Japan: Court rules shrine visits ‘unconstitutional’

The Osaka High Court ruled Sept. 30 that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a religious institution honoring Japanese World War II dead, including the worst war criminals, are unconstitutional because they violate separation of church and state. Japan Press Weekly said Judge Otani Masaharu ruled Koizumi’s visits were official because he used an official car, was accompanied by the prime minister’s secretaries and signed the visitor’s book with his official title.

The lawsuit was filed by 188 plaintiffs from Taiwan, occupied by Japan for 50 years.

Japanese Communist Party Secretariat head Ichida Tadayoshi called the decision “epoch-making” and said the JCP has called the visits wrong because the shrine glorifies Japan’s past wars of aggression as “just wars” and seeks to spread its view to the public.

Koizumi’s visits have caused consternation among Japan’s neighbors, especially China, where the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in World War II are vividly recalled.

S. Africa: Tens of thousands in anti-poverty ‘stay-away’

The Congress of South African Trade Unions said last week that the first of a series of October “stay-aways” in its Jobs and Poverty Campaign brought factories in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces to a standstill. “There has been a total shutdown in the Western Cape,” Cosatu President Willy Madisha told some 35,000 marchers in Cape Town.

Cosatu said workers in Gauteng and North West were to strike on Oct. 10, followed by Northern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga on Oct. 17 and KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo on Oct. 24.

The labor federation said workers are targeting specific employers who are cutting jobs, outsourcing and casualizing workers, using labor brokers, or engaging in racist practices.

“The provincial strikes will coincide with a campaign to ‘listen to the members,’” when national and area Cosatu leaders will hear from workers about their concerns and demands, the federation said.

France: One million workers strike

Five of France’s biggest trade unions held a nationwide strike Oct. 4 that brought a million workers into the streets throughout the country.

They were protesting government changes to labor laws that, among other things, would let employers fire workers without cause during their first two years on the job, and demanding the government reopen negotiations on working conditions and wages.

Workers are also upset by growing privatization of public utilities and transport.

“When all unions join together to bring a consistent message, there is a response and support from the population,” Bernard Thibault, head of the left-led CGT union, told France2 television.

A poll showed 74 percent of French people supporting the strike, while 62 percent think the government’s economic policy is “bad.” The left opposition in Parliament, including the French Communist Party, said in a statement that action was necessary “to break with the reactionary and ultra-liberal [economic] logic of the government.”

Colombia: Paramilitaries suspend disarmament

Colombia’s far-right paramilitaries, the so-called United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) said Oct. 6 they were suspending their disarmament program to protest the imprisonment of AUC commander Diego Murillo, Reuters said.

The AUC often works with the Colombian armed forces, and its members have repeatedly been accused of the death squad-style slaughter of civilians including opponents of President Alvaro Uribe’s government. It has reportedly demobilized about half of its 20,000 fighters during two years of talks with the government.

Despite the AUC’s history of mass killings and drug smuggling, its commanders have been immune from arrest during peace talks. But last May the government put Murillo under house arrest over accusations he broke a cease-fire by ordering a local legislator murdered. Last week he was moved to Combita Prison.

The government has promised that AUC members convicted of crimes will serve no more than eight years.

Belgium: General strike protests gov’t ‘reforms’

In the first general strike in a dozen years, hundreds of thousands of workers shut down most public transportation and idled construction sites, manufacturing plants, supermarkets and the Port of Antwerp Oct. 7 to protest the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 58 to 60, making it harder for workers to retire early with full benefits.

The strike also affected prisons and schools, but not health facilities. Among picketed worksites was the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said he would not yield to pressure, stressing that Belgium has to cut costs in its pension system because its population is aging.

If the government, unions and businesses cannot come to an agreement, an even larger national strike looms later in October.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (mbechtel@pww.org).