May Day: Unions around the world demand ‘respect’

Unions from all five continents are planning actions around the common theme of respect for workers’ rights, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said this week. The 158-million-member ICFTU and its partners in the Global Unions Group, representing trade union organizatons from every sector, will call for “Respect” in events uniting workers throughout the world.

The ICFTU said activities ranging from mass demonstrations to sports events and conferences are being planned by unions on issues including workers’ rights, quality public services, workers’ health and safety, overcoming poverty, and rights and opportunities for young workers.

“By uniting under one global theme, unions will send out a strong message,” said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder. “Respect for workers’ rights is a major part of the agenda we are putting forward, particularly as we gear up for the next World Trade Organization Trade Ministerial meeting in Cancun in September of this year.”

China/Vietnam: Parties pledge new cooperation

“Friendly neighborliness, comprehensive cooperation, durable stability and future-oriented thinking” were the watchwords as leaders of the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist Parties met last week in Beijing. Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Chinese CP and president of China, and Nong Duc Manh, general secretary of the Vietnamese CP, discussed stepping up their economic, scientific, cultural and educational cooperation, specifically agreeing to work together on the Sinh Quyen copper and Cao Ngan thermal power plant projects. Hu announced that China would write off Vietnam’s debt.

The two leaders said they want to make their common border a symbol of everlasting peace and friendship.

Referring to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the two stated that all countries must respect the UN Charter and international law and agreed that disputes must be solved peacefully through negotiation, not with violence or the threat of violence.

Both socialist countries have been hard hit recently with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and have intensified their efforts to fight the disease and bring it under control. Newspapers in the region and officials from World Health Organization praised Vietnam’s efforts to prevent SARS.

Similarly in China, government agencies and medical experts are working hard to bring SARS under control and cure patients with the disease throughout the country. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at an emergency national conference that immediate treatment to ensure people’s health should be guaranteed.

President Hu Jintao pledged full support to Hong Kong in its fight with SARS.

Physicians in South China’s Guangdong province recently found evidence of the coronavirus in the specimen samples of SARS patients. “It marks a breakthrough,” said a Guangdong Disease Prevention and Control Centre spokesperson. The coronavirus, named for its crown-like appearance in electron microscope imagery, is widely believed to be the possible cause of SARS.

Chile: Copper miners strike

Negotiations continued this week in a two-week-old strike of workers at the Candelaria copper mine, majority-owned by the U.S.-based transnational Phelps Dodge Mining Services, Inc. Candelaria has been operating on a skeleton staff after 550 workers walked off the job March 31 when talks on wages and productivity bonuses broke down. Seven workers have also been on a hunger strike.

The British news agency Reuters said workers had demanded a 6 percent real wage increase, but the company’s initial offer was 1.4 percent. Also in dispute are the criteria for calculating productivity-related bonuses for workers.

Candelaria is about 480 miles north of Chile’s capital, Santiago. Facilities include an open-pit copper mine, a concentrator plant and a port facility. Copper in concentrate is mostly shipped to Japan and the U.S.

Indonesia: Shangri-La Hotel dispute settled

After more than two years, 80 workers have reached agreement with the Shangri-La Hotel chain.

When wage talks with the 580 workers at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta broke down in December 2000, management fired the union leader and all the workers struck to support him. The hotel then locked out all the workers, closed the hotel for two months, and reopened with a new workforce. Most workers accepted a buy-out but 80 continued to struggle for their jobs – picketing, battling in the courts and gaining the solidarity of unions around the globe.

Last month the hotel said it would give each of the 80 workers the equivalent of about four years wages, and agreed to drop a $2 million claim for damages against the union. Even though they didn’t get their jobs back, the workers said they were satisfied with the settlement.

Czech Republic: Educators may strike

The Czech Republic’s educators have gone for five years without an overall pay raise, despite a 1998 government pledge to pay them at the level of educators in European Union countries.

The latest development, reported in The Prague Post, is a letter signed by some 500 university faculty members, threatening a strike during university entrance examinations in June.

The Education Ministry claims teachers are paid an average of about $700 a month, but teachers say this figure includes bonuses and grants not all of them receive.

The letter asks for “clear steps” showing that the long-standing problem “will be fixed quickly.” Many educators are urging that 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product should be devoted to education – a move that would put the Czech Republic on a par with European Union countries. Now, about 4 percent of GDP goes to education.

International notes are compiled by Communist

Party USA International Secretary Marilyn Bechtel,

who can be reached at