S. Africa: Farm workers fight back

Some 2,400 tomato farm workers are fighting in the courts to win their jobs back. The workers, employed by ZZ2 – one of the world’s largest tomato producers – were fired when management claimed they went on strike in a dispute over wage increases and the company’s deductions for housing, food and other services. The workers, however, say they merely confronted management over “unreasonable” deductions.

Their union, the South African Agricultural Plantation and Allied Workers Union, has appealed to the Labor Court in Johannesburg to reinstate the workers temporarily, pending the outcome of an arbitration hearing.

Mojeremane Manareng told South Africa’s Sunday Times that ZZ2 had deducted over half his March wages for the one-room house he shares with his wife, also a ZZ2 worker. Federal legislation says farmers may not deduct more than 20 percent for accommodation and food.

Altogether, about 12,000 people are affected by the dismissals.

China: Fight vs SARS intensifies

Gao Qiang, China’s Executive Vice Minister of Health, told an April 20 news conference that controlling the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a top priority for the highest bodies of the government and Communist Party.

Gao said the central government has intensified its efforts to monitor and prevent the spread of the disease in places where crowds come together, such as schools, government institutions and military barracks. He said medical and research institutions are making new efforts to develop new treatment methods and reduce deaths caused by SARS. He also said the government will strengthen its cooperation with the World Health Organization, adding that officials from the Chinese Ministry of Health and WHO experts are currently working together on prevention and control.

Gao told the press conference that the State Council had canceled the week-long May Day holiday period, during which many Chinese travel to other parts of the country, to help prevent the disease from spreading.

Gao said 1,807 SARS cases had been confirmed on the mainland, of which 1,304 were in Guangdong. Starting April 21, information on SARS cases will be made public on a daily basis, he said.

Colombia: Paramilitaries target the left

“Paramilitary bands are continuing with their campaign of open persecution of the left and leaders of the Colombian Communist Party and Young Communists of Colombia,” the CP of Colombia said in a statement April 22.

The CP said university professor and party leader, Jaime Gomez, this week had a threatening encounter in front of the facilities of the University Francisco de Paula Santander in the city of Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela. Paramilitary assassins tried to enter and raid the offices where he took refuge.

Last week several leaders of the Young Communists of Colombia were forced to leave the city because they were pursued by the paramilitaries.

The CPC said it is noteworthy that the paramilitary activity in Cucuta took place in broad daylight and the authorities did nothing to suppress it.

“We denounce this persecution and demand that the government of President Alvaro Uribe put an end to the impunity and the official complacency surrounding the paramilitary activity in Cucuta and Norte de Santander,” the CPC said.

South Korea: Unions avert railway privatization

South Korea’s railroad workers have called off a major strike in return for a pledge from President Roh Moo-hyun averting partial privatization of the Korean National Railroad, The railroad workers union argued that privatization would result in mass layoffs, fare increases, and cancellation of unprofitable routes. Some 24,000 of the Korean National Railroad’s 30,000 workers are union members.

The move alarmed investors, who now fear other privatization plans may be delayed or cancelled. “It’s worse than having a strike,” Huh Chan-guk, an economist at the Korea Economic Research Institute, told the BBC this week.

Argentina: Co-op supporters attacked by police

Police used rubber bullets and tear gas April 21 against hundreds of demonstrators gathered to support workers at a Buenos Aires clothing factory who have been running the plant as a cooperative for the last year. The demonstrators had gathered outside the Brukman plant, one of about 100 businesses that have been taken over by workers, when their former owners lost them in Argentina’s economic crisis. About one-fifth of Argentine workers are unemployed.

The Brukman factory has been operated by 57 of its original 157 employees. They have been forced out twice, but have been allowed to resume operations following legal action. The workers are now engaged in another court battle, hoping to gain ownership of the plant.

International Notes are compiled by

Marilyn Bechtel (cpusainternat@mindspring.com)