Ireland: Ferry workers protest

A ferry workers’ protest over hiring of lower-paid replacement crews from Eastern Europe has taken on national dimensions, with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern soundly criticizing the company, and the ferry workers’ union calling for a national day of protest.

The crisis began Nov. 24 when workers barricaded themselves on board two of Irish Ferry’s boats after the company brought replacement workers, accompanied by security personnel, on board one of the ferries.

The prime minister termed Irish Ferry’s approach “a retrograde step … not in line with Irish industrial relations; they are trying to turn back the clock.”

Calling the dispute “a defining moment in the relations between employers and workers in this country,” Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) General President Jack O’Connor said he would urge the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to call a national day of protest Dec. 2, and call for intensified struggle around job displacement and protection of employment standards.

Haiti: UN complicit in deaths

International human rights organizations led by the National Lawyers Guild and Global Exchange registered a complaint Nov. 16 with the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The organizations accused Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping forces of directly participating in the massacre of civilians or giving important logistical support to massacres, according to the Haitian news agency AHP. Their charges are based on testimony of witnesses and incidents caught on film.

The human rights groups also said UN troops were directly involved in the deaths of civilians in six neighborhoods where they failed to protect civilians targeted by the Haitian National Police. The UN command has denied the accusation.

AHP said confrontations between peacekeeping forces and civilians have increased as UN soldiers have tried to control neighborhoods where residents largely support deposed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Indonesia: U.S. military aid hit

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has strongly condemned the State Department’s waiver of newly legislated curbs on U.S. military aid to Indonesia.

The department said Nov. 22 that it “is in the national security interests of the United States” to waive restrictions on defense exports and military financing for Indonesia which had been enacted by Congress just a week earlier as part of an appropriations act.

“This is a profoundly disappointing and sad day for human rights protections everywhere but especially in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the U.S.,” ETAN said in a statement. “With the stroke of a pen, Secretary Rice and President Bush betrayed the untold tens of thousands of victims of the Indonesian military’s brutality in Indonesia and Timor-Leste and undermined efforts at democratic reform.”

New Zealand: Starbucks strike

Workers from Starbucks stores across the city of Auckland spontaneously walked off the job on Nov. 23, turning a protest that started at one store into a citywide strike, The World of Labor reported. When workers heard that managers were to cover shifts of protesting workers at the Karangahape store, over 30 workers left 10 different Auckland Starbucks stores to join KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s workers and other supporters there. “What began as an event to highlight the poor conditions of low-wage and minimum-wage workers turned into a show of solidarity and strength between Auckland’s Starbucks workers,” said campaign coordinator Simon Oosterman.

Daniel Gross, co-founder of the New York-based Starbucks’ Workers Union, called the strike an important step toward changing working conditions in the fast-food industry worldwide.

Liberia: Firestone sued

The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) has filed suit in a California court, accusing the Bridgestone Firestone consortium and the Liberia-based Firestone Plantations Company — the world’s largest rubber plantation — of imposing virtual slavery conditions on an estimated 14,000 Liberian plantation workers.

The organization’s suit demands “injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and disgorgement of all profits.”

The suit details very long hours and draconian working conditions coupled with low wages and shocking living conditions in company shantytowns. It also charges that the high output quotas forced many workers to get unpaid help from their underage children, in order to avoid being fired.

The ILRF called the plantation system “a private fiefdom” that started as a criminal occupation of Liberia by Firestone in 1926.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel at