Colombia: Workers and youth protest government austerity, repression

Colombian government workers protesting President Alvaro Uribe’s policies of austerity, layoffs and repression held a one-day strike Monday, joined by peasants, students and other young people. Thousands of demonstrators marched to downtown Bogota. However, demonstrations supporting the strike were reportedly banned in some regions under conditions of Uribe‘s repressive “state of internal commotion.”

Demonstrators called for upholding labor rights, for peace and a negotiated political solution to the conflict, and against U.S. intervention. They demanded rights for peasants and small businesspeople.

Uribe is pressing far-right labor policies, including cutting employee benefits and pensions. He is also experiencing sharp criticism over his repression of civil liberties and broadening of the military’s power.

Mexico: Paramilitaries arrested in Chiapas

State police have arrested 20 suspected members of right-wing paramilitary groups in the southern state of Chiapas. Human rights organizations say the paramilitaries have terrorized and killed indigenous people striving for land reform and political autonomy. Among those arrested is Sabelino Torres, alleged leader of the group Peace and Justice, which is suspect in some 50 killings since the mid-’90s.

Paraguay: Dozens hurt in anti-government protests

At least 30 people were hurt this week after Paraguayan police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Asuncion demanding the resignation of President Luis Gonzalez Macchi in protest over the government’s austerity proposals.

News reports said up to 250 of some 9,000 protesters who gathered in the capital city’s congressional plaza were detained. One of those arrested, former state senator Sanchez Villagra, charged the authorities with “police brutality.”

The government has proposed a number of austerity measures including raising taxes and increasing workers’ contributions to retirement funds. Parliament has not yet approved the unpopular measures.

Korea: DPRK and Japan to resume talks

During an unprecedented visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has agreed with President Kim Jong Il to reopen talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. The agreement marked the first step toward establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The joint declaration included Japan’s apology for suffering it caused during over three decades of colonial rule, and the DPRK’s proposal for Japanese nationals missing in the DPRK to meet their families and to return home.

Kim Jong Il said he would observe an open-ended moratorium on ballistic weapons tests as well as international agreements on nuclear arms, and asked Koizumi to tell Washington that the DPRK is ready for dialogue.

“Progress in Japan-North Korean ties does not just benefit the two countries,” Koizumi said. It also benefits all of northeast Asia, the U.S., Russia, China and the international community as a whole.

Thailand: ‘Light House’ workers win jobs back

After a sustained global trade union campaign, the last 29 illegally fired Light House Industry workers in Thailand have won their jobs back. In a meeting last week, observed by members of the Thai Labor Relations Department, the Light House Industry (a subcontractor of U.S. luggage giant Samsonite) promised it would not interfere with or obstruct union activities.

The dispute started almost a year ago, when 600 workers out of a total workforce of 1,400 were dismissed. The campaign included dramatic events, including workers presenting to the Thai Parliament a protest letter written in their own blood.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which was instrumental in the global campaign, called the workers’ reinstatement a positive development, but cautioned that with key ILO conventions still unratified, Thai labor authorities have a long road ahead to deal with lax labor practices in the country.

Nigeria: Wages to rise in 2003

The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) has won agreement from the federal government for a 12.5 percent increase in wages and salaries starting Jan. 1, and another 12.5 rise in 2004, for public workers.

The NLC said it has set up a joint implementation committee with government to ensure compliance. It also threatened to picket major transnational corporations in the capital city, Lagos, over their continued use of temporary workers and their attempt to weaken the organized labor movement in cahoots with the government.

NLC president Adams Oshiomhole said the labor organization is making plans to assure that workers in state and local government as well as the organized private sector benefit from the increase.