China: Migrant workers join unions

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions on Aug. 9 announced it would recruit as many migrant workers as possible and classify them officially as members of China’s working classes. In the month that followed, the ACFTU says, over 34 million migrant workers joined trade unions in thousands of local communities.

As China’s economy was restructured in the 1980s, more and more workers left their home communities in search of jobs. But for a long time, the unions would only recognize workers with city or township resident identification, leaving out over 100 million migrants with only rural registrations.

Most migrant workers are employed in low-profit, low-pay industries such as construction, catering and environmental cleanup. Migrant workers say that as union members they are now able to collect their pay on time, and are winning improved benefits.

Colombia: Pact re Int’l Court criticized

The pact signed Sept. 17 by the U.S. and Colombia, exempting Americans arrested in Colombia for human rights violations from prosecution before the International Criminal Court, is being sharply criticized by the Communist Party of Colombia and other human rights advocates.

The Colombian CP called the accord a violation of Colombia’s national sovereignty and of its constitution, and called for its immediate revocation.

Washington had threatened to withhold $130 million in aid unless the pact was signed. Some 61 other poor nations dependent on U.S. aid have signed such agreements.

Former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, who helped draft the ICC’s statutes, called the pact “a big step backward,” and charged that the Bush administration “is trying to destroy the court and they’re using these bilateral agreements, country by country, to erode the jurisdiction of the court.”

Iraq: No WMDs

Hans Blix, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, told CNN earlier this month he believes the Saddam Hussein regime was truthful when it told the United Nations last December that it did not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

“With this long period, I’m inclined to think the Iraqi statement that they destroyed all the biological and chemical weapons which they had in the summer of 1991 may well be the truth,” he said.

Blix said his inspectors “did not find any smoking gun” during their three and a half months of work in late 2002 and early 2003.

The U.S. and Britain dismissed Iraq’s report as false and incomplete, and justified their invasion on the basis that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.

S. Africa: Unions slam ‘worst employer’

At its national congress last week, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) named the Durban Deep gold mine South Africa’s “worst employer,” the Johannesburg Business Day reported. The union federation gives the award to embarrass employers into improving working conditions. COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the firm deserved the award because it consistently threatened workers with layoffs, was “brutal in dealing with workers and had a management style dating back to the 1980s.”

The mining company has historically paid the lowest wages among the four big gold producers, and its opening offer in this year’s wage talks was between 2 and 4 percent. Besides wage issues, the National Union of Mineworkers has been protesting the company’s decision to lay off 4,500 workers from its North West mines.

Norway: Boycott over ‘slave’ farm wages

Three major grocery store chains are threatening to boycott Norwegian farmers who pay sub-minimum “slave wages” to seasonal farm workers, mostly from eastern Europe, the newspaper Aftenposten said Sept. 22. The legal minimum wage is $11 per hour.

Aftenposten said some seasonal workers from Lithuania and the Ukraine were paid as little as $10 total, for a 12- to 13-hour workday.

Retailers belonging to an ethical trade group are now saying they won’t buy from farmers who don’t pay the minimum wage, while labor leaders are threatening to report delinquent farmers to the police.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel