Brazil: Lula takes big lead

With almost all votes counted in Brazil’s presidential election, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva has won nearly 47 percent – almost double that of his nearest rival, ruling party candidate Jose Serra. The two will now compete in an Oct. 27 runoff. Lula – a former factory worker and union leader who now heads the Brazilian Workers Party – had been leading in the polls for months.

Lula is a staunch opponent of U.S. policy in Latin America, including Plan Colombia, the embargo against Cuba and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

He has strong support of poor working-class Brazilians, one of whom told The Washington Post, “Today is the day poor Brazilians will take back our country. We are the majority, but we have never had a president of the people. It is time for us to have our day.”

Dockers: Int’l support grows

The Brussels-based International Confederation of Trade Unions is supporting the ILWU in its contract battle with the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association. The PMA “should be aware of the consequences which may result from continued intransigence in the negotiations,” said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder.

Meanwhile, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) is helping build international support for the dockers. ITF Vice Chair Paddy Crumlin, general secretary of the Australian Maritime Workers Union, is working closely with Japanese dockers and seafarers’ unions to coordinate support action in Japan.

The ITF said its affiliates around the world are making it clear to all companies represented on the PMA board that the dispute has become a major priority and that they expect serious negotiations to restart immediately and to lead to a new contract acceptable to the ILWU.

China: Gov’t to protect Yangtze River

China’s Ministry of Water Resources is drafting a national plan to protect the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, from further serious pollution.

The plan includes continuing upgrades of sewage treatment in major cities along the 6,300-km river. Sewage discharged into the river has increased significantly in recent years, and experts warn the increase will continue unless measures are taken immediately.

The program will focus on five cities – Shanghai, Chongqing, Nanjing, Wuhan and Panzhihua. Newly built townships in the Three Gorges Reservoir area will all be equipped with waste treatment plants.

The campaign will also tackle serious soil erosion in major lakes along the river.

Cuba: Hurricanes cause wide destruction

For the first time since 1799, Cuba has been struck by two hurricanes in the same season – Isidore on Sept. 20 and Lili on Oct. 1. Heaviest hit both times was the western province of Pinar del Rio.

In both hurricanes, despite serious damage to homes and crops and the need for widespread evacuation, no fatalities or serious injuries were reported.

President Fidel Castro visited the province twice in an 11-day period, to ensure maximum aid to the population.

It was reported that 123,000 people had been evacuated during Lili, some 15,000 more than during Isidore. Grapefruit, tobacco and rice crops were hard hit. At least 38,000 homes were damaged, with at least 3,500 having been demolished.

France: Unions protest privatization

Some 70,000 workers from the national gas, electricity, rail firms and Air France marched in Paris Oct. 5 to protest the new right-wing government’s plans to privatize the last of its state-owned industries.

By spreading out the government’s privatization program, Conservative Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has sought to avoid a repetition of the 1995 defeat of the previous Conservative government over the same issue. The unions’ militant protests at that time ultimately led to the government’s defeat two years later.

Many of the workers also blame the European Union for pressuring France to privatize. “I am here to resist the whims of Brussels because we have all seen the disasters experienced elsewhere,” said Jean-Luc Cazettes, head of the CFE-CGC federation.