Britain: Rail union calls for public ownership
Returning Britain’s railways to public ownership will save taxpayers at least $935 million a year, according to a report issued this month by the Catalyst research organization.

The RMT rail union, Britain’s largest rail union, called the move “the only sane option in light of new evidence of the huge and growing cost of privatization to taxpayers.”

“Catalyst has shown that public ownership will plug an enormous financial hole in the railways that has been leaking at least $1.5 billion into private pockets every year since 1996,” RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said March 24.

“The study shows that privatization has already cost taxpayers over $11 billion, and that bringing the railways back into the public sector will reap a rail rebate for Britain of at least $935 million a year,” Crow added.

RMT is preparing to launch a Rail Against Privatization national traveling demonstration later this month, linking rallies and meetings in towns and cities from Glasgow to London and beyond.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: CP leader fights firing from university
Late last month Goran Markovic, head of the Workers Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was fired from his position as a teaching assistant in sociology at a private university. Authorities at the university had started putting pressure on Markovic last fall after he headed the party’s slate in municipal elections.

Since the country’s labor law bans the firing of workers for political convictions or membership, the university tried to get Markovic to resign voluntarily. When he refused, he was called in twice for meetings with the institution’s owner, a right-wing Serb who left Yugoslavia 30 years ago for the U.S. and returned in recent years to buy up privatized state enterprises. After Markovic refused to say his party activity had been a mistake, he was dismissed. He is continuing the struggle against his illegal firing in the courts.

Pakistan: National strike against unemployment, privatization
A national strike by thousands of workers protesting high unemployment and the military government’s plans to privatize public utilities brought government services in Pakistan to a halt March 18. The walkout hit banks, hospitals, post offices, schools and colleges, transportation and other public services.

“Workers and pensioners are being deceived,” said Pirzada Imtiaz Syed, head of the All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU) which organized the strike. “We want real wage increases and real jobs,” he added, “not a return to the labor conditions of the Middle Ages.”

The unions warned that the action was a taste of what lies ahead if the government proceeds with its privatization plans.

Unemployment has risen to more than 25 percent of the country’s 8 million workers. Polls show that about 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Guatemala: Protest killings of demonstrators
After the Guatemalan Congress ratified and President Oscar Berger signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), protests organized by the Indigenous, Campesino, Union and Popular Movement (MISCP) continued around the country.

On March 14 police attacked thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City. The next day, Juan Lopez Velasquez, a teacher and member of the Campesino Unity Committee and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), was shot and killed by police and several others were injured.

Among protests from unions around the world was a letter from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to President Berger, expressing “grave concern” that “violent means have been used to repress peaceful protesters” and urging the government to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks and “bring to an end” use of violent tactics to repress protests.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions issued a similar statement.

S. Africa: Solidarity with food workers grows
The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) said late last month that it was organizing thousands of workers at various Early Bird company plants in solidarity with a six week-long strike of 2,500 workers at the company’s plant in Standerton, a rural community southeast of Johannesburg.

The workers, who have been on strike against the company’s policy of lower wages in rural areas, were addressed by Zwelnzima Vavi, head of the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), who pledged the national federation’s full support.

FAWU said basic wages of Early Bird workers in urban Olifantsfontein were 33 percent higher than those of the Standerton workers, with even larger differentials in night shift wages and annual bonuses.

FAWU said it is mobilizing some 5,000 workers at other Early Bird factories for sympathy strikes, and wouldn’t rule out calling for a consumer boycott.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel @