Australia: Unions form global alliances

Negotiating with Australian executives of U.S.-based ALCOA company, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) usually came up empty-handed. Decision-making, they learned, takes place in the United States.

In December, however, AWU leaders met in Melbourne with union representatives from ALCOA plants in Brazil, the U.S. and Britain to shape plans for global cooperation. AWU signed a pact two years ago with the Steelworkers union in the U.S. and will do so again next month with a British steel union, according to LabourStart.

In the same vein, British private sector union Amicus, Germany’s IG-Metall union and the USWA and Machinists union have reached agreements that will bring 6.3 million workers together in a transnational union.

The Observer report quotes Derek Simpson, the general secretary of Amicus: “Our aim is to create a powerful single union that can transcend borders to challenge the global forces of capital.” The agreements will be formally announced in January.

Guinea: Campaign to end female genital mutilation

Meeting in the city of Lalya, representatives of 150 communities in Guinea recently resolved to end the practice of female circumcision, to which 97 percent of Guinean women have been subjected even though it is legally proscribed. A spokesperson for Tostan, an NGO based in Senegal, told a reporter that the movement for abolishing the practice is advancing.

Tostan has held educational conferences on female genital mutilation in Gambia, Burkina Faso and Benin and is planning others in Mali and Mauritania. In Senegal, more than 1,800 communities have renounced female circumcision, according to the report at

Tostan, highly praised by UNICEF, uses theater and role playing in its educational campaigns.

Cuba: Infant mortality rate at new low

Socialist Cuba achieved its lowest infant mortality rate (IMR) yet in 2006. Only 5.3 babies died during their first year out of 1,000 live births. The number was 5.8 last year.

Once again, Canada is the only country in the Western Hemisphere with a lower IMR than Cuba’s.

In the years preceding the 1959 revolution, Cuba’s IMR ranged well over 60 deaths per 1,000 births. Public health experts say that the IMR serves as a sensitive index to overall social support in a society. Availability of health care, support for women, nutritional adequacy and high educational levels all correlate with low IMRs.

In 2005, the IMR in the United States was 7.0. Early estimates for 2006 place the U.S. figure at 6.4 deaths per 1,000 births, placing the world’s most powerful nation in 40th place among nations of the world. In recent years the IMR for African American babies has ranged two to three times higher than the general rate.

China: Global warming to cause food shortages

China’s Meteorological Administration, Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Science and Technology have warned that China’s food security is threatened by global warming. A collaborative report, released in December, declares that unless greenhouse gases are curbed, China faces a 37 percent cut in rice, wheat and corn production over the next 80 years.

Average temperatures in China have already risen 0.5 to 0.8 degrees Celsius, and the prospect is for a 3-degree increase over the 21st century. Some regions will experience a 10 percent increase in rainfall, but overall the prospect is for severe water shortages.

A severe drought is already afflicting China’s Southwest. Evaporation from rivers will increase 15 percent annually. Rising sea levels will cause coastal flooding. Certain adverse effects will persist despite reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

China, according to the Peoples Daily newspaper, is seen as “moving away from a labor-intensive economy towards a technology-driven economy, making better use of energy resources, protecting the environment and developing advanced nuclear energy.”

Canary Islands: Desperate, dangerous crossings

Spanish immigration officials say that 31,000 migrants from Africa reached the Canary Islands in 2006, a sixfold increase over last year. Crossing the ocean in small boats, the travelers departed mainly from Senegal and Mauritania.

The Spanish Coast Guard intercepted 5,000 migrants. Another 6,000 disappeared or died en route, with 600 bodies washing up on African or Canary Island shores.

In November, the European Union allocated 40 million euros to encourage skilled African workers to emigrate to Europe, while tightening restrictions on unauthorized migrants. The measures are criticized in Africa and Europe as fostering “brain drain,” according to the BBC.

The EU has organized teams of border guards to block migrants and has sent aircraft to patrol waters around Malta and along the African coast facing the Canary Islands.

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