Ecuador: Overwhelming support for new constitution

By an 82 percent majority, voters on April 15 backed President Rafael Correa’s call for a constituent assembly to fashion a new constitution. “Today the country has buried the past,” he announced, calling for a “patriotic and progressive bloc to control the new assembly.” Voting for 130 candidates will be in June. Analysts interpret the results as rejection of corruption, traditional party rule and the influence of foreign corporations. Under a new constitution, they say, Ecuador’s Congress, controlled by the ruling elite, will lose power. Correa predicted a “truly representative and more participatory democracy” that would “overcome the vile neoliberal model.” He announced debt repayment of $9 million to the International Monetary Fund and expulsion of the World Bank representative. His defeated rival for the presidency, banana tycoon Álvaro Noboa, arrived April 16 from Miami to declare that “the people made a mistake.”

Russia: Profit push leads to mine disaster

“The deliberate disabling of the safety system is a crime which was intended to increase coal production,” Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev said April 17. He was commenting on the deaths of 110 people following a March 19 methane gas explosion at the Ulyanovskaya coal mine in Siberia. Government safety inspector Konstanin Pulikovsky said readings on the mine’s meters had been “deliberately lowered.” He charged managers with deactivating gas monitors to silence alarms so that work could proceed. The practice is common in Russian mines, says a BBC report. Ironically the dead included managers doing audits in preparation for stock offerings aimed at raising $700 million for investments. The explosion was Russia’s worst mining disaster in a decade. Operations at the Ulyanovskaya mine — named after Vladimir Lenin — began in 2002. Modern German and British safety equipment was in place.

South Africa: Labor takes on security service giant

A delegation of unionists, academics and attorneys from the Union Network International (UNI), representing property service workers, conferred April 17 in Johannesburg with officials of the International Federation of Football (FIFA), organizer of the 2010 World Cup competition set for South Africa. UNI has targeted London-based Group 4 Securicor (G4S), employer of 470,000 security guards worldwide, 82,000 across Africa and 15,000 in South Africa, of whom only 10 percent are unionized. The giant corporation is campaigning for security contracts with FIFA, while UNI wants union contracts. South African union leader Randall Howard told the Mail and Guardian newspaper that unions will block any potential G4S contract with FIFA: “They will not see it; they will not smell it.” Unions charge G4S with racial discrimination and low pay. UNI will be investigating alleged disregard of court decisions, labor laws and union rights in Malawi, South Africa and Mozambique, where G4S owes $1.36 million in back wages.

China: Proposed labor law feels business pressure

A Global Labor Strategies report says U.S. pro-business lobbying has led to soft-pedaling on workers’ rights in a law before the Chinese People’s Congress (PC). The report details positions taken by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, international union federations and even U.S. congresspersons that support workers’ rights and oppose corporate intervention. A PC committee announced April 17 upcoming deliberations on a third draft of the law on initiating, monitoring and ending of labor contracts, a first for China. China Daily speculates that protecting worker rights may lead to rising labor costs. U.S. and European chambers of commerce warn of decreased foreign investment. The law has elicited almost as many public comments in a month as came in on the constitution in 1954, says China Daily.

Iraq: Violence mounts against gay people

Over 30 people have been murdered in Baghdad in three months because they were gay, according to the UN’s IRIN news agency. Since 2005, when the gay rights group Rainbow for Life Organization (RLO) started keeping records, 64 gay and lesbian people have been murdered and 230 others abused. Spokesperson Mustafa Salim accuses Shia militia groups of subjecting gays to “systematic terror,” an assertion confirmed by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. Salim said the Iraqi government has provided no protection. He described notes left near victims’ bodies declaring, “This is going to be the fate for any Muslim who denies the Islamic religion.” Mahdi Army combatant Ali Hassany admitted to the targeting of gays and lesbians. For security reasons, RLO is forced to maintain an almost clandestine existence. Office locations are generally unknown, and contacts with victims and volunteers are carried out in secret. Four volunteers have been killed since 2005.

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