South Africa: Corporate pay hikes ‘shock’ unions

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) spokesman Patrick Craven said last week that the union federation is “appalled” by the revelations of business executives’ soaring pay last year, as revealed Oct. 18 by the South African economy news agency Business Report. Heading the list this year was CEO Chip Goodyear of the mining company BHP Billiton, with compensation of $4.5 million.

Craven said COSATU deplored that “regardless whether their companies are increasing their profits, top executives keep getting salary increases way above the inflation rate.” Yet, he added, these are “the same business leaders who complain about the dangers of wage inflation and do everything possible to prevent their workers from getting even modest real increases in pay.

“Far from moving toward a more equitable distribution of wealth,” Craven added, “we are widening the chasm between the richest and poorest South Africans,” he said.

Spain: Protesters block NATO train

In a dramatic demonstration of nonviolent civil disobedience, three protesters last week chained themselves with metal tubes to the tracks being used by a train carrying military equipment to a NATO training camp near Zaragosa, according to Indymedia Center Barcelona. The San Gregorio camp is to be the site of exercises for the new NATO Response Force.

The activists, supported by other demonstrators who hung banners with the legends “Stop NATO” and “Let’s Stop Wars,” were able to halt the train for two hours before they were dragged away by police.

The protesters demanded closure of all NATO facilities in Spain, which they said are turning Spanish soil into “a gigantic training and military aggression platform,” and their conversion to socially and ecologically positive uses. They called on supporters to “block the train of military expenses” by raising “conscientious objection” on their tax returns to that portion which funds the military.

Germany: GM workers return to the job

Workers at GM’s Bochum plant, who struck Oct. 14 after GM announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs, one-fifth of its European workforce, returned to work last week. Talks with GM were slated to resume Oct. 21.

“We will do our utmost so that management does not implement its horror plans,” said workers council head Dietmar Hahn.

On Oct. 19, nearly 40,000 people demonstrated across Germany against the cuts and the possibility that one plant might actually close. As some 20,000 demonstrated in Bochum, GM workers and their families were joined by workers from other car plants, including Volkswagen and Porsche.

The German workers received moral support from thousands of other European GM workers at factories in Poland, Spain, Britain and Belgium, Agence France Presse reported.

East Timor: Clash with Australia on oil

The latest talks in the ongoing dispute between East Timor and Australia over ownership of oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea ended in failure Sept. 30, the Guardian of Australia said.

Australia has refused to submit the dispute over location of the boundary between the two countries to the International Court of Justice, the Guardian said, because the court would almost surely draw the border half way between the land boundaries of the two countries, consistent with the law of the sea. This would give East Timor control over far more of the rich oil and gas resources that lie between it and Australia, allowing the impoverished country more revenue to spend on helping its 800,000 people. On the other hand, the newspaper said, acceptance of the boundaries claimed by Australia would give Australian companies the lion’s share of the resources.

Colombia: Huge nationwide protests

At least 700,000 Colombians participated in one-day nationwide protests Oct. 12 against the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez, Weekly News Update on the Americas reported. The one-day strike closed schools, hospitals and courts around the country, while marches were held in the departmental (state) capitals.

The participation of 300,000 marchers in Bogota made the demonstration the largest protest there in recent years.

The national protest was called by a “Great Democratic Coalition” of labor unions, grassroots organizations, student associations, indigenous and peasant organizations and opposition parties. Demonstrators demanded a political solution to the armed conflict in the country and an end to the persecution of trade unionists. They also opposed negotiations for a free trade treaty with the U.S., expansion of the value-added tax to basic necessities and an effort to change Colombia’s constitution to allow Uribe’s re-election.

In some areas police attacked protesters with tear gas and pepper spray.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (