Canada: Wal-Mart workers organize

Workers at the Wal-Mart store in Jonquiere, Quebec, are battling to make their store the retail giant’s first unionized outlet in North America. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says more than half the store’s 200 workers have signed cards.

In late December the union applied to Quebec’s Labor Relations Committee for certification of the Jonquiere local. Wal-Mart, which is contesting certification, called the union’s proposed unit “inappropriate.” Hearings will be held this month to decide how many jobs will become unionized positions and which jobs will be excluded.

Wal-Mart, which has over 4,300 stores worldwide and annual revenues exceeding $244.5 billion U.S., has become the world’s dominant retailer by slashing prices, and providing rock-bottom wages and benefits for its 1.3 million workers. It is virulently anti-union. Its aggressive stance has not only harmed its own workforce, but puts severe downward pressure on other, unionized retail chains.

Haiti: Gov’t TV station attacked

Demonstrators from the anti-government Group of 184 political coalition violently attacked a government television station they accused of criticizing their group on Jan. 18, the Haitian Press Agency AHP reported. Demonstrators threw volleys of stones at the station’s offices, smashing windows, and also attacked small shopkeepers at a nearby public market. Opposition officials claimed some shots were fired in their direction, but no injuries were reported.

Opposition demonstrations have been accompanied by serious violence since the Jan. 1 bicentennial celebrations commemorating Haiti’s independence – an event that the AHP said drew hundreds of thousands of participants, including international figures, government delegations and foreign diplomats.

Several diplomatic missions, including that of the United States and the Special Mission of the OAS in Haiti, recently praised the government’s good security measures in connection with the opposition demonstrations. But at the same time, supporters of the governing party have been killed, and others have had their property destroyed.

India: General strike set for Feb. 24

At a meeting in Delhi last month, India’s Central Trade Union Organizations set a country-wide general strike for Feb. 24 to protest the right-wing government’s failure to defend public workers’ rights in the face of last year’s supreme court decision gutting government workers’ right to strike.

The joint statement by a number of national trade union federations also emphasized the fightback against the government’s anti-people economic policies at the behest of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization, which are causing galloping unemployment, growing poverty, destructive privatization and plant closures.

Labor federations in the various states are mobilizing unions and organizations of bank and insurance workers, port and dock workers, oil and telecommunications workers, government employees and others for the strike.

Cuba: U.S. & Cuban psychiatrists meet

Nineteen top U.S. psychiatrists joined their Cuban counterparts in Havana late last month for the Second Cuba-U.S. Workshop on Biological Psychiatry.

Dr. Mark Rasenick, Director of the Neuroscience Training Program at the University of Illinois, urged combining U.S. and Cuban experiences in the near future as both sides have a lot to offer each other. He said whenever he visits Cuba he sees new projects underway and new equipment – some of it developed in Cuba.

Dr. Charles Nemeroff, head of Emory University’s Psychiatry Department, said at the end of the visit that the U.S. can learn a lot from everything that’s been done in Cuba in preventive medicine.

Dr. Ismael Clark, president of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, emphasized that the U.S. blockade of Cuba and restrictions on exchange of information greatly inhibits the free flow of cooperation between the two countries’ scientific institutions. The Cuban scientific community wants very much to expand its ties with U.S. counterparts, he said.

South Africa-Germany: Unions strengthen ties

South African and German union leaders met in Johannesburg late last month to map out ways to strengthen their solidarity in the face of intensifying globalization.

“We live in one world. Not in the first, second, third, fifth or sixth world,” said Michael Sommer, head of the Confederation of German Trade Unions.

Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary-General of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, responded, “Globalization has worked for some; it has not worked for the poor.” Added COSATU President William Madisa, “Germany is a very significant investor in our country. While we welcome foreign direct investment, we demand that workers’ rights be respected.”

Germany, with 450 companies in South Africa employing some 70,000 people, is South Africa’s biggest trading partner after the U.S. Trade between the two countries totaled about $5.9 billion in 2002.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (