Italy: Transit workers strike over pensions

Air traffic controllers held a one day strike Jan. 8, and transit workers followed on Jan. 9, in a sharpening dispute with the government of President Silvio Berlusconi over proposed state pension reforms that would force workers to contribute for 40 years instead of the current 35 years.

The controllers’ strike halted hundreds of domestic and international flights, while the train, bus, tram and metro workers tied up traffic in cities around the country.

Union leaders warned they might also call a one-day general strike, such as the one last October. Though more talks were to take place this week between the unions and the government, Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni claimed formal talks on the substance of the reform would “only lose time. The positions are too far apart.”

Iraq: IFTU headquarters remains closed

Over a month after U.S. occupation forces attacked the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions (IFTU) in the premises of the Transport and Communication Union in Baghdad, the IFTU headquarters remains closed. Without giving any pretext, the U.S. troops on Dec. 6 ransacked and destroyed the IFTU’s possessions, took documents and smashed windows. Eight union leaders and members were briefly detained and then released.

The IFTU said last week that it had met with Iraqi Governing Council member Dr. Mohammod Uthman, and had also demanded an apology from the local U.S. military commander responsible for the attack. “Unfortunately, nothing has so far happened,” the IFTU said last week. “Our head office is still closed.” The IFTU expressed appreciation to organizations in the international labor movement who expressed their solidarity, including the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Labor Organization.

Indonesia: Unemployment rising sharply

Manpower and Transmigration Minister Jacob Nuwa Wea said last week that the number of unemployed people would rise by some 2.5 million to over 45 million this year. He warned that the millions of unemployed could be a serious threat to political stability and the legislative and presidential elections coming up later in the year. “Most of the newly unemployed will be young people, mostly elementary and high school dropouts as well as university graduates who will not be able to find jobs,” he said.

Jacob said that of the current 42.7 million unemployed workers, 10.8 million had no job, and 31.9 million were in the informal sector or were part-time workers. The government is developing labor intensive programs in agriculture, training programs for workers in the tourism sector, and programs to provide nets and vessels for fishermen, Jacob said. It also hopes to send 1 million Indonesian workers to the Middle East and other areas.

Nigeria: Unions protest fuel tax

The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) has given an ultimatum to the government to reverse a fuel tax it has imposed. If the government does not rescind the tax by Jan. 20, the NLC said, it will start building up for a nationwide protest. The first rally would be in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s home area, Abeokuta, capital of the western state of Ogun, the union said. Next would be the capital city, Lagos, and other state capitals.

NLC President Adams Oshiomhole said the Jan. 20 deadline was set to give National Assembly members time to “deliberate on the matter and take position by declaring the tax as illegal.”

The NLC is also demanding that the government take control of the country’s oil industry in order to avoid unnecessary price increases such as the one last year which saw gas prices rise to 50 cents from 34 cents a liter, after the government privatized the oil industry.

Venezuela: U.S. delegation criticizes ‘disinformation’

A delegation of African American activists visiting Venezuela last week said the commercial media’s coverage of developments there amounts to a “disinformation campaign” against the democratic process of change now in progress and against elected President Hugo Chavez.

At a press conference in Caracas Jan. 9, Bill Fletcher, president of the TransAfrica Forum, said the U.S. people are being deluged with “innuendo, lies and half-truths” about Venezuela, and said the Bush administration was not only involved in the brief coup attempt against Chavez two years ago, but continues to support activities aimed at overturning the elected government.

Actor Danny Glover added that he wants “to listen and learn, not only from government and opposition politicians, but to share with the people, those who are promoting the changes in this country and we want to be in contact with those who benefit from those changes.”

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (