South Korea: Union strikes for recognition

The Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU) launched a general strike Nov. 15 despite government efforts to squelch its demand for full labor rights, including the right to strike. Last week the government forcibly disrupted a strike vote by the unrecognized union of 140,000 members. It has also issued arrest warrants for 33 KGEU leaders, including Chairman Kim Young-gil.

The existing Civil Service Law bars most government workers from joining a union or participating in collective actions. The government said it would severely punish or dismiss strikers.

At the same time, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), which backs the public workers’ strike, said its 620,000 members would walk off their jobs Nov. 26 after a government bill on non-regular workers is presented to the National Assembly. The KCTU wants temporary and other non-regular workers to have the same protections as regular workers.

Sudan: Gov’t and rebels sign pact

The Sudan government Nov. 9 agreed to end military flights over Darfur, and signed a pact to end 20 months of hostilities with rebels from western Sudan, the UN’s IRIN news agency said.

The government, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equity Movement signed measures to end further fighting. The accords, reached after three weeks of talks sponsored by the African Union, provide for disarmament of the Janjawid militia.

This will allow relief efforts to reach some 1.5 million people who have been displaced by the conflict. The agreements had been held up by the government’s rejection of a no-fly zone.

In a reminder of continuing difficulties, however, the BBC reported that on Nov. 10, Sudanese security forces stormed a Darfur refugee camp for the second time in a week.

Peru: Children send message re: Cuban 5

Over 200 Peruvian children have sent messages of solidarity and encouragement to Ivette Gonzalez, daughter of René Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five.

“The world is with you,” the children told young Ivette. “We want to greet you and wish you the best,” wrote the children from the working-class district of San Juan de Miraflores in Lima. “We are sure you will soon see your father and will be happy.”

Prensa Latina said the names, signatures and identity cards of 205 children were presented at a ceremony Nov. 12 at National Telephone Union headquarters.

The event was part of a coordinated series of solidarity activities with the Five put on by Peruvian-Cuban Friendship Houses, trade unions and political organizations.

Finland: Bus drivers’ strike spreads

An unofficial strike by 1,300 Finish bus drivers in the southern region around Helsinki was spreading late last week, threatening to disrupt nationwide wage talks now in progress between central unions and employers’ organizations, Morning Star Online said.

The strike, which started Nov. 9, spread to central Finland as hundreds more drivers walked off the job to protest bus company policies, including an increase in the amount of part-time work.

The labor dispute occurred as the central trade unions and the main employers’ organization were negotiating wages and working conditions for more than a million Finnish workers. Employers’ organizations are demanding an end to unauthorized strikes, more flexible employment policies and the right for companies to negotiate wage contracts directly with employees without union involvement.

Burma: Forced labor continues

In a Nov. 12 statement, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) released new evidence of forced labor taking place throughout the country.

For the fourth time since June 2004, the ICFTU has provided specific examples of forced labor of various types, including road construction, building and maintenance of military camps, carrying of army supplies and ammunition, agricultural work, and many others — some as recent as last month.

The ICFTU’s examples are based on data collected by the Federation of Trade Unions–Burma (FTUB), an underground workers’ organization active inside Burma and maintaining offices and training facilities in neighboring countries. Three FTUB leaders were sentenced to death last year after the Burmese dictatorship found they were giving the ILO information about forced labor. Though their sentences have since been reduced to prison terms, they remain in detention, and their cases are being featured in discussion of the Burma situation by the International Labor Organization’s Governing Body this week.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (