Greenland: U.S. base to expand

The U.S. is “close to an agreement” with Greenland and Denmark to expand Thule Air Base for use in the Pentagon’s missile defense program, Nordic Business Report said May 17. A difficult issue in the talks is whether Denmark and Greenland could prosecute U.S. troops stationed at the base who might commit a crime.

Since the U.S. signed an agreement with Denmark in 1951, Thule has been home to advanced U.S. radar systems and has been a staging point for nuclear-capable bombers.

President Bush’s December 2001 abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty paved the way for a “Star Wars” missile defense system.

Greenland’s home rule government has taken the position that it would not support upgrading Thule if U.S. plans there violated the ABM Treaty.

Japan: Okinawans sit in at U.S. base

Okinawans are conducting daily sit-ins to prevent a geological survey of the seabed off the island as a preliminary to the building of a new U.S. military base there, Japan Press reported. The new sea-based facility near Henoko in Nago City would substitute for the U.S. Futenma Air Station on the island, which is now to be returned to Japan.

The sea off Henoko has many coral reefs and is known as the feeding grounds of the dugong, an endangered marine mammal. The construction plan calls for drilling 63 holes in the reefs. In the eight years since plans for the new base were first announced, the protesters have succeeded in stalling its construction.

“Having experienced the tragic Okinawa battle [during World War II], Okinawans wish for peace,” said Japanese Communist Party national legislator Akamine Seiken, speaking at the site. “It’s a fight that flows together with the world current moving toward peace.”

China: Unions help the jobless

Trade unions should give special help to workers laid off from reorganized state-owned enterprises and from collective enterprises in small cities, and to self-employed people and migrant workers with temporary jobs, Zhang Junjiu, vice chairman of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, told a conference on re-employment last week in Beijing.

“Trade unions at all levels should include them into professional training, job consulting and other re-employment programs,” Zhang said.

“We should look into and help solve the employment and re-employment problems of these groups, especially in respect to labor contracts, social insurance and workplace safety and health conditions.”

By the end of last year over 2 million laid-off workers had found new jobs after training. The unions are also working to improve vocational training schools, and the national federation is encouraging local unions to provide loans for small business start-ups. Also by the end of 2003, unions had invested 133 million yuan ($16 million) in re-employment programs, China Daily said.

Colombia: Oil workers fired

The ICEM international federation of chemical, energy and mine workers has sent a strong protest to the far-right government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for its brutal efforts to break the month-long strike at the national oil company, Ecopetrol.

ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs told Uribe in a letter that Colombia’s use of “armed military personnel in and around Ecopetrol’s petroleum facilities has escalated the conflict,” making resolution more difficult. Some 100 striking union oil workers have been fired so far. Arrests, death threats and other forms of harassment have been reported against the workers.

The union struck Ecopetrol because of the government’s restructuring of oil reserves and production, with contracts to multinationals rewritten on more favorable terms. The union says this will rob the country of natural resources and is the start of selling off Ecopetrol.

South Africa: YCL to campaign for free education

The Young Communist League of South Africa has announced it will launch a national campaign for free education, together with other youth organizations.

“The YCL is concerned that colleges and universities continue to exclude students on the basis of their ability to pay fees,” said YCL National Secretary Buti Manamela. “This is unacceptable. What does democracy mean if poor people cannot access education?”

The campaign will be a main agenda item at the YCL’s forthcoming national meeting. Other YCL priorities include working to end the National Student Financial Aid program’s punitive practices against poor students who cannot repay their student loans, and finding ways to organize young people into an anti-capitalist struggle through culture, music, education and other youthful activities.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (