France: General strike planned May 13

French trade unions, outraged over the Chirac government’s plans to reform the pension system, said last week that public and private sector workers will hold a one-day general strike May 13.

After three months of consultations with workers and business leaders, the government on April 22 announced a 38-point program, which is to be the basis for a proposed new law. But both left-led and center unions rejected the scheme. Six leading unions issued a joint statement saying the measures “are dictated solely by the desire to reduce social and public expenditure. Only the intervention of the workers will lead to the text being modified, so the unions hereby call for mobilization on their claims.”

The new plan would lengthen the contribution time for public workers’ pensions to 40 years, to match the requirements for private sector workers. Early retirement would be penalized and the system would encourage working after the official retirement age.

Mexico: Law boosts women’s equality

In a great gain for women’s equality, Mexico’s parliament passed a new law last month outlawing discrimination in the workplace and protecting women’s reproductive and property rights. The new law defines inequality in salary, benefits and conditions of employment, based on gender, as discrimination. The law also protects women’s rights to own land – particularly important to indigenous women – and it includes as discrimination any actions compromising women’s access to information about contraception and reproductive issues.

Haiti: Demonstrators uphold democracy

Chanting “Yes to democracy, No to occupation,” several hundred demonstrators marched from the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince to the National Palace April 24, to denounce efforts by the Haitian opposition and sectors of the international community to overthrow elected President Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian press agency AHP reported. The march, organized by the National Popular Party (PPN), also protested the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Demonstrators also denounced the opposition Democratic Convergence and Group of 184 for supporting U.S.-orchestrated economic sanctions that have worsened the plight of the Haitian people.

PPN President Benjamin Dupuy emphasized that the ballot box remains the sole constitutionally acceptable means of taking power in a democratic society, and called on opposition parties to wait until President Aristide’s term ends before contesting for power.

Poland: Workers march vs. joblessness

Some 20,000 Polish workers marched in Warsaw April 25 to protest government policies they say are responsible for unemployment, which has now reached 19 percent.

Demonstrators at the march organized by the Solidarity union demanded the government take steps to reduce the high jobless rate. In socialist times a job was a basic right.

Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who took office promising to boost the economy with more free market reforms, has seen his approval ratings sink to an all-time low.

Ireland: IRA will disarm if others meet obligations

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, said April 27 that the Irish Republic Army will disarm fully as part of the Northern Ireland peace settlement if other parties to the accord fulfill their obligations.

“The IRA has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity,” Adams told the Northern Ireland Assembly. “Obviously, this is not about putting some arms beyond use. It is about all arms. … If the two governments and all the parties fulfill their commitments, this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict.”

Fiji: Cannery workers win wage hike

An arbitrator has ruled that nearly 700 workers at the Pacific Fishing Company Limited (PAFCO) must receive their first pay raise since the late 1960s. Union spokesman Tomasi Tokalauavere told the Daily Post the cannery workers had not received any wage or cost of living increase since the late 1960s when the company was under Japanese administration. Wages are now about $70 per week, rising to $100 with overtime.

As a result, workers – including women who have suffered the most – have been forced to borrow from loan sharks, banks and PAFCO’s credit union, and have incurred debts to merchants.

The arbitrator ruled that wages must rise to $2.75 per hour for unskilled and $3.50 per hour for skilled workers, and men’s and women’s wages must be equal. PAFCO has not yet said whether it will accept the ruling.

International notes are compiled weekly by Marilyn Bechtel, Communist Party international secretary. She can be reached at