South Korea: Autoworkers win gains

After a series of strikes culminating in a month long work stoppage, Hyundai’s South Korean autoworkers won a one-year 5.1 percent wage increase. They initially sought a 9.1 percent hike. In 2005, workers achieved a 6.9 percent wage increase after protracted negotiations and a two-week strike.

Hyundai reported losses of $1.33 billion from the most recent strike, stemming in part from production delays of 91,647 vehicles and a suspension of exports.

Hyundai workers have conducted a strike every year for 12 years. Their union, part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, is continuing efforts to persuade workers to join an industry-wide federation to up the ante in future negotiations with the country’s automakers.

At, Mike Martin noted that some call the Hyundai workers’ union “the most militant union in the world,” adding that it enjoys wide support from the South Korean population.

Canada: Opposition to troops in Afghanistan mounts

In a dramatic turnabout since last spring, 55 percent of Canadians now oppose their government’s military occupation of Afghanistan.

A poll conducted by the Toronto Globe and Mail and CTV showed only 37 percent support Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s continuing military cooperation with the U.S. government.

The poll indicates that 75 percent of Quebec’s population opposes the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Even in Canada’s conservative West, opposition to Harper’s stand on the issue was strong.

The fall in public approval coincides with climbing casualty rates among Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Haiti: Some political prisoners released, others languish

The government of President Rene Preval released Annette Augustin from jail on Aug. 14. The popular 60-year-old singer had been incarcerated for over two years — 826 days — without charges.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Amnesty International had campaigned for Augustin’s release. U.S. lawyer Brian Concannon attributed her release to international support and popular pressure in Haiti. He noted that although Augustin, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and activist priest Father Jean-Juste have recently been freed, “No one knows how many lower-profile political prisoners remain in jail, but they probably number in the hundreds.”

Augustin, speaking Aug. 15 on Democracy Now, said she was jailed because she was a friend of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in February 2004. At that time, U.S. Marines seized Augustin and her family, including her small children, and marched them off to jail. Leaving the singer’s house, the Marines shot the family dogs.

India: Coca-Cola provokes protests

Three years ago India’s Center for Science and Environment (CSE) and a government laboratory found pesticide residues in Indian-produced Coca-Cola at levels 24 times higher than those in European and U.S. Coke. Now, according to an Aug. 14 CSE statement, a British laboratory has certified that Coke in India is just fine.

CSE reacted: “[Coca-Cola’s] contention that only a foreign laboratory can test its products is patronizing and borders on racism. … This is a case of corruption and abuse of power.”

A report from points out that Coke bottling plants, often located in drought-stricken areas, utilize underground water at the expense of pressing water needs. Four liters of clean water are required to produce one liter of Coca-Cola.

In previous tests, lead and cadmium contamination were found in wastewater discharges from Coca-Cola plants. The state of Kerala, governed by a left coalition, has closed at least one plant because of environmental violations.

Guatemala: Women at risk

More than 2,360 Guatemalan women have been murdered during the past five years and some 400 women have been killed already this year, with 10 more victims found during the week ending Aug. 19.

Although Guatemala has the second highest murder rate for women in the world, only 0.2 percent of the killings are investigated. Acting in response to statements of outrage from women’s organizations worldwide, Philip Alston, the UN Special Reporter on Extrajudicial Executions, arrived in Guatemala on Aug. 21 to investigate.

A UN committee on discrimination against women recently issued a set of recommendations to Guatemala’s government, seeking “measures without delay to stop the murders, violations, torture and disappearances of women.”

Nineth Montenegro, president of Guatemala’s parliamentary commission on women, reported that this year so far only 12 alleged perpetrators have been detained. According to Prensa Latina, she has criticized Parliament for stonewalling on a proposed National Institute for Forensic Sciences.

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