Nigeria: Anti-union law passes

Over the objections of the umbrella union organization, the Nigerian Labor Congress, and unions throughout the African continent, Nigeria’s senate Sept. 9 passed a blatantly anti-union labor law mandating jail for participants in unauthorized strikes, and barring strikes altogether for workers in “essential” services. The new law also removes the Nigerian Labor Congress from its official status as the federation uniting all trade unions in the country.

Days before the vote, delegates of African trade unions to the summit of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union (AU) in Ouagadougu joined in sending a letter to Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo. They warned that Obasanjo’s sponsorship of the bill while he is chair of the AU threatens the emerging democratic cultures on the continent.

“Coming from a country hosting the chairmanship of the AU, this is particularly unfortunate and sends very wrong signals to the rest of the world that African leaders cannot constructively coexist with workers organizations that are critical of government policies,” the letter said.

Northern Mariana Islands: Military engineers dig in

A team of U.S. Navy military engineers is looking to step up military activity on the Pacific Ocean island of Tinian, in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The military already leases about two-thirds of the island, and Tinian may fit into the “lily pad” pattern of bases the Bush administration is establishing in the Pacific as part of its realignment of military forces.

The Saipan Tribune reported Sept. 9 that Capt. David Boone, the Navy’s officer in charge of construction in the Marianas, met with CNMI Lt. Gov. Diego Benavente to discuss the use assessment the Navy is currently conducting there. Benavente reportedly assured the Navy of the Commonwealth’s cooperation.

Mexico: Unions protest social security ‘reform’

Some 400,000 workers, peasants, members of community organizations and their supporters massed in Mexico City’s Zocalo square Aug. 31 — the day before President Vicente Fox was to deliver his annual report to the national legislature — to protest the government’s drive to weaken social security and labor laws. Members of hundreds of unions and other social organizations filled the square and neighboring streets, halting activity in much of the city. Parallel demonstrations took place in 135 other Mexican cities.

Speakers emphasized the dire effects of a quarter century of neoliberal policies and sharply criticized President Fox’ self-proclaimed “government of change” for making the rich richer and driving 70 percent of the population into poverty.

The next day demonstrators encircled the legislature building, forcing the president, for the first time in the country’s history, to deliver his annual address in the midst of a national work stoppage by hundreds of thousands of workers.

Haiti: Lavalas aids the poor

Supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, continue to uphold the needs of Haiti’s poor working people despite continuing attacks by the U.S. backed interim government, armed gangs and former soldiers in the corrupt armed forces Aristide disbanded 10 years ago.

As schools reopened, Lavalas’ grassroots organization distributed free school supplies to poor students in Port-au-Prince Sept. 4, the Haitian news agency AHP reported. At the same time, several hundred demonstrators demanded Aristide’s return.

Days later, on Sept. 7, heavily armed police and gang members invaded and threatened to close a school in Petionville, established under Aristide in a mansion expropriated from a notorious drug dealer and ally of the former Duvalier dictatorship.

Also on Sept. 7, tenants in subsidized housing built by the Aristide government in Port-au-Prince’s 2004 district appealed to human rights organizations for help in the face of an eviction drive by the interim government, which wants to house units of the UN’s Stabilization Mission “peacekeeping” force there.

Afghanistan: Former mujahedeen run in election

As the Oct. 9 presidential election approaches, President Hamid Karzai — handpicked by the U.S. and backed by Pakistan — is opposed by 17 other candidates, including several with strong ties to armed mujahedeen gangs who fought against the national democratic government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 1970s and ’80s.

Anti-U.S. feeling in Karzai’s own Pashtun ethnic group has led many in eastern Afghanistan to back his main rival, former education minister Yunus Qanooni. An ethnic Tajik, Qanooni belongs to Jamiat-i-Islami, which was prominent in the U.S.-instigated war against the PDP and in the civil war that followed.

Prominent candidates Syed Ishaq Gailani and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai are associated with other groups which fought the PDP and later fought each other.

Asia Times Online notes that while most Afghans at first refused to register to vote, the government’s practice of requiring voter registration cards as identification has boosted registration figures. However, in areas where they are still strong, Taliban often harass and beat people found with registration cards.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (