South Korea: Crowds mourn two girls killed by U.S. vehicle

Over 300,000 people participated in demonstrations at 57 different locations in South Korea and abroad, to mourn two 14-year-old girls killed last summer by a U.S. armored vehicle. The gatherings were the largest in a series of protests since the U.S. military court last month acquitted two servicemen who operated the vehicle of negligent homicide charges.

The two, Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, were walking along a rural road on June 13 when they were struck and killed instantly by the armored vehicle.

President Bush’s repeated apologies for the incident have not satisfied the South Korean people’s demands for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs legal status of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Talks on SOFA are now going on between the two countries.

South Africa: COSATU celebrates anniversary

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held its 17th anniversary celebration Dec. 2 in Johannesburg. COSATU’s President, Willie Madisha, said the labor organization’s long history of struggle on behalf of the working class, and the hard years of repression and resistance under apartheid, ‘brought home to every trade unionist the fact that we cannot separate our engagement on the shop floor from the broader struggle to transform our society and our economy to benefit the majority of our people.’

Since the birth of the democratic South Africa eight years ago, Madisha said, COSATU has continued to play a crucial progressive role especially on issues such as the basic income grant, HIV/AIDS and the recent introduction of the historic Minerals Development Act.

COSATU is part of the tripartite alliance with the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

Germany: Public workers threaten strike

Germany’s main public services union Ver.di has warned again that thousands of its public sector workers could stage full-blown industrial action after talks with employers broke down. The union is demanding a wage increase of at least 3 percent for the country’s 3 million public sector workers. Ver.di head Frank Bsirske said if agreement is not reached in talks this week, ‘we will move toward widespread action.’

The union also wants see pay levels harmonized between western Germany and the eastern states of the former German Democratic Republic, where wages have been sharply lower since unification over 12 years ago.

Mexico: Workers seize factory

Some 250 workers last week seized a maquiladora factory in Ciudad Juarez to prevent machinery from being removed by U.S. owners intent on closing the plant without giving legally required severance pay and Christmas bonuses.

Directors of the A & R de Mexico plant called city police to report dozens of workers were refusing to let management remove machinery and furniture in trucks. When the police found a labor dispute was involved, they declined to intervene, but stood by in case of further confrontations.

The workers said the plant had been closed for nearly a month when management said there was no money to pay back salaries, bonuses and liquidation. The workers then organized a coalition, blocked the plant’s entrances and demanded the city impound the machinery to prevent its removal to the U.S.

New Zealand: Maori health worker wins compensation

A Maori mental health worker fired after taking unauthorized leave to attend a cultural festival has won over $30,000 in compensation for loss of salary, and stress and humiliation.

Emmaline Heather Burberry, employed by Good Health Wanganui for 21 years, had provided nursing and awhina (spiritual healing) services at the festival for 17 years. The day before last year’s festival, her employer denied her request for leave, though the company had approved it each previous year, and she was owed 20 days’ leave.

The employment court said that while Burberry took ‘a serious step’ when she took two days unauthorized leave, the employer had no right to fire her, especially since she had made adequate arrangements for care of her patients. The court said Good Health Wanganui should have considered cultural issues before taking action.