Workers of the world: ROUND UP

Submitted by Anon on 10 September, 2003 - 2:45
  • South Korea: a summer of discontent
  • Free Brazilian landless workers!
  • General strike in Chile
  • Support locked-out Indonesian workers
  • Protests at WTO Cancun, Mexico

South Korea: a summer of discontent

Korea's two union umbrella organisations have agreed to step up their fight against the government's controversial five-day working week bill under discussion in the National Assembly (parliament).

The independent Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the traditionally pro-government Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) say they will be holding more protests against the bill. Sit-ins and rallies have already taken place against the proposed law.

The bill will cut the working week from 44 hours to 40 hours - but will also cut workers' pay. Also, many workers will get only 15 days paid annual leave. If it goes through, the system will be implemented at banking and insurance firms and government enterprises from July next year. It will be introduced at companies with 300 or more workers from July 2005 and phased in at smaller firms up to 2011.

Meanwhile workers at Kia Motors have followed the example of Hyundai workers, gaining a shorter working week and a pay rise by taking strike action. Workers came out for 38 days in total, winning an 8.8% increase in pay - three times the rate of inflation. The company has also agreed to cut the working week.

Union militancy has intensified in South Korea after the election of Roh Moo-hyun this year. He is regarded as more sympathetic to labour but has toughened his attitude towards the labour movement in recent weeks, ordering the arrest of leaders of the truck drivers' strike.

Free Brazilian landless workers!

In July five activists from the MST (the Brazilian landless workers' movement) were arrested while attending a court hearing in Teodoro Sampaio County, Sao Paulo State. The arrests are part of an attempt to criminalise the struggle of the landless for agrarian reform.

The five activists were arrested by military police after they had voluntarily appeared in court to testify before the judge. MST solicitors have been denied copies of the court order that brought about the arrests. Since May 2002 the same judge has issued 29 decrees of preventive custody against the members of the MST.

The MST is asking for messages of solidarity with the prisoners and for letters protesting against the arbitrary decisions of judge.

General strike in Chile

Hundreds of thousands of public workers, bus drivers and students went on strike in Chile in mid-August - the first mass workers' protest for 17 years.

Protests were held in the capital Santiago and other major cities, and there were some serious confrontations with police. According to the organisers, the Central Workers' Union (CUT), the strike was heeded by all state-school teachers and civil service employees and over 90% of health workers and local government workers. The CUT - which has 640,000 members - claims to have stopped 80% of business activity, although workers in the strategically important state-owned copper mines did not come out.

Workers are concerned about long-standing unemployment, which is over 9%, as well as low wages and long working hours. Many are disillusioned with the coalition government led by Socialist Party leader Ricardo Lagos. Chile has been a model neo-liberal economy since Augusto Pinochet seized power in 1973. It was a series of strikes at Chile's copper mines in the early 1980s, include the last general strike in 1986, that spelled the beginning of the end for Pinochet's military dictatorship.

Support locked-out Indonesian workers

The Clean Clothes Campaign is asking for more action in support of the 537 workers locked out at PT Kahatex in Indonesia. The CCC wants protest letters to be sent to Kahatex management, requesting that they reinstate the locked-out workers, pay them the money they are owed, and start paying workers the minimum wage. They also want to increase the pressure on the brands producing their garments at PT Kahatex - Olsen, Lerros, Tom Tailor and S. Oliver.

According to US campaign United Students Against Sweatshops, PT Kahatex management have demanded the workers sign an agreement accepting permanent status as short-term contract employees and that they will not join any union other than two bogus "unions". This specifically prohibits workers from associating with PPB, the independent union that has been supporting the struggle.

Protests at WTO Cancun, Mexico

Workers, trade unionists and NGOs will be demonstrating from 10 to 14 September at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial summit in Cancun, Mexico.

The Mexican independent union federation, the UNT and the anti-privatisation coalition, the FSM are organizing a labour forum on 12 September. And in Mexico and around the world, 13 September is a Worldwide Day of Action Against Corporate Globalization and War.

The fifth WTO ministerial summit takes place nearly four years after the historic showdown at the third WTO summit in Seattle.

With delegations attending from the US, Latin America, and elsewhere, big demonstrations are expected. The Mexican authorities have already produced a hit list of activists to be barred including Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader and even the Director of Oxfam UK. Since the Seattle protests of 1999 police forces guarding WTO and G8 meetings have shown themselves willing to use great violence against protesters. This "watch list" may well signal that the Mexican state intends to continue that pattern of repression.

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