Earth Summit: Unions urge more government responsibility

Trade unions represented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg are expressing concern over the drive to privatize basic services, and calling on governments – especially those of the developed capitalist countries – to take more responsibility at home and abroad.

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), said poverty and unemployment are largely due to governments having been pushed out of the economy. He called on governments to provide their citizens with basic services such as water, health and education.

Marc Sapir of the European Trade Union called on wealthy countries, including those of the European Union, to “have a positive attitude to address the question of debt of poor countries and those facing famine.” Sapir and John Evans, head of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, urged an open market for developing countries’ agricultural products.

China: Government acts to cut unemployment

As part of its long-term employment policy, China aims to hold registered unemployment rates in urban areas to 4.5 percent this year, according to State Development Planning Commission Vice Minister Wang Chunzheng.

In a report to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Wang called unemployment a major challenge to China’s economy. He said the rising number of new workers and unemployed outweighed the number of new jobs.

Wang said the government would pay special attention to re-employment of workers laid off from bankrupt military factories, overexploited coal and nonferrous metal mines, and would emphasize development of labor-intensive industries including catering and tourism, concentrate on training programs and offer job aid for the unemployed with special difficulties.

Mauritania: Drought-stricken land asks aid

Mauritania this week appealed for international aid, saying a food crisis caused by lack of rain is threatening nearly a million of its people, and half its cattle. The West African country of 2.6 million people depends heavily on agriculture, including cattle-raising. After three months of a mostly failed rainy season, the cattle are experiencing extreme hardship. The government said it urgently needs 51,000 tons of food for the rural population.

Korea: Reconnecting diplomatic & transit arteries

Last week, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced that Japan’s Foreign Minister, Junichiro Koizumi will visit the DPRK and meet with President Kim Jong Il on Sept. 17. The DPRK and Japan have no diplomatic ties and relations between them have been difficult.

At economic talks last week in Seoul, North and South Korea agreed to reconnect the railway and highway that cross the Demilitarized Zone between them. The transportation arteries have been cut since the Korean War a half-century ago. Work on the railway is to start Sept. 18.

Cuba: New website debuts Sept. 13

At 10 a.m. ET next Friday, Cuba’s El Grupo de Trabajo contra Terrorismo (Anti-Terrorism Work Group) and the Commission for International Relations of the Cuban National Assembly, will inaugurate a new website, At 11 a.m. ET the same day, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon will host an on-line forum and take questions from visitors to the site.

The site will provide news, information and analysis relating to terrorism and acts of aggression against Cuba, as well as the case of the five Cubans unjustly jailed in the U.S. for defending their country against terrorist acts emanating from Florida.

Brazil: Lula says keep jobs at home

Workers’ Party presidential candidate Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva – front-runner in the lead-up to the October presidential election – is taking out after Petrobras for planning to have three oil rigs built by foreign firms.

In July, Singapore’s Juron Shipyard won a contract to build the first rig. Brazilian President Francisco Gros claims that Brazilian companies lack experience to build the rigs.

But, said Lula, building the rigs at home would provide 24,000 badly needed jobs, and if elected, he will insist the remaining rigs be built at home. “Petrobras seems to ignore Brazil’s economic hardships,” he said in a TV campaign spot shown last week. “If I am elected, I will call on Petrobras and say: It must be done here, in Brazil. Period.”