- Zanón factory - two years under workers' control
- Anti-privatisation protest in Thailand
- Korean workers win wider union rights
Zanón factory - two years under workers' control
Every day, the 330 workers of Zanón Ceramics Factory who both work at and run the largest ceramic floor-tile factory in Argentina are, legally speaking, usurping the factory and its machinery.
That they have been able to sustain this legally precarious situation for two years is due to the incredible solidarity they have garnered from their local community in Neuquén.
While an outstanding order to evict these workers has existed for nearly a year, the government will not order the police to fulfil it because the political costs would be too high - groups ranging from the teachers' union to the petroleum workers' union to the Catholic Church have said that if there is an eviction they will call a general strike throughout the province until the situation is resolved.
Zanón has a group-management decision-making structure, referred to as an assembly. Each department or work unit elects a representative to convey department concerns during assemblies, which are attended by all the workers. There, workers vote to approve or reject the departments' proposals.
There are 30 elected "coordinators", each elected by their sector and all of their decisions are made in an open assembly - any worker or member of the community can ask at any time to see the finances.
There are also two elected "coordinators of the coordinators" who perform many managerial functions, with the difference being that all of their decisions have to be reviewed by all workers, and they are recallable.
Assemblies are held every week, one per shift, and when there are important decisions to be made a shift is given up to a long assembly, with all workers in attendance.
Before the takeover in March 2002, some workers earned twice as much as others. Now everyone earns the same ($800 pesos, or about £140). Workers report feeling less stressed as they can take breaks when they need to and accidents are now rare occurrences.
As one poster says: "Now, there are no bosses. Safety is the responsibility of all of us."
- The author is a former United Students Against Sweatshops activist and UNITE staff member. Full article available here
Anti-privatisation protest in Thailand
Tens of thousands of workers demonstrated in Bangkok, Thailand last week in the biggest protest against the government since it came to power in January 2000.
Workers from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), members of the State Enterprises Labour Relation Confederation, workers from private sector unions, and other activists gathered to oppose the latest privatisation drive by prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The Thaksin government decided to privatise the highly profitable state enterprises including three electricity enterprises, water, ports and public transport in January. The government has already privatised part of the airlines, telecommunication, postal service, airport and petroleum.
On 3 March and again on 9 March, more than 50,000 workers responded by demonstrating in the capital. Thaksin has now agreed to postpone the privatisation of EGAT, but protesters want it cancelled completely and the power and water services wholly-owned by the state.
- More information from the Thai Labour Campaign
Korean workers win wider union rights
Korean workers have won important trade union rights, with public sector and unemployed workers gaining the right to belong to a union.
The government has announced it will allow civil servants to form their own unions, which is currently illegal.
Since 2002, public servants have been allowed to form an "association" but were still banned from setting up their own union, taking collective action or concluding negotiations.
In a separate development, the Supreme Court ruled last week that unemployed workers can join a union as long as it is not a company-based organisation.
The Seoul Women's Trade Union had filed a case against the Seoul Metropolitan Government, demanding that the city withdraw its decision to reject the labor union's registration. The Supreme Court sided with the union, saying it was unfair for the city not to recognise the union because it had unemployed members.
Under the ruling, unemployed workers can join industrial and regional trade unions, but not company unions. The independent Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said it would exempt unemployed members from fees until they had jobs.
The militancy of Korean workers has also improved their pay and conditions over the last year.
New government figures show that the average wage of workers increased by more than 9% last year, with the cost of living rising by 3.6%. These increases were most concentrated in large conglomerates employing more than 500 workers.
The report also revealed that the average working hours of workers had fallen, but Korean workers still work over 45 hours a week on average (compared with under 40 in the UK).