Syria: Iraqi immigration causes disruption

Iraq refugees totaling 1.5 million now make up 8 percent of Syria’s population, according to the UN’s IRIN news agency. Some 2,000 arrive every day, and pressures are close to the breaking point.

Syrians reportedly resent shortages, job competition and high prices caused by the influx. Zooming real estate prices have fueled an inflation predicted to reach 30 percent. Refugees have swamped health services and schools, free for Syrian citizens. Many classes have doubled in size to 60 students, and schools are resorting to double shifts.

An analyst also said that, because the “Iraqi immigrants have brought in money, invested in real estate and opened shops,” the overall economy has expanded.

Indonesia: Workers’ rights almost nonexistent

The International Trade Union Confederation criticized working conditions in Indonesia, in a report issued June 27. It noted that “trade union rights remain restricted both in law and in practice, and anti-union discrimination is widespread.”

Specifics include intimidation of labor organizers, legal delays, corrupt judges, police violence and curtailment of the right to strike, with public sector strikes being “gravely restricted.”

Women earn 75 percent less than men for similar work. They predominate in unpaid or low-paid jobs. Abuse of child labor is widespread, with children forced into domestic work, footwear production, quarrying and garbage collection. The report finds women and children to be particularly vulnerable to forced sex labor.

Exploitation of migrant workers is rampant. They are underpaid, overworked, lacking in legal resources, subjected to labor contractors’ fees and forced to live in so-called training camps.

The ITUC issued the report to coincide with a review by the World Trade Organization of Indonesian trade policies.

Mozambique: Renewed attention to agrarian reform

Mozambique authorities are proceeding with plans to nationalize idle land. Agricultural officials in Maputo province have identified over 250 tracts as abandoned.

National legislation had previously called for investors to outline a land use plan within five years of taking possession — for foreign owners, within two years. Implementation of the law has been weak, according to a report. Mozambique has sought out foreigners to take over land, particularly white farmers who lost land in Zimbabwe. However, much of the land was apparently obtained for speculative purposes.

In recent months, the government has taken possession of 70 percent of the land designated as abandoned.

The government action came in response to popular pressure. “Cyclical droughts affecting Maputo province means that hunger is a continuing threat in some areas,” said agriculture official Setina Titosse. However, the government has not specified plans for redistribution of the nationalized land.

Chile: Subcontracted copper miners strike

A strike called by the Chilean Federation of Copper Workers (FTC) against the state-owned National Copper Corporation reached its eighth day July 3. At issue, according to Prensa Latina, was pay for 28,000 subcontracted workers who earn half the pay of the 15,000 workers directly employed by the corporation. They also lack health and education benefits. Chile’s Central Workers Union is supporting the strike.

By July 2, the company, the world’s largest copper producer, had absorbed $20 million in production losses. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has sent in mediators attempting to resolve the dispute. The FTC and other miners’ organizations have condemned violence associated with the strike, marked by highway blockades, burned trucks, arrests and one striker’s death. Apologists for the corporation, presently profiting from record copper prices, cite the difficulties of negotiating with 400 subcontractor companies.

Italy: Center-left coalition puts pensions back in budget

The center-left government of Romano Prodi announced plans in late June to allocate $6 billion toward pension coverage that had been cut by the displaced right-wing Berlusconi government. The plan came despite criticism from the European Commission and IMF that Italy was reneging on promises to reduce its debt.

Crucial to the plan is restoring Italians’ retirement age to 57 from age 60, according to the Financial Times. The government also envisions restoring Berlusconi cutbacks on school, environmental and infrastructure projects.

The details are part of the ruling coalition’s Document for Economic and Financial Planning, covering the next four years. Party of Italian Communists secretary Oliviero Diliberto, quoted on the Italian Alice web site, praised the agreement as “the fruit of a great collective effort by those in the government” and as fulfillment of a pledge to voters to undo backward steps taken by the Berlusconi government.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit Brian Steinberg contributed.