Haiti: African Union seeks peaceful resolution

After last week’s meeting in Pretoria with South African President Thabo Mbeki and exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, African Union Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said the AU is ready to help facilitate the return of peace and the holding of elections in Haiti.

The Haitian news service AHP quoted Aristide as saying he is committed to working with the AU to restore peace and constitutional order in his country. Aristide added, “The Haitian people would have very much liked to be present to thank Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Konare for their efforts to help resolve the crisis.” Mbeki recalled that the South African government welcomed President Aristide as a guest on the request of the AU and the Caribbean Community of Nations, and said it is essential for Haiti to begin a national dialogue and a process of negotiations to reach a political solution.

Canada: Madagascar’s debt cancelled

Canada said this week it is canceling Madagascar’s entire $21 million debt. Paul Boothe, Canada’s representative to the G8 group of the world’s eight wealthiest countries, said Canada is forgiving the debts of countries that are working to modernize and reform.

“African nations that have shown real progress in improving government accountability and strengthening their economies must be allowed the opportunity to invest in their citizens, rather than being compelled to divert their financial resources to interest payments, Boothe said.

Since last September, Canada has also forgiven the debuts of Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal.

Iraq: Workers strike over attacks

The strike Basra railway workers began early this month has led to the suspension of the city’s railway network, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) said last week. The workers are protesting a number of terrorist attacks in which railway workers have been murdered, kidnapped and assaulted.

Among attacks: in December, two train drivers were kidnapped and five railway workers were seriously assaulted during an ambush of a freight train traveling from Basra to An Nasiriya. In October, four railway workers were murdered on a train between Mosul and Baghdad.

The Iraqi Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions (IFTU) called on the government to help secure the release of kidnapped workers and to provide adequate security. “Our working people are paying with their blood and lives for participating in the rebuilding of their country to end the foreign occupation,” the IFTU said in a statement. The federation emphasized that the interim government is responsible to protect not only the transportation infrastructure, but also the lives of workers as they carry out their jobs.

The International Transport Workers Federation is expressing full solidarity with the workers. Solidarity messages can be sent to the IFTU at abdullahmuhsin@iraqitradeunions.org.

France: Rolling strikes protest cutbacks

Hundreds of thousands of government workers – teachers, civil servants and health care workers – joined last week’s rolling strikes initiated Jan. 18 by postal and rail workers. Strikers were protesting government plans to curb hiring and to weaken the law mandating a 35-hour workweek, and demanding wage increases.

The Education Ministry said over 40 percent of the country’s nearly 900,000 teachers joined the job action Jan. 20, which also halted many domestic flights, closed museums and halted traffic.

Protests were held in Paris and in dozens of other cities and towns throughout France.

An opinion poll Jan. 18 showed 65 percent of the French people supported the labor actions. The unions said participation in the strikes grew as the week went on, and observed that the public mood is shifting against the government’s austerity policies.

Another Day of Action is projected for Feb. 5.

Pakistan: Workers protest firings, prices

Workers organized by the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) rallied in front of the Lahore Press Club on Jan. 9 to protest the illegal dismissals of union officers and activists from textile and printing firms.

On Jan. 11, the APTUF rallied in different industrial areas of Lahore against rising prices and government repression of trade union activities.

The union federation said the demonstrations were successful despite the efforts of a special police force that patrols industrial areas to keep workers from organizing and protesting.

APTUF Secretary General Gulzar Ahmed Chaudhary said workers are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in the face of cost of living increases. Poverty, unemployment and child labor are growing rapidly, he said, adding that over half the population now lives below the poverty line, while the government is doing nothing to ease the economic suffering of ordinary people.

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