Egypt: Women go on strike, occupy garment plant

At the Mansoura-Espana Garments Co. in Talkha, in the Nile Delta, workers earn about 120-250 Egyptian pounds per month ($21-$43). They pay the equivalent of $5-$15 a month for transportation and $5 a month for midday meals. If they refuse to work overtime — at 48 cents an hour — their pay is cut.

Women make up three-fourths of the plant’s 284 workers. As of May 17, over 150 had been on strike, occupying the plant for 26 days. The owners refuse to negotiate, and plant managers threatened to cut off their water supply and electricity.

Labor federation officials asked the workers to go home, promising an inquiry. Strikers don’t trust the company union. Several were seen on the rooftop, calling for the government to intervene.

Thailand: Gov’t spurns big pharma

Thailand recently began buying generic anti-AIDS drugs allegedly in violation of drug manufacturers’ patent rights. Washington responded in May by placing Thailand on a “watch list” of countries ignoring intellectual property rights.

The World Trade Organization, however, allows developing countries to break patents in situations of public health crisis.

Thailand stopped buying Efavirenz made by Merck Sharp and Dohme, and Kaletra made by Abbott Laboratories. On May 14, Brazil followed suit by announcing plans to secure an alternative to Efavirenz, used by 75,000 of 180,000 Brazilians receiving free anti-AIDS drugs. Brazil spends 80 percent of its health budget on imported drugs, half for three anti-AIDS drugs.

Since 2002, 13 developing countries have broken patents on AIDS drugs, including Cuba, which manufactures five of them.

Greece: Big strike targets conservative gov’t

Public service workers affiliated with the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), the country’s private sector union, and the main civil servants’ union, ADEDY, carried out a nationwide 24-hour strike in Greece on May 15.

With participation reaching almost 100 percent, the walkout paralyzed the state-run airline, inter-city train service, and all but emergency care in the nation’s public hospitals. At issue was a pension fund scandal involving risky bond investments that caused Greece’s labor minister to resign April 28.

Speaking in Athens, union President Christos Polyzogopoulos said, “We can no longer endure the results of this neoliberal economic policy that constantly degrades the workers.”

Union leaders accused the right-wing government of penalizing workers as part of its deficit reduction program aimed at warding off European Union sanctions. Reuters reported that the rally in Athens attended by 30,000 workers was the largest in decades.

Iran: Washington plans Iraq talks with Tehran

The Bush administration announced on May 12 that it would be holding talks with Iran. They are planned for Baghdad, possibly on May 27, and Iraq would be the main topic. Iran has sought such discussions since 2003.

Analysts cited in the Inter Press Service report see this development as consistent with recent U.S. contacts with Syria and negotiations with North Korea. They suggest that right-wing extremists associated with Vice President Dick Cheney have had to give way to the “realist tradition” associated with “old-line cold warriors” like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The development comes 18 months after President Bush approved plans for then Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to engage Iran on stabilizing Iraq, only to have Cheney’s forces overturn the project. The present overtures to Iran go along with recommendations from the 2006 Iraq Study Group.

However, a huge U.S. battle group consisting of warships, stealth bombers, fighter planes and cruise missiles remains poised to strike Iran on short notice.

Colombia: Murder scandals shake Uribe regime

In Medellin, on May 15, Salvatore Mancuso presented judges with a PowerPoint presentation about his role in arranging for 336 murders.

Mancuso, one of the 53 Colombian right-wing paramilitary leaders serving light sentences in return for confessions, named three generals with whom he planned joint paramilitary-army operations during the 1990s.

He told of meetings with politician Mario Uribe Escobar, President Alvaro Uribe’s cousin, and with Francisco Santos and his brother Juan Manuel Santos, now Colombia’s vice president and defense minister, respectively. During the reign of President Ernesto Samper, the brothers discussed “knocking off” the then head of state.

Mancuso, according to, testified that banana companies paid the paramilitary groups one cent on the dollar for each box that left the country. He told the judges, “Paramilitarism is orchestrated by the moneyed groups and fed by the military.”

Revelations like these have shaken Uribe’s regime.

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