Human rights campaign in South Africa
As negotiations begin on South Africa’s financial sector at the National Economic Development and Council (NEDLAC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) called on all South Africans to step up pressure during March on private commercial banks and the financial sector as a whole.

“This is in line with, and in support of the African National Congress Program of Action for March which focuses on human rights,” the SACP said in a statement.

Pointing out issues in the campaign including rampant discrimination by financial institutions against people living with HIV/AIDS; redlining of the majority of townships, rural areas and inner cities; and denial of credit, banking services and affordable interest rates to informal traders and the majority of South Africans, the SACP emphasized that “capitalism itself is a violation of human rights.”

Nearly five dozen organizations including youth, women, small businesses, religious, trade union and informal trade sectors have announced a special Week of Action for Socioeonomic Rights, from March 16 to 24, with an opening rally, workers’ and people’s assemblies in each province and pickets at banks and insurance companies.

The assemblies, in workplaces and communities, will report back on campaign achievements and the NEDLAC negotiations. They will consolidate the demands for the NEDLAC Summit and mobilize communities behind the campaign.

Australian minister nixes Kyoto agreement
Despite support of 80 percent of the general population and key sectors of the corporate community for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Australia’s new environment minister, David Kemp, has signed a secret deal tying his country to the U.S. policy of not ratifying the agreement. This despite repeated amendment of the protocol’s text to accommodate the obstinacy of Australia and the U.S.

The Australian Government could cast the deciding vote on whether the Kyoto Protocol comes into effect internationally. The Australia-U.S. agreement has been sharply criticized by environmental organizations worldwide.

Russia: U.S. troops could deepen conflicts
Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov warned last week that a U.S. proposal to send some 200 military specialists to train and equip Georgian armed forces to fight terrorism “could further aggravate the situation in the region, which is difficult as it is.”

Reportedly, Afghan and Arab fighters with possible links to Al Qaeda are basing themselves in a remote gorge in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains. The Georgian government has refused Russia’s offers to help secure the area.

Georgian and U.S. officials claim the U.S. troops would train and equip Georgian forces. But Alexei Arbatov, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s Defense Committee, said if the U.S. wants Russian cooperation in the war against terrorism, it should consult with Moscow about its military deployments in the area.

The U.S. has already established bases in several former Soviet Central Asian republics on the pretext of the “war on terrorism.”

Paris strikers win over McDonald’s
A small but dedicated group of 38 young French workers have won their 115-day strike against transnational giant McDonald’s. Their strike began last October, when five of their coworkers, all union delegates, were fired, and all 38 workers walked out in solidarity.

The workers, most in their 20s and from immigrant backgrounds, were backed up by demonstrations of thousands of people in the streets of Paris, and had the support of a broad spectrum of the French left. Every week from November through January, special flying squads of supporters would visit other McDonald’s outlets in Paris and shut them down for the day. The solidarity movement even spread to Montreal, where the Communist Party and other left forces twice organized solidarity picket-lines at outlets there.

On Feb. 17, McDonald’s was forced to agreed to return all the workers, including those who were fired, to their original jobs, with seniority. They will get 45 percent of the pay they lost on strike, no discipline will be imposed, and McDonald’s will meet with the CGT national labor federation to negotiate possible wage increases for all its workers in France.

McDonald’s employs nearly 1.5 million workers at more than 28,000 outlets in 120 countries. Most are young, very low paid, and lack union protection, because their employer is one of the worst union-busting corporations in the world.