Iraq: Agriculture in danger

Agriculture in Iraq is on the verge of collapse, raising fears that many of the country’s 24.5 million people will go hungry this summer, the London Observer said this week. The Observer said a confidential report prepared by the Rome staff of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reveals “a catastrophe in the making,” with crops and poultry especially hard hit.

Government warehouses that supply most of the seeds, fertilizers and pesticide sprays have been looted, particularly in central and southern Iraq, the report said. Pumping stations that powered irrigation systems for vegetable crops no longer function, and irrigation systems have been destroyed in central and southern Iraq, where a formerly thriving poultry industry is in ruins. Disease and pestilence are predicted among plants and animals.

Colombia: Unionist killed on May Day

The rural workers union SINTRAINAGRO announced last week that another of its officers — Juan de Jesus Gomez, president of the union organization in Minas — was gunned down on May 1 in the city of San Alberto.

Gomez and the union had been trying unsuccessfully to get the palm oil company Palmas del Cesar S.A. to the negotiating table. Despite the union’s willingness to negotiate on key issues of productivity and organization of work, management rejected talks and instead was firing some workers and bribing others to leave the union. SINTRAINAGRO’s requests to meet with the government ministry for protection in connection with the conflict had gone unanswered.

Gomez’ killing brings the number of union leaders murdered in Colombia in the past year to more than 130. To date, no one has been prosecuted or even detained by authorities in connection with these murders.

SINTRAINAGRO is calling for letters to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe,, urging government protection to all trade union leaders who request it.

Japan: ‘Love of country’ curriculum falls flat

Virtually none of Japan’s 24,000 public elementary schools are complying with the education ministry’s new “fostering love of country” curriculum goal, while the country’s largest teachers union has questioned the measure’s constitutionality, Japan Times Online said this week. “The freedom of belief is guaranteed by the Constitution and applies to children as well,” said a spokesperson for the Japan Teachers’ Union. “We think it is very serious that this language has been included in the guidelines before the matter was debated in the Diet [parliament].

“Who’s to say what patriotism is? How do you grade it?” asked one parent. “The whole thing sounds like a return to the militaristic thinking in this country before the war.”

South Africa: Mineworkers support women’s rights

As its congress ended over the weekend, the National Union of Mineworkers resolved to raise the role of women in the mining industry and to campaign vigorously against racism and tribalism in the industry.

The 1,000 delegates at the NUM Congress reiterated their commitment to achieve a 10 percent female representation in the mining sector, resolved to draft a gender strategy to serve as a guiding document, and said that women’s development should be linked to education programs at all levels. They called for a human resource development program linked to employment equity and workplace change.

Germany: Workers in east want 35-hour week

Following a wave of warning strikes, metal workers in eastern Germany have begun talks — anticipated to be difficult — with employers to phase in a 35-hour work week. Since the former socialist East Germany was taken over by West Germany in 1990, metal workers in the east have worked a 38-hour week for the same pay their western counterparts earn in 35 hours. Unemployment in eastern Germany is nearly double the average in western Germany.

Compiled by Marilyn Bechtel, who can be reached at