International notes

Italy: General strike for workers’ rights

Over 1 million workers and their supporters took to the streets in 120 Italian cities and towns Oct. 18. The year’s second general strike was called by the country’s largest union federation, the left-led CGIL, to protest government plans to weaken labor rights, as well as cuts in health and education budgets.

Over 250,000 marched in Milan, and 150,000 in Rome.

Air, rail and public transit services were sharply curtailed; most schools and many banks were closed.

The CGIL strongly opposes the government plan to amend the 1970 labor law to make it easier for firms to lay off workers – a move it says threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs. In recent weeks Italian companies have announced over 20,000 layoffs.

Since the first general strike last April, the number of smaller strikes and work stoppages in Italy has risen nearly 500 percent over the same period last year.





Colombia: Public workers need support

Public Service International (PSI), the international federation of public service workers, sent a letter of protest to the Colombian government after the military occupied the premises of EMCALI on Sept. 30 and attacked PSI-affiliated trade unionists the next day. Five workers suffered serious burns and asphyxia as a result of the attacks with explosives and tear gas bombs.

SINTRAEMCALI represents workers at the state-owned EMCALI, which provides water, electricity and telecommunications services for Cali, a city of 2.5 million. The union has been engaged in a long struggle to prevent the company from being privatized. Last January the union reached agreement with the municipal and national governments to keep the company public.

But after his election, President Alvaro Uribe Velez sent troops to break up the union’s meetings and occupy the company’s premises.

PSI called on the Colombian government to halt military attacks on the workers, withdraw military and police personnel from the company premises, and respect the January 2002 agreement.





Kenya: Teachers gain int’l solidarity

Kenya’s teachers, on strike since Sept. 23 over broken promises of salary increases, received crucial international support this week. The South African Democratic Teachers Union and Congress of South African Trade Unions are joining with other international labor organizations to urge Kenya’s government to honor a 1997 agreement to double teachers’ pay.

The current action is the third national teachers strike aimed at pressing the government to implement the increase. Since it began, teachers have been subjected to government intimidation, harassment and threats. In addition, the Education Minister is trying to revoke the 1997 agreement – a move blocked last week by the Supreme Court – and has suspended the collection of union dues.





Belgium: Int’l unionists denounce McDonald’s

An international seminar on McDonald’s labor practices, held in Brussels last week, found that the fast food giant uses minimum standards in setting wage, health and safety practices, and uses anti-union methods including isolating, harassing and dismissing employees who support unions.

The symposium, attended by union activists from Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, the Philippines, The Netherlands, the USA and Russia, found that in some countries the size and influence of the company’s operations is depressing wages and working conditions throughout the restaurant sector.

On the meeting’s last day, participants demonstrated at a McDonald’s in Brussels, before presenting their findings to a special hearing with the President of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

The seminar participants concluded that McDonald’s could and should “engage in social dialogue” with trade unions in all countries where it operates. They agreed that as a company employing many workers in many countries, McDonald’s should establish relations with the IUF, the international organization of workers in the restaurant sector.





Israel: 100,000 workers strike

More than 100,000 city and regional workers laid down their tools, Oct. 12, while another 80,000 civil servants, as well as the non-medical staff at government-run hospitals, started a slow-down strike. The unions, affiliated to the General Histadrut Trade Union Federation, have sanctioned both strike actions.

The strikers’ main demand is a substantial raise in cost-of-living index and no cuts to social benefits such as pensions, child allowances and unemployment. The government treasury and employers said the cuts have to be made because of the crisis on the world market and the enormous increase in military and security expenses.

The unions said cost-of-living increments, which by law should be adjusted to the consumer price index, were not adjusted for over two years, thereby lowering workers’ income. In most major cities, strikers held demonstrations and vigils in front of government offices and entrance gates of national enterprises.