Stopping the Express To Misery – Workers Update

July 27, 2010

Some class conflict/labour protest related items of interest from around the world – all unreported in the British/American media of course:

In Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, Indian teachers demanding permanent contracts and better wages stopped a Delhi-bound passenger train for 45 minutes today, prompting a baton charge by police.

In Karachi, Pakistan, meanwhile, 8 workers at the J&M Clothing company were injured by members of the Pakistani Rangers, a special police force depolyed in the city’s Export Processing Zone to clamp down on worker militancy.  The injuries occurred as Rangers sought to break up a large demonstration organized clandestinely by textile workers demanding better working conditions (the immediate stimulus was rotten food served in the expensive staff cafeteria). With unions illegal in the EPZ under Pakistani law, such a move is brave, as the Rangers’ attack shows. The workers were dispersed after a group of organizers fingered by factory managers refused to leave the premises.

As Action for a Progressive Pakistan reports, “the Rangers attempted to make an example of them–kicking them in the shins, beating them with sticks…Two workers were beaten unconscious, only recovering later that evening at Jinnah Hospital. Apparently a few others fainted from the shock, as everyone around (including the Rangers, who promptly scattered) had presumed these two dead when they collapsed.”

In Brazil, 300 Indians from 11 separate tribes took over 100 construction workers on the massive Belo Monte dam project hostage on Sunday. 100 “rank and file” workers were immediately released, but 5 senior managers were retained by the Indians who are demanding that construction work respects ancient sacred sites in the area.

In Panama, the government led by billionaire Ricardo Martinelli is reportedly facing “a wave of resistance to its anti-labour and anti-union laws” according to ZCommunications Frederico Fuentes. Workers have been taking to the streets over the past month in response to “Law 30” – which “includes dramatic restrictions on the right to strike, provision of payments for strike-breakers and the ability to fire striking workers, the elimination of obligatory payment of union dues, and immunity for the police to use force against strikers.” Even taking part in street protests can apparently result in 2-5 years in jail. Hence, strikes have erupted on banana plantations and street protests have grown. 11 people died when the government mobilized police to crackdown on strikers on the Panama Canal, further raising tensions.

Over a year after multinational energy firm Vestas moved its wind-turbine manufacturing business from the Isle of Wight, England, to North America, ex-employees of the firm on the island have opened a business manufacturing…wind turbine blades. Sureblades, a firm set up by ex-Vestas worker and trade unionist Sean McDonagh, might be making 12m blades by September and “will be using cutting edge technology which will mean that the blades are 100% recyclable unlike conventional blades which have to be burnt or dumped in landfill” according to the Isle of Wight Chronicle.

As McDonagh’s union the RMT puts it, “The former Vestas workers behind this imaginative new project have completely destroyed the argument put forward by the company at the time of closure that there was no market for UK manufactured turbine blades. Through their efforts to create jobs they have blown apart the bogus grounds put forward at the time for closure and redundancy of the workforce.” Inspirational.

Nigerian power workers are on strike after the Federal Government in Abuja refused to pay the full amount of wages and benefits that they are owed and to to regularize the status of 10,000 temporary workers at the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

In Phnon Penh, Cambodia, 3,000 female garment workers marched through the city today, a week after beginning strike action to demand higher wages and the reinstatement of a sacked union official at a factory which manufactures clothing for Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma, as Reuters reports. The workers were met only by repression and “at least nine…workers were injured…in clashes with Cambodian riot police who used shields and electric shock batons.”

“More than 100 police, at least 50 in riot gear and carrying assault rifles, tried to force an estimated 3,000 female workers back into their factory, pushing several to the ground and stunning them with batons, a Reuters witness said…Srey Kimheng, a secretary-general of the Free Trade Union (FTU), told Reuters at least nine workers were injured when police with a court order tried to clear roads and force them back to work.”

As with workers in Karachi’s EPZ and Panama’s banana plantations, Cambodia garment workers labour for peanuts for a minimum wage which falls far short of the poverty level, given rapid inflation. And 2010 has seen thousands of jobs lost in the sector as capital retrenches worldwide.

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