U.K.: Childcare key to overcoming poverty

A report released Jan. 25 by the Trades Union Congress and Daycare Trust says the lack of affordable childcare is trapping many larger families in a life of low income and low expectations.

The report credited the government with progress in lowering poverty and creating more childcare places, but said a further shift in government policy is needed if all families are to be freed from poverty.

The report points out that though only one-third of all children are in large families of three or more children, they account for half of all poor children. Some minority ethnic groups, including Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian families, are especially affected.

Childcare costs continue to rise, the report said, while government subsidies do not factor in the extra costs of three or more children. Patchy, inflexible and expensive childcare prevents women from returning to work or forces them to work fewer hours, while the corporate drive for longer hours creates special problems for large families.

India: Working women map fightback

A two-day national convention brought together women, both unionized and unorganized, from various economic sectors, at Kolkata Jan. 10-11. Issues included workplace discrimination against women, weaknesses of laws, problems of union organizing, as well as leadership training and promotion of women in decision-making bodies of trade unions. Participants included 240 delegates from 15 states and five fraternal delegates from the Bangladesh trade unions.

Gurudas Das Gupta, general secretary of the All-India Trades Union Congress, called on India’s trade union movement to take the lead in fighting for justice for women workers. AITUC Secretary Amarjeet Kaur said women workers are threatened with long distance job transfers, job freezes, downsizing and outsourcing, while economic reforms are pushing women into unhealthy and nonunion work environments in the Export Promotion Zones and Special Economic Zones.

Bolivia: Labor federation calls strike

The Bolivian Workers Central, the country’s largest labor federation, is calling a nationwide strike for Feb. 21 to protest the government’s anti-labor policies and demand the closure of Congress.

Federation President Jaime Solares said that among other actions, the strike will include blocking roads across the country to protest the government’s proposal of a 3 percent salary increase for government workers. The Workers Central is calling for a monthly minimum wage of $820 – up from the current $55.

Just three months ago, massive street protests over export of vast natural gas reserves and the government’s “free trade” policies forced the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Solares said the new president, Carlos Mesa, “has been nothing but the continuation of the toppled president.”

Japan: ‘Spring Struggle’ seeks pay hike

This year the People’s Spring Struggle will focus on wage increases for all workers, an increase in jobs without corporate restructuring, protesting against sending Self Defense Forces to Iraq, and opposing negative changes to the Constitution and the pension system, the 2004 Joint Struggle Committee said last week. The committee is made up of the National Trade Union Confederation (Zenroren) and unions with no national affiliation.

Japan Press Weekly quoted Kimagai Kanemichi, Zenroren’s president and joint committee director, as saying this year’s struggle is more important than ever, as one-fifth of major corporations are expecting record profits, based in part on intensified exploitation of workers.

In a report issued late last year, the Japan Business Federation advocated freer trade in goods, labor and funds to assure the biggest gains for multinational corporations, and called for wage cuts, a discriminatory wage system, rigorous performance-based standards and weakened labor laws.

Angola: Oil union protests dismissals

Domingos Joao Luis, secretary-general of the Trade Union for Petroleum, Chemical and Metallurgic Companies (SIPEQMA), last week accused oil companies operating in Angola of unjust labor policies. Among foreign oil firms active in Angola are ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Total Fina Elf, BP Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell.

Domingos Luis said oil companies have unjustly dismissed workers, and have been unfair in payment of workers’ salaries and subsidies. When workers leave exploration areas to get the rest they are entitled to after an intense period of work, they do not get paid for these off-duty days, he charged.

In addition to correcting these injustices, he said, “It is necessary that we fight also for better hygienic and security conditions, better efficiency in supervision and an end to uncertainty in employment.”

SIPEQMA held its meeting under the motto, “Let us defend the dignity of workers for the consolidation of peace.” The organization is preparing for its first congress, March 19-20.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (cpusainternat@mindspring.com).