India: West Bengal gears up for elections

Election workers for the Left Front campaigned house to house in preparation for the fourth phase of elections May 3 in the northeast Indian state of West Bengal.

The Left Front is led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Front’s chief rival, the Congress Party, also campaigned aggressively in the state.

Results were not available at press time.

The Left Front has won the past six elections in West Bengal, largely on the basis of its achievements in improving the state’s water supply, literacy, health care, trade and rural development. During its 29 years in office, the Front has reduced the poverty level from 56 percent to 26 percent, according to Ganashakti, the CPI(M)’s newspaper.

Left Front leaders said their goal is to lift the entire state out of poverty, and that a seventh electoral victory in West Bengal would have national repercussions.

World: Unions beat big finance

A recent report from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions documents successful campaigns launched by trade unions to confront the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

For example, in South Africa, unions led the opposition to the privatization of the country’s largest freight railroad line and negotiated with the government to keep the line in public hands

Another example is Argentina, where the government, backed by the unions, cancelled the privatization of the postal service, which had been turned over to a private company at the behest of the World Bank and the IMF

Guy Ryder, general secretary of the ICFTU, said, “The successful resistance by trade unions against the World Bank and the IMF shows that the labor movement is a strong and efficient tool in the fight against poverty and for the security of workers’ livelihoods.”

Indonesia: Child workers unprotected

Unprotected by labor laws governing working children in other industries, as many as 2.6 million children are employed as domestic workers in Indonesia and carry the same load as adults, often serving as little more than slaves, according to the International Labor Organization.

The children constitute an invisible workforce that is exploited and abused, the ILO said. They receive no benefits, rest or vacation; get no minimum wage; have no limits on hours of work and no legal rights.

Inter Press Service reports that the Indonesian government has agreed to take up the elimination of child labor in areas related to drugs, prostitution, offshore fishing, mining and footwear production, but not domestic work.

Child rights activists are pushing for legislation to protect child domestic workers, the majority of whom come from poor rural areas.

Nigeria: ‘Desert gold’ holds promise

In an arid zone stretching from Senegal in West Africa all the way east to Pakistan and India, the climate and soil are fertile for growing what many call “desert gold.” The Daily Trust in Abuja, Nigeria, reports that gum arabic from the Acacia senegal tree is being explored as a viable international cash crop to brighten the economic future of farmers on the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

The trees flourish in the arid savannah grasslands and produce a sap that can be collected in balls and then sold. The converted sap is used as a binder in an array of products such as inks, drinks, chewing gum, paints, pharmaceuticals and fibers.

Nigeria has invested in the planting of millions of seedlings, as well as research to improve the quality of gum arabic, with hopes of employing additional workers for processing the crop.

Colombia: Millions uprooted by civil war

According to the 2006 “State of Refugees in the World” report published by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, next to the Sudan, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people of any country in the world. More than 40 years of civil war, violence and instability have caused 3-4 million people to leave their homes. Seventy-four percent of these are women and children.

Some rural areas have been virtually abandoned with many people seeking anonymity in Colombia’s largest cities. Rather than congregating in camps, they are dispersed throughout the country. An estimated 400,000 have sought asylum in other countries. Not only are individuals and families disrupted by this uprooting, but entire communities and societies have been ripped apart, the report says.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (