seen as favoring employers.

On May 26 workers lifted their strike on promises of full pay and incentives. The debt-ridden Nile Cotton company, privatized in 1997, has factories in multiple locations. It produces soap, oils, fats, and agricultural feed, and reportedly intends to close factories in order to sell valuable land.

China: Mainland, Taiwan leaders confer Hu Jintao, president of China and general secretary of its Communist Party, met last week in Beijing with Taiwanese political leader Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party.

People’s Daily said their talks were an initial effort to implement agreements reached four years ago regarding “peaceful mutual development.” Basic principles accepted then included rejection of Taiwanese independence and recognition of both the mainland and Taiwan as belonging to the Chinese people.

The two leaders agreed that work would begin this year on economic cooperation and cultural and educational exchanges, leaving resolution of complicated political problems until later. The ultimate objective, after conditions of mutual trust have been established, would be to achieve a peace agreement providing military security and an official end to cross-straights hostilities.

Georgia: Protest U.S.-backed president Over 50,000 protesters rallied May 26 in Tbilisi demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The government canceled a military parade commemorating brief independence from Russia beginning on that date in 1918.

Since April 9, daily protests have accused Saakashvili of authoritarianism and territorial loss during Georgia’s war last year with Russia. Russian trade has contracted 70 percent since then. Saakashvili told workers last week, “Georgia's main enemies are unemployment and poverty.”

The 12 opposition groups are united on their goal of early elections but divided on tactics, according to www.civil.ge.

Vice President Biden assured Saakashvili last month of “unwavering” U.S. support for Georgian sovereignty, a concern likely related to oil and natural gas pipelines crossing the Russian-Georgian border.

Afghanistan: Aid reaches few people Speaking last month at the U.S. Consulate in Calgary, Ontario, Marco Vicenzino, head of the Global Strategy Project, admitted he “was very depressed and discouraged by the disorganization of the international aid efforts.” He estimated 80 percent of the aid dollar returns to contractors in donor countries, and then “You have 20 cents left for Afghanistan” where “layers of corruption” come into play.

Ordinary people receive about 5 cents, he said. The report from the Canadian Press describes jostling among “15,000 foreigners, primarily westerners” in Kabul and battling among non-governmental organizations.

Vicenzino called for an efficient, accountable process, which the government lacks, to track aid money that last year amounted to an estimated $1 billion.

Cuba: Russia returns as ally RIA Novosti reported Russia and Cuba will resume nuclear power cooperation broken off in 1992. Scientists of both nations will work at Cuba’s nuclear research center. The announcement came during ceremonies last week in Moscow bestowing Russia’s highest nuclear research award upon Cuban physicist Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart.

Castro studied in the Soviet Union and once headed Cuba’s nuclear research team during early phases of joint efforts during the 1980s to build a Cuban nuclear plant.

Other signs of tightened relations include: permission granted last March for Russian oil prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico, arrival last month in Havana of the first installment on 200,000 tons of Russian wheat, and high profile Russian condemnation of the U.S. anti-Cuban blockade.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com)