International notes

Brazil: Lula puts butter before guns

In one of his first actions, Brazil’s new president, Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, last week postponed a $750 million purchase of fighter aircraft so the money could be used for emergency social spending. New defense minister Jose Viegas said buying the fighters would be delayed for at least a year, in favor of hunger eradication projects. Viegas also said the government had started looking for cheaper alternatives such as renting or buying used aircraft.

In his inaugural address on New Year’s Day, Lula said eliminating hunger – estimated to affect at least 25 million of Brazil’s 175 million people – would be his administration’s top priority.





Lebanon: Unions will protest gov’t tax hikes

Member unions of Lebanon’s General Labor Confederation will demonstrate Jan. 15 to protest government plans to increase taxes on workers while weakening and privatizing the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Confederation President Ghassan Ghosn told a conference of labor union representatives last week that the government has forced the social security fund to invest in Treasury bonds with much lower interest rates. He said new laws are being drafted that attempt to eliminate the state’s social welfare system in favor of private insurance companies.

About 1.3 million workers and their families benefit from the NSSF’s social welfare benefits, which include health insurance, medication and retirement packages.

Other labor leaders called attention to last year’s mass layoffs of 20,000 workers, attributing them to loopholes employers were able to find in the Lebanese Labor Law.





Britain: Protests good for health

A new study by psychologists at the University of Sussex has found that people who take part in strikes, political protests and demonstrations experience increased psychological well-being that can help them overcome stress, pain, anxiety and depression.

Researcher Dr. John Drury said the “take-home message” from the study “might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change but also for their own personal good.”

In interviews, activists from a variety of backgrounds felt they had a collective identity with fellow protesters, and found a sense of unity and mutual support. Positive effects appeared to last for some time.





China: CP head stresses re-employing laid-off workers

Hu Jintao, the Communist Party of China’s new general secretary, last week emphasized the need to step up efforts to re-employ laid-off workers. He called on governments at all levels to work harder to create jobs and opportunities for laid-off workers based on the specific conditions of the local economy. Administrations are also required to provide essential job training and social insurance for laid-off workers, Hu added.

Though the official unemployment rate is usually given as less than 4.5 percent, many analysts believe joblessness exceeds 7 percent in China, largely as a result of the reorganization and streamlining of large state-owned enterprises and the declining need for labor in the countryside.





Germany: Public worker strike likely

After four days of talks between unions and the government ended without progress on Monday, representatives of public-sector workers said they were ready for a long walkout. The action would be the first national public sector strike in over 10 years.

Leaders of the Verdi trade union, representing some 2.8 million public transit workers, nurses, fire fighters and other public workers, said they would walk off their jobs later this month unless agreement is reached at the next round of talks on Wednesday.

The union has called for a minimum wage hike of 3 percent, to compensate for several years of tiny raises. It has also called for abolition of pay differentials between western Germany and the former socialist German Democratic Republic by 2007. After seeking a pay freeze, local and central governments have offered 0.9 percent from January to September, and 1.2 percent more for the following nine months.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel, Communist Party USA international secretary. She can be reached at cpusainternat@hotmail.com