China: Wal-Marts to be union shops

After 25 members of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in Fujian Province established the first labor union in one of Wal-Mart’s 60 retail outlets July 30, China’s Xinhua news agency said unionists at four other stores quickly followed suit.

Last week Wal-Mart said it would work with the ACFTU on representation for its 28,000 workers.

For two years, the ACFTU has campaigned to push Wal-Mart into accepting the union into its stores in China — a legal requirement for employers of 25 or more workers. The ACFTU, with 150 million members and 1.2 million branches, aims to organize 60 percent of foreign companies this year. Wal-Mart’s large foreign retail competitors have already accepted the union.

An ACFTU official warned Wal-Mart “not to take revengeful measures” against workers who join unions, and promised to take action if Wal-Mart resists the organizing process.

Chile: Workers strike at major copper mine

Two thousand miners at the world’s largest copper mine, La Escondida in Chile, went out on strike Aug. 7. Two days later the police used water hoses against the strikers as they demonstrated in Antofagasta, the regional capital.

The mine produces 8 percent of the world’s copper, and its production represents 2 percent of Chile’s economic output.

The BBC said the miners are seeking a 13 percent wage increase plus a $29,400 bonus — justified, they say, by soaring world prices, tight supplies and record profits for an international consortium of mine owners. The owners, who have brought in 300 scabs, have offered a 3 percent wage hike and a $15,600 bonus.

Union Secretary Pedro Marin told Reuters, “This isn’t just about us, it’s about all Chilean miners.”

Elsewhere, miners are on strike at Canada’s Voisey’s Bay nickel mine and at copper and steel mines owned by Grupo Mexico.

South Africa: Women commemorate historic march

Hundreds of women, joined by political leaders, gathered in Pretoria Aug. 9 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Anti-Pass March by re-enacting the milestone event in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.

The cry, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock,” from 20,000 multiracial marchers in 1956 became the rallying call for South Africa’s women’s movement.

The commemoration was organized in observance of August as Women’s Month in South Africa. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka opened the event, declaring that “Today we stand tall as women, and we have so many changes in our society because of those women.”

The square where the events occurred has been renamed to honor Lillian Ngoyi, who delivered the women’s petition to the prime minister’s door. BuaNews said songs, banners and signs testified to women’s present demands, including disability rights, high quality health care for women and action against domestic violence.

Sweden: Emergency closes nuclear plants

Sweden recently shut down four of its 10 nuclear power plants after emergency power stations at the Forsmark nuclear power plant failed for 20 minutes July 26 following the loss of outside electrical power.

Problems with the back-up power system had gone undetected for 13 years, Greenpeace said. A former plant director called it “pure luck there wasn’t a meltdown.”

The closed plants provide 20 percent of Sweden’s electricity.

Nuclear engineers note other incidents throughout the world in which generators have failed after storms or floods. Drought conditions elsewhere in Europe have forced nuclear plants to reduce output due to shortages of water required for cooling. Alternative energy advocates point out that wind and solar facilities do not depend on antiquated centralized power grids.

The Bush administration, concerned about energy production in an era of declining oil supplies, is renewing the campaign for nuclear power.

Venezuela: Opposition unifies behind Zulia governor

Political parties opposing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in elections set for Dec. 3 have united behind the candidacy of Manuel Rosales, governor of the state of Zulia.

Rosales, reported as close to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, is a prime mover in the separatist campaign emanating from Zulia.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council cleared a constitutional roadblock by allowing Rosales to resign temporarily as governor in order to run. Meanwhile, Sumate, a group that has organized against Chavez for several years with monetary help from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, canceled its plans for a primary election.

Opinion polls ranked Rosales as the most appealing opposition candidate. Surveys noted on give Chavez a 55-60 percent approval rating.

Acción Democrática, Venezuela’s largest opposition party, urges abstention in the December voting.

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