China: Private workplaces should be union

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) last week reiterated its demand that all private enterprises, including foreign-owned firms, comply with Chinese labor law and allow their workers to unionize.

“All enterprises investing in China should abide by the Trade Union Law on setting up trade union organizations,” said Guo Jun, deputy director of the ACFTU’s Legislative Affairs Bureau. He called on unions and cities to target particular situations for a breakthrough.

A number of transnational giants operating in China, including Wal-Mart, Kodak, Dell and Samsung, are violating the law, the ACFTU said.

According to the Chinese publication Legal Daily, Wal-Mart has 19,000 Chinese workers at 37 stores in 18 large Chinese cities, but as elsewhere in the world (with the exception of the Canadian community of Jonquiere), none has permitted its workers to organize.

South Africa: Big victory for restaurant waiters

Cape Town’s Labor Court ruled last month that restaurant waiters are permanent members of the staff and not “independent contractors” with no rights of employment, The Independent Online reported. The case involved two servers at one of the city’s top restaurants, which closed in May. After they were discharged without reason or procedure, the two took their case to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration, which ruled in their favor and granted then an award of nearly $13,500 each.

When the restaurant appealed, the Labor Court again found for the workers.

Sean de Waal, attorney for the two and a former waiter himself, said the finding could have far-reaching implications for the tens of thousands of servers working in South Africa, who are unorganized workers in an industry that until now has been largely ignored by the law.

Iraq: U.S. plans prison expansion

A high-ranking source in the Iraqi interior ministry, under the U.S.-installed interim government, has told the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds al-‘Arabi that a massive expansion of prison facilities in Iraq is underway. The project includes a refitting and expansion of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, and remodeling and expansion of the Al-Hakimiyah prison which was used by Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

After the U.S. occupied Iraq in spring 2003, Al-Hakimiyah prison had been taken over by an organization that sought to turn it into a museum. Now the building has been taken over by the interim government’s recently established Superior Criminal Directorate.

Russia: Millions strike for pay, benefits

Some 4 million teachers and other education workers held a one-day strike Oct. 20 to protest their low pay in the largest labor demonstration since President Vladimir Putin took office nearly five years ago, Cox News Service said.

Teachers and school workers demanded that their pay be increased by 50 percent immediately, and doubled by next year.

In Moscow, protesters held rolling demonstrations outside the cabinet building. In St. Petersburg, 1,200 educational centers, including schools, universities and kindergartens, were involved in the protests. Some 30,000 took to the streets in Voronezh, where one headmaster told Russian television that over 90 percent of the teachers in his school had to moonlight to make ends meet. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said salaries might be increased by 30 to 50 percent, but not until next year.

Korean peninsula: Demand U.S. compensation for war damage

The Lima International Tribunal on U.S. Crimes during the Korean War brought together delegates from nearly 20 countries, international and regional organizations from Asia, Europe and Latin America in Lima, Peru, Oct. 16.

Participants — including representatives of lawyers associations in several countries, among them the U.S. National Lawyers Guild — called on Washington to formally apologize to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for provoking the Korean War and for the crimes committed by the U.S. military during the war, and to punish those responsible. They also urged the U.S. to stop its adventurous moves to provoke another war on the Korean peninsula, to end the U.S. military occupation of South Korea, and to replace the 1953 armistice agreement with a full-fledged peace accord.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (