Iraq: Protest of fuel & power shortages

Protests continued early this week in Basra, the country’s largest city, and the surrounding area against prolonged shortages of electricity and gasoline that are making life miserable in the 125-degree summer heat. Several demonstrators were reported killed and others wounded in clashes with British occupation forces.

“We have no fuel, no water, no electricity for days. Children are dying in hospitals,” a shopkeeper in a nearby village told journalists. “Tell the British to give us benzine, and then we will turn in our guns.”

“In the beginning we were happy,” said a local businessman. “We opened our windows to freedom as the Americans and the British asked us. But now we have nothing, not even our basic necessities. If nothing changes, we are ready to make a lot of chaos.”

The protests marked some of the greatest unrest in this area since British forces took over in the area last April.

South Africa: Gov’t to provide AIDS drugs

South Africa’s Cabinet announced Aug. 8 that the government will make antiretroviral drugs available at public hospitals to those who need them. The Cabinet said it was accepting recommendations by the Joint Health and Treasury Task Team, and was giving Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang until the end of next month to prepare a detailed plan to provide the drugs. The Cabinet said it “shares the impatience of many” about the need to strengthen the struggle against the disease.

The Task Team said introducing antiretroviral therapy would have a significant impact on the number of AIDS deaths in the coming decade, deferring 1.7 million deaths until after 2010.

Among those welcoming the announcement were former President Nelson Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which had criticized the government delay in providing the drugs.

South Korea: Hyundai workers win wage hike

Hyundai workers are voting this week on a proposed new contract including an 8.6 percent wage hike – far greater than the country’s 3.1 percent inflation rate. At talks last weekend, Hyundai also agreed to a shorter workweek and other benefits including worker involvement in management decisions concerning job security.

Hyundai workers have been on strike since June, with heavy costs to the company in lost output. The 40,000-member union had earlier called for an 11 percent wage increase and representation at company board meetings.

Dominican Republic: Police raid transport union office

Police raided the office of the National Union of Unified Transport Workers Aug. 6, opening fire on those inside to prevent them from carrying out a protest in Santo Domingo later that afternoon, Amnesty International said last week. At least three unionists were reported injured, and up to six others detained by police.

The trade unionists were organizing an alternative version of the march that opened the 14th Pan American Games in Santo Domingo Aug. 1. The alternative march, titled “Torch against Hunger,” was organized in the context of months of repeated protests around the country against increases in the cost of living and government economic measures to meet IMF requirements.

Amnesty International called for a full, impartial investigation and urged the government to publicly recommit to international standards for use of force by law enforcement officials.

India: Anger grows over strike ban

Popular outrage is growing over the Indian Supreme Court decision Aug. 6 barring strikes by government employees because they disrupt the economy.

The decision followed last month’s strike by over a million teachers and other public workers in Tamil Nadu state to protest pension cuts. Some 176,000 workers were dismissed afterwards. Nearly 6,000 still remain off the job and face legal action.

Swadesh Debroy, national secretary of the Center for Indian Trade Unions, called the ruling “a dangerous and cruel attack on our right to strike,” while nearly 20,000 members of the All-India Trade Union Congress in Tamil Nadu fasted Aug. 9 in protest.

The Communist Party of India called the decision “a judicial assault on the democratic rights of workers and employees who have won these rights … through more than 100 years of sacrifices and bitter struggles,” while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) warned that it has “serious implications for the fundamental rights of the working people.”

The ILO pledged to help the Tamil Nadu workers.

International notes are complied by Marilyn Bechtel (