Guadeloupe: Strike forces French concessions

After a month-long general strike against high prices, low wages and 20 percent unemployment shut down public services, shops, fisheries and businesses in the French colony of Guadeloupe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy Feb. 20 announced a $730 million aid package and officials acceded to strikers’ wage demands.

The Collective against Exploitation (LKP), comprising 50 unions and political groups, demanded a monthly wage hike of $257. Some 100,000 strikers — one-fifth of the population — demonstrated Feb. 17 in the port city of Point-à-Pitre, as 280 extra police arrived from France.

Meanwhile, strike supporters marched in Paris and Point-à-Pitre in honor of slain union official Jacques Bino. Bino was killed Feb. 17 as he drove home from a meeting with the organizers of protests that have paralyzed the French island for more than a month. ‘We are saddened, but we will continue the fight,’ Guadeloupe protest leader Elie Domota told mourners in a speech.

Protests also extended to neighboring Martinique.
A tiny white minority owns most businesses in Guadaloupe.

Sudan: Darfur negotiations bring hope
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement last week agreed with Sudanese government representatives to begin peace talks aimed at ending conflict in Darfur. The agreement reached in Doha, Qatar, had been mediated jointly by the UN and African Union. The talks, the first in two years, led to bilateral commitments to protect refugees, allow humanitarian aid, and exchange prisoners, Afrol News said.

Meanwhile, a judgment from the International Criminal Court is expected soon on genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The UN says that in six years of war in Darfur, 300,000 people died and 2.7 million were displaced.

Japan: Workers’ rights threatened
The International Trade Union Confederation reported Feb. 18 that protection of workers’ rights in Japan falls short, a finding consistent with criticisms advanced in another report issued last week by the World Trade Organization on trade policies.
Public sector employees, for example, may not organize strikes. Their collective bargaining rights are restricted. Privately employed workers performing “essential services” must give 10 days notice prior to any strike. The report on also refers to threats to workplace safety from employment of health-impaired workers.
Replacement of employer-owners by holding and investment companies frequently undermines collective bargaining. Workplace discrimination against women is prevalent. Japan has ratified International Labor Organization conventions on all these points except discrimination.

Italy: Protesters join European mobilization
Rome was a venue for worker reaction to Europe’s plunging economy as 700,000 protesters organized by the CGIL, Italy’s largest labor federation, marched for jobs and “more wages, more rights.” Students, leftist parliamentarians and doctors protesting immigrant repression joined them Feb. 13.

The EU’s third largest economy has gone downhill over nine months. Italy’s per capita anti-poverty outlay is Europe’s lowest, according to
A week earlier, 100,000 students demonstrated in French cities against university privatization plans. Spain’s first labor-organized general strike unfolded in Lebrija, Andalucia Feb. 17.
A general strike is set for Rome on April 4.

Iran: Commercial ties expand with Iraq
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s visit to Iraq last month brought the announcements that bilateral trade would rise from $3 billion to $5 billion annually. For $1.5 billion, an Iranian company would build 5,000 housing units plus community facilities near Basra and soon, according to Azzaman news, 5,000 Iranian pilgrims will be entering Iraq every day to visit religious sites.
Reuters reports that Iran, with reserves second only to Russia’s, is working to supply natural gas to Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Gulf states.

Cuba: President Colom honors Fidel
Visiting Cuba last week, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom bestowed the Order of the Quetzel with Collar, his country’s highest honor, upon former Cuban President Fidel Castro. He met with Guatemalan medical students studying in Cuba and inspected a joint Venezuelan-Cuban oil refinery. Along the way, he condemned the U.S. blockade of Cuba and apologized for Guatemala’s having supported CIA training of Bay of Pig combatants in 1961.
“Latin America has begun to live its best moments and is enjoying new possibilities,” Colom said in Prensa Latina.
Colom’s visit and those recently of Russian, Ecuadorian, Argentinean and Chilean presidents represent milestones in Cuba’s long campaign to dispel U.S.-imposed isolation.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (