Britain: Mail strikers spied upon

While Royal Mail and postal union leaders in London announced on Nov. 3 the settlement of a two-week long unauthorized strike by the nation’s postal workers, the Guardian has reported that during the strike managers at the Royal Mail were ordered to spy on workers who joined the walkouts.

Royal Mail’s plans for breaking the strike, sent to sorting and delivery offices in “strictest confidence,” called for managers to identify ringleaders and eavesdrop on conversations between workers, writing down exact times, dates, names and what was said.

The strike, which did not have official backing by the Communication Workers Union, involved about 25,000 workers and started after the Royal Mail took disciplinary action against workers in west London following their official 24-hour strike in mid-October.

Japan: Corporate donors get tax breaks

Last week Akahata, daily newspaper of the Japanese Communist Party, revealed that six major automakers and the three largest steelmakers received 3 billion yen (nearly $28 million) in corporate tax breaks, in return for 600 million yen in donations to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party during the last three years.

The Industrial Revitalization Law providing large companies with tax breaks was enacted in October 1999, endorsed by the LDP, the Liberal Party, the Komei Party, and later the Democratic Party of Japan. Under the law, if a company’s restructuring plan meets the government’s standards, the firm becomes eligible for tax breaks.

By July 2003, 217 companies had saved 81 billion yen through corporate tax breaks in exchange for their plans to cut employees by a total of 90,000.

Akahata emphasized that the Japanese Communist Party has consistently opposed the tax breaks.

Mexico: Migrants send billions home

Mexicans working abroad, mostly in the U.S., will send an estimated $14.5 billion home this year, mostly to family members, according to a study released last week. The study, by the Inter-American Development Bank and Pew Hispanic Center, said 18 percent of Mexico’s population receives regular income from abroad.

The remittances have become Mexico’s second largest source of foreign income, after oil sales, and now exceed income from both foreign investments and tourism.

The study showed that even the U.S. economic crisis and new security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border have not significantly slowed the flow of remittances.

Many Mexican immigrants in the U.S. work for minimum or even subminimum wages to support their families in Mexico, whose economy has been undermined by U.S.-based transnationals.

China: Moon launch next

China plans to launch its first moon probing satellite in the next three to five years, Zheng Qingwei, general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., said last week. Zheng said that after the successful development of satellites and the launch of the first Chinese manned space flight last month, the moon probe will be the third milestone of the country’s space technology development.

Commenting on last month’s space flight, Zhang Qiyue, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that astronaut Yang Liwei’s 21 1/2 hour flight was an important step in “the peaceful exploration of outer space.”

“China has always advocated a weapons-free outer space and holds that preventing an armament race in space is in the interests of all countries in the world,” Qiyue told People’s Daily.

Sub-Saharan African nations: Water emergency looms

An international consortium on agriculture is warning that many sub-Saharan African nations could face growing malnutrition and dependence on international financial and food aid if water issues are not addressed effectively.

The Washington-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) said that sub-Saharan Africa will face a 23 percent shortfall in crop yields because of insufficient water supply, and cereal imports will have to more than triple in the next 23 years to meet demand. It said many poorer African countries would not be able to pay for the needed imports.

“Agricultural subsidies in North America and Europe determine where food is grown and policy decisions taken in the World Trade Organization are possibly the single most dominant factor shaping the global demand for food and consequently the amount of water required to grow food,” Prof. Frank Rijsberman said in CGIAR’s Nov. 2 press release.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (
Dan Margolis contributed to this week’s notes.