South Africa: Bram Fischer reinstated

The South African Communist Party last week welcomed the posthumous reinstatement of Abram (Bram) Fischer as an attorney. Fischer, a leading SACP member, was disbarred and imprisoned by the apartheid regime. He died of cancer while in prison in 1975.

The SACP called Fischer’s reinstatement “a recognition of the role he played as a Communist in the struggle against apartheid. … Born into a powerful Afrikaner family, he had all the benefits of apartheid to savor, but he followed his consciousness into the Communist Party of South Africa. He sacrificed wealth, fame, comfort, high position, a privileged life in an already privileged white society.”

Fischer himself said during his trial, “Whatever labels may be attached to the 15 charges brought against me, they all arise from my having been a member of the Communist Party and from my activities as a member. … I hold and have for many years held the view that politics can only be properly understood and that our immediate political problems can only be satisfactorily solved without violence and civil war by the application of that scientific system of political knowledge known as Marxism.”

Serbia: U.S. Steel hit by strike

Little over a month after their bankrupt factory was bought by U.S. Steel, workers at the former Sartid steel plant walked out Oct. 14 over the company’s refusal to grant their demand for wages of 55 dinars per hour, or slightly less than $1.

Trade union leader Mileta Gujanicic said the average monthly wage at Sartid was equivalent to $159 – 10 percent below the average wage in Serbia. “We demand U.S. Steel increase to 55 dinars from 33 dinars the hourly wage, which is still well below what U.S. Steel workers get in other countries,” Gujanicic said in a phone interview with Reuters.

Last month U.S. Steel paid about $23 million for the plant, which is located 25 miles outside the capital city, Belgrade. U.S. Steel pledged to continue some 9,000 jobs for three years, and invest over $150 million to upgrade the plant and provide services to the community.

Benin: Child laborers freed

Last week 74 child laborers – some as young as 4 years old – were returned from Nigeria to Benin, where they were receiving food, clothing and medical care. Under an agreement reached in August between presidents of the two countries, they were rescued from the traffickers who sold them into heavy labor in the granite industry of southern Nigeria.

U.N. officials said the children told their rescuers that at least 13 of their young companions had died in the past three months, worn out by smashing and carrying rocks and sleeping in the open, without adequate food.

With many west African families plunged into deep poverty as local economies are destroyed by transnational corporations, many children are thrust into heavy labor at an early age. Over 15,000 children from Benin are estimated to be working in Nigerian granite pits. Thousands are expected to be repatriated in the near future.

Britain: Thousands still don’t get minimum

Over four and a half years after the minimum wage was introduced, the Trades Union Congress says dishonest employers are still cheating as many as 170,000 workers out of their mandated pay. The current minimum wage equals about $7.20 per hour (or just over $6 for those 18-21 years old). The TUC and the Low Wage Network have issued a new enforcement guide to help track down those employers who are deliberately violating the law.

Workers most likely to be cheated out of the minimum wage are employed in the clothing, footwear and retail industries, or work as hairdressers, domestic workers or housekeepers, the TUC said. Many migrant workers employed by contractors in agriculture and food production, as well as in sweatshops, are paid less than the national minimum.

Latin America: Water crisis affects 130 million

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said earlier this month that over 130 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack safe drinking water in their homes, and only 86 million are connected to adequate sanitation systems.

In a statement issued Oct. 4 in observance of Inter-American Water Day, PAHO said one of the millennium goals agreed by the countries of the Americas is to cut in half the number of people without safe water and sanitation by the year 2015.

This year’s Inter-American Water Day was held during the International Year of Fresh Water, declared by the U.N. General Assembly. The slogan is “Water: let’s not take it for granted.” Currently, water supplies in Latin America are increasingly threatened with privatization.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (