Britain: Broad opposition to Iraq strike

British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces sharp criticism of his support for President Bush’s plan to attack Iraq.

At the Trades Union Congress conference which opened Sept. 9 in Blackpool, the country’s two rail unions introduced a motion to oppose action in Iraq, and union leaders said the TUC delegates overwhelmingly think war should not be considered without total U.N. support.

“We need clearly to have far greater evidence in relation to the existing threat,“ said Labor MP Donald Anderson, chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Former Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd said millions of Britons are not convinced, because they have yet to see the evidence the prime minister has promised.

Kenya: Police attack protesting teachers

As school resumed in Kenya last week, scores of teachers boycotting classes in the town of Runyenjes were injured when they were attacked by police.

The teachers were participating in a nation-wide boycott to protest the government’s continuing delay in implementing a five-year-old agreement to raise teachers’ salaries.

More than 100 teachers from the surrounding district had gathered for a march to the local law court to protest the arrest of John Gitari, a national trustee of the teachers’ union, who was arrested after a statement was issued from his office calling for a national strike.

Riot police declared the gathering illegal and ordered the teachers to disperse. Police then set on them with batons and whips, beating them indiscriminately.

Across the country, thousands of teachers participated in the boycott.

Indonesia: Court orders trade union leaders to pay $2.34 million

The IUF, the international union federation representing food, hotel and other workers, has called for a worldwide protest against the Jakarta High Court’s decision that employers can use civil lawsuits to intimidate and punish workers for carrying out legitimate trade union activity.

On Aug. 27, the court ordered six trade union activists to pay 20.7 billion Indonesian rupiahs ($2.34 million) in compensation for alleged “damages” stemming from the Jakarta Shangri-La Hotel’s decision to lock out its entire workforce in December 2000, close the hotel for three months and fire some 800 union members. The six unionists and their families face losing their modest homes and savings.

The Shangri-la dispute has become the longest-running and best publicized labor dispute in Indonesia thanks to the union members’ determination to continue fighting for their rights, their union and their dignity.

Protest messages can be sent to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarno Putri (Fax 011 62 21 344 2223) and Jacob Nuwa Wea, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration (Fax 011 62 21 525 5628).

France: Union says 35-hour workweek at risk

A labor reform proposed by France’s new right-wing government would effectively kill the 35-hour workweek, according to one of France’s main trade union federations.

A spokesman for the Communist-led CGT said the government’s plan to raise permissible overtime from the present 130 hours a year to 180 hours would give the employers’ federation “the weapon that will let it kill the 35 hours.” The CGT warned that unions could take to the streets to block the proposal.

The previous Socialist-led government cut the work week from 39 hours to 35 in 1998, and limited overtime to 130 hours a year to press employers to hire more workers. The employers’ federation wants the ceiling to be raised to 200 hours a year, which would in effect return the work week to 39 hours.

Korea: More reunions planned

At the fourth north-south Red Cross talks held last Sunday, the two sides agreed to build a permanent meeting place together, on North Korea’s east coast, for the reunion of separated families and relatives.

South Korea will supply the materials and equipment, and the north will provide the workers for the project. Another facility, on South Korea’s west coast, is under consideration in connection with the proposed rejoining of the railways and roads between the north and south in the future.

Many families have been separated since the division of the peninsula after World War II. The next reunion of families – the fifth such gathering – is slated for mid-September.