International notes

Europe: Dock strike hits ports

Striking dockworkers protesting a European Union plan to restructure cargo handling slowed and in some cases halted operations at several European ports on Jan. 17.

The one-day strike paralyzed ports in Finland and Belgium and slowed operations at German and Dutch ports.

The dockers say EU proposals to let shippers organize their own port handling, without using local workers, would threaten their jobs and safety.

Workers blocked all roads and halted cargo handling at Antwerp, second largest port in Europe. Some 5,000 German port and maritime workers struck at container terminals in Hamburg, Bremen and Bremerhaven.

Actions were continuing at many ports, with dockers in the Canary Islands starting a three-day strike on Jan. 20, and some actions set for this week in Britain and Sweden.





South Africa: Campaign vs. AIDS discrimination

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and the AIDS Consortium plan to use 2003 to target HIV/AIDS discrimination in the financial sector. The organizations will take consumer cases for litigation and mass mobilization, focusing on the insurance industry’s denial of services and benefits on the basis of individuals’ HIV/AIDS status.

“We call on all poor and working people suffering discrimination from insurance companies to come forward with their cases for court and other action,” said Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary.

Also targeted are funeral insurers who have refused payment on grounds the deceased were HIV-positive. Endorsing the campaign are a number of legal and AIDS advocate organizations as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions.





Colombia: Gov’t raids union offices

Earlier this month agents from Colombia’s Administrative Security Department and attorney general’s office raided the Unitary Workers Federation (CUT) offices in Cali, capital of Valle del Cauca Province. After apparently showing a warrant, the agents inspected numerous documents in the union office. Union leaders say such raids, along with a growing number of arrests, abductions and killings of unionists, are part of the Uribe government’s plan to destroy the labor movement and all opposition to its authoritarian and neoliberal policies.

Carlos Lozano, director of the Colombian Communist Party’s newspaper, Voz, said the raid came the same day Interior Minister Fernando Londono attempted to criminalize a union-led grassroots campaign urging abstention in an upcoming referendum. Uribe is promoting the referendum to build support for his economic and “security” measures; Londono calls the opposition’s request for equal television and radio time “immoral” and “illegal.”





South Korea: Metal workers protest anti-labor repression

Thousands of workers at Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction, in Changwon, struck for eight hours Jan. 16, and workers and students nationwide held a commemoration meeting for Bae Dal-ho, a 50 year old team leader believed to have committed suicide because of the company’s punitive actions.

On Jan. 9, Bae was found burned to death near the plant’s cooling tower. Bae had worked for Doosan for 21 years, and his family depended on his earnings. A note found in his car said, “Due to the company’s provisional seizure of my wage, I had not received any pay for more than six months. In my opinion, no wage will be paid to me the day after tomorrow, either.”

Before his death, Doosan had convinced a court to hold Bae’s wages and restrict his bank access, because of his involvement in a May 2002 strike.

A labor spokesperson blamed the company’s “harsh punishment,” and called the provision seizure of assets “a new kind of labor union suppression.”





El Salvador: Protest health care privatization

On Jan. 8, some 20 masked protesters calling themselves the “People’s Youth Block” occupied San Salvador’s metropolitan cathedral, announcing they would not leave until the government negotiates a solution with striking medical workers of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute. The protesters demanded any privatization of health care be halted and that police be withdrawn from striking hospitals. They also expressed opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), saying it would destroy the country’s agriculture. While church leaders expressed strong disapproval of the occupation, they declined to let police forcibly remove the protesters, who left without incident Jan. 10 after discussing their demands with church leaders and the country’s human rights ombudsperson.

At the same time, in an action they said was unrelated, activists from the Citizen Alliance against Privatization blocked highways throughout the country, also to protest any privatization of health services.

International notes are compiled weekly by Marilyn Bechtel, Communist Party international secretary.

She can be reached at cpusainternat@mindspring.com