IMF NewsBriefs No. 10, September 26, 2007

Leafleting deemed criminal under Mugabe’s bizarre and brutal dictatorship.

ZIMBABWE, September 24, 2007: In the days surrounding the second worker stayaway organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), government security forces raided the homes of union leaders, abducted trade unionists and their family members, and beat and arrested peaceful demonstrators.

Reports indicate that at least ten ZCTU activists and leaders were arrested between Monday, September 17 and Thursday, September 20. Of them, Michael Kandukutu, national organiser for the ZCTU, Tennyson Muchepfa from the National Engineering Workers’ Unions (NEWU), and Justice Mucheni from the Food Federation were beaten and abducted on September 17 while distributing ZCTU flyers about the worker stayaway scheduled for September 19 and 20. NEWU is an affiliate of the International Metalworkers’ Federation.

The three were beaten and interrogated for two days before being charged with being a “criminal nuisance” and released on bail. They are scheduled to appear in court on October 3.

On September 18, Reason Ngwenya, the regional chairman of the ZCTU in Matebeleland, was picked up by police in Bulawayo. That evening, security forces also raided the home of ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo. When they found the union leader not there, they abducted his brother Kenneth Matombo and another man in an effort to force Lovemore Matombo to come out of hiding. The two reported being beaten in custody and were released the following day.

Meanwhile, at least 200 people gathered outside the Zimbabwe embassy in London, in solidarity with Zimbabwean workers who were participating in the mass stayaway on September 19 and 20. The ZCTU called for the two-day job boycott to protest a wage freeze imposed by President Robert Mugabe’s government on August 29 which outlawed all pay rises without government authorisation and froze all rents, school fees and service charges for the next six months. Failure to adhere to the new law will be punishable by fines or a six month jail sentence.

Hardly a week after banning all wage increases for the country’s working destitute, Mugabe gave himself a raise, increasing his salary from Z$62 million annually to Z$1.4 billion.

Workers are fighting for wages to be linked to the poverty datum line, which is adjusted every month in accordance with the country’s rate of inflation, currently at a record breaking 7,600 per cent.

IBM workers in Italy to hold virtual protest in virtual world on September 27.

ITALY, September 26, 2007:  IBM workers in Italy will take their dispute with the computer giant into the virtual world from 9am to 9pm GMT tomorrow, September 27.

During the talks to renew a collective agreement with IBM in Italy, the works council, supported by the majority of IBM Italy employees, asked for a small salary increase. IBM responded by cancelling their “productive results benefit”, resulting in a loss of €1000 per year for each employee. The company is refusing to talk to representatives of the 9,000 Italian workforce.

Members and supporters will be protesting on the IBM’s virtual “islands” in Second Life, a virtual world which it uses to promote the company and build new links with customers. Real-life protest pickets outside IBM offices in Italy will accompany the virtual picket with workers handing out information on the dispute.

The virtual protest is the first of its kind and has attracted extensive media attention.  The actions of the IBM workers coordinating body in Italy is being supported by global unions UNI and the International Metalworkers’ Federation and the European Metalworkers’ Federation and IBM workers in at least 18 countries. Find out more about how to participate in the virtual protest. 

ITUC report documents murder, violence and intimidation against trade unionists worldwide.

GLOBAL : A total of 144 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers rights in 2006, while more than 800 suffered beatings or torture, according to the Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations, published by the International Trade Union Confederation.

The 379-page report documents nearly 5,000 arrests and more than 8,000 dismissals of workers due to their trade union activities and investigates 484 new cases of trade unionists held in detention by governments. The report gives accounts of mass dismissals, beatings, detentions and threats against workers and their families carried out in countries in each region of the world.

Dictatorships and authoritarian governments in Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, North Korea and several Gulf countries maintained their suppression of independent trade unions, with more than 100 Chinese workers detained in prisons and forced labour camps in appalling conditions.

The Survey also reports growing government hostility to fundamental workers’ rights in some industrialised countries, in particular in Australia, where the government’s deceptively-titled “WorkChoices” legislation stripped workers of a raft of rights and benefits, and imposed heavy restrictions on union activity, with harsh penalties for individual workers and union officials.  In the United States a National Labour Relations Board Ruling deprived millions of the right to organise.
The anti-union activities of a number of multinational companies, including repeat offenders such as Coca Cola subsidiaries and suppliers, Wal-Mart, Goodyear, Nestlé and Bouygues come under the spotlight.

Women workers in particular continued to face repression, particularly given the exploitation of the mainly female workforce in Export Processing Zones in Asia, Africa and Latin America, with numerous instances of dismissal and outright refusal by employers to recognise even the most fundamental rights of their employees.

The report is available in four languages, French, English, Spanish and German and is available in hardcopy or online. 

73,000 autoworkers strike over job security and economic issues.

USA, September 25, 2007: 73,000 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike at General Motors plants across the United States on Monday after intense contract negotiations broke down over issues of job security, future product investments, outsourcing, and active member benefits. 

The collective agreement that covers autoworkers employed by GM at 82 U.S. facilities, which includes assembly and parts plants and warehouses, expired at midnight on September 14. Negotiators bargained through an unprecedented nine-day contract extension in hopes of reaching an agreement.

“We’re shocked and disappointed that General Motors has failed to recognize and appreciate what our membership has contributed during the past four years,” said UAW president Ron Gettelfinger pointing out that UAW members have given plenty of concessions to GM in recent years including giving up a cost-of-living adjustment in the 2003 contract; a 2005 health care deal that left retirees with higher medical costs; cooperation with GM on its restructuring plan to close a number of U.S. factories and cut 34,000 hourly jobs; and a deal with Delphi Corp. that gave workers cash payments in exchange for lower wages.

“Obviously we’re very concerned about this company,” Gettelfinger told the Detroit News, “We’ve done a lot of things to help that company. We were disappointed in this round of negotiations to discover that it was a one-way set of negotiations — it was going to be GM’s way at the expense of the workers.”

UAW Vice President Cal Rapson and director of the union’s GM department, said the one-sided negotiations were “a complete failure by GM to address the reasonable needs and concerns of our members.”

“Instead, in 2007 company executives continued to award themselves bonuses while demanding that our members accept a reduced standard of living,” Rapson said referring to recent filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that disclosed a number of multimillion-dollar stock bonuses awarded to top auto executives despite massive job cuts and attacks on the wages, working conditions and benefits for autoworkers. In the case of GM, CEO Rick Wagoner was awarded restricted stock valued at $2.8 million and 500,000 options worth $1.4 million. Another 18 GM executives also received bonuses in the form of restricted stock options.

The nation-wide strike, the first against a U.S. automaker in 37 years, has gained widespread support nationally and internationally. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said it will honour UAW picket lines outside GM facilities and will not deliver GM cars. The Teamsters union represents 10,000 automotive transport workers.

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), who expect up to 100,000 CAW members to be affected by the strike, also pledged support stating that CAW workers will not handle parts from U.S. GM plants out on strike. “GM appears intent on making workers and their communities pay for the problems caused by unfair trade and the flood of imports,” said CAW president Buzz Hargrove. “We have to come together in solidarity.” Autoworkers in Brazil and Europe have also expressed their solidarity support for the UAW.

Marcello Malentacchi, general secretary of the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), which represents more than 200 metal unions in over 100 countries around the world, acknowledged that the strike against GM and the gains to be made from this collective show of force are important to workers beyond U.S. borders. “The IMF strongly supports the efforts of our UAW brothers and sisters in their fight to preserve good union jobs — jobs that guarantee workers a living wage, a voice in the workplace, health and safety protections and job security. This is something that we as trade unionists are all fighting for.”

September 26, 2007: The UAW has ended its strike at GM after reaching a tentative deal in contract talks. Workers will head back to work today and ratification of the deal by the UAW membership will begin this week.

Some of the workers at Australian Tristar factory have secured redundancy packages, but the fight for others continues.

AUSTRALIA, September 21, 2007:  After more than a year of struggle, union negotiators have secured redundancy packages for most of the workers remaining at the idle car parts manufacturer Tristar. Twenty-three workers have been advised they will receive their full redundancy entitlements in line with provisions in their union-certified agreement.

Of the remaining nine employees, some are expected to reach a resolution in the coming days, said Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) organiser Martin Schutz. “But we’ll continue our campaign until every last employee gets their full entitlements.”

The Tristar dispute began when the factory effectively ceased operation in April 2006, but retained its longest-serving employees, some who have been with the company for up to 45 years, to avoid paying redundancy payments. Tristar Steering and Suspension was attempting to use the new Australian industrial relations laws to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by keeping “redundant” workers on the payroll until the terms of the union agreement expire.

The collective agreement, which included four weeks of pay per year of service for forced redundancies, was terminated in February 2007. The company was waiting for the terms of this agreement to expire so it would only be required to pay 12 weeks of wages to the redundant workers.

In addition to securing the employees’ entitlements, the Tristar campaign has also succeeded in protecting thousands of other Australian workers from the same fate. Embarrassed by publicity around the case, the Australian government extended redundancy provisions to 12 months. That has since been extended to two years after continuing pressure from the AMWU and community groups.

Unions from more than 20 countries commit to advancing worker rights at steel giant.

CANADA/GLOBAL, September 18, 2007: Unions representing Arcelor Mittal workers from more than 20 countries around the world unanimously voted to establish an Arcelor Mittal World Council at the International Metalworkers’ Federation’s first Arcelor Mittal world meeting held in Montreal, Canada from September 16-17. Delegates committed to fighting for common goals including:

  • Stronger collective agreements that secure decent wages, retirement incomes, safe workplaces, and a voice in company decisions that affect workers,
  • Company investments to support new and upgraded facilities, the highest environmental standards, and new developments,
  • Safe and healthy workplaces and environmentally sustainable operations that is healthy and safe for communities and families,
  • Respect for human rights of communities impacted by corporate operations, and respect for the right to union representation,
  • Full access to information about corporate acquisitions, mergers, investment strategies, and other developments that impact union members,
  • Maintaining the integrity of employment relationships and eliminating outsourcing and contracting out, and
  • Implementation of accepted International Labour Standards.

In addition to establishing an Arcelor Mittal World Council, the agreement also called for extending the current International Framework Agreement between the IMF, European Metalworkers’ Federation and Arcelor to include all Mittal operations. Discussions between the IMF and Arcelor Mittal about implementing the IFA were off to a good start when Arcelor Mittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal, addressed the conference asserting that the company is committed to working towards “raising the bar” of health and safety standards across the globe.

Bernard Fontana, executive vice president of human resources for Arcelor Mittal, also attending the meeting, said management hopes that IFA implementation will occur “sooner than later” and that the company was prepared to dedicate resources to ensure proper execution of the IFA.

IMF general secretary Marcello Malentacchi was optimistic regarding the IFA discussions but noted, “trade union rights, human rights are not negotiable. This is a given right. This is why I hope we sign the same agreement with a new name, Arcelor Mittal IFA.”

The Arcelor IFA was signed in September 2005.

Steel giant and unions commit to innovative global health and safety program.

GLOBAL, September 17, 2007:  The world’s largest steel company Arcelor Mittal and trade unions representing its employees from over 20 countries today announced a new and innovative approach to health and safety concerns in the company.

Meeting in Montreal at the International Metalworkers’ Federation’s first world conference of Arcelor Mittal and its trade unions, the company and the unions committed themselves to a joint programme of education and training to raise health and safety standards throughout the company.

The new approach will see the creation of a task force of trade union and company health and safety experts from across the globe that will target plants in the group in order to work to dramatically improve their performance.  Through the commitment to work together unions and the company will work towards the vision of eliminating hazards workers encounter in their daily work.

Marcello Malentacchi General Secretary of the International Metalworkers’ Federation explained, “Occupational health and safety is undoubtedly the single most important issue for working people, irrespective of which region of the world or country in which they happen to live.”

Leo Gerard International President of the United Steelworkers added, “Arcelor Mittal is one of the world’s most profitable steel companies, but the true test of any great company is not only on the balance sheet but the way it treats its workers.”

According to Arcelor Mittal President and Chief Executive Officer Lakshmi Mittal, “Arcelor Mittal sets Health and Safety above all other priorities and is committed to achieving the highest standards for our employees. We are pleased and encouraged in joining our trade unions in achieving our joint vision to be the safest steel company in the world.  One of our first joint initiatives since the merger of Arcelor and Mittal was the undertaking of a global safety and health day on March 6, 2007 wherein management and trade unions from around the world simultaneously committed to achieving our safety and health goals.”

Arcelor Mittal is the world’s largest steel company with 61 plants in 27 countries. Trade unions from the following countries took part in the meeting in Montreal: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Liberia, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America.

Unionists call on an end to the persecution of the Mexican Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union.

LATIN AMERICA/MEXICO, September 13, 2007: Affiliates of the International Metalworkers’ Federation in Latin America and the Caribbean held demonstrations in front of Mexican embassies on September 5, calling for an end to the persecution the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union (SNTMMSRM).

The actions were coordinated with the release of audit findings exonerating Napoleón Gómez Urrutia of embezzling monies from a $55 million fund owned by the union. Affiliates presented the audit findings and solidarity letters to Mexican ambassadors in their respective countries. The audit report, which was commissioned by the IMF and conducted by the company Horwath Berney Audit S.A., demonstrated that the charges of embezzlement or misappropriation of funds against Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, SNTMMSRM general secretary, were entirely groundless, and were thus absolutely false. The audit confirmed that all funds of the union’s are accounted for.

In addition, those demonstrating demanded that the Mexican government:

  • Stop its political persecution of Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the SNTMMSRM;
  • Immediately return all frozen funds to the union and to Gómez;
  • Withdraw all charges still pending related to the $55 million fund;
  • Take legal action against those responsible for the distortion of facts and falsification of documents;
  • Investigate the involvement of Grupo México in the recent killing of Reinaldo Hernández González, and the detention and torture of 20 members of the SNTMMSRM in Nacozari;
  • Recover the 63 bodies still buried for more than 17 months in Pasta de Conchos due to the negligence of Grupo México.

Among the organizations participating in this campaign was: the National Confederation of Women Miners of Peru (CNMM) which held demonstrations outside the Mexican embassy in Peru with signs criticizing Grupo México and supporting Napoleón Gómez; FETRAMIHM of Honduras and FENATRAMIM of the Dominican Republic; CONSTRAMET and CONFETEMA of Chile; AOMA of Argentina; and unions from Colombia, and others. 
Other organizations which are not affiliated with the IMF also expressed solidarity with our SNTMMSRM brothers, such as the Cuban Social-Revolutionaries, who expressed their “vigorous fraternity with the Latin American solidarity campaign for Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the National Miners’ Union of Mexico.”

Within a two week period, five workers die due to unsafe working conditions.

TURKEY, September 12, 2007: Last month, five shipyard workers were killed due to unsafe working conditions at the Tuzla shipyard in İstanbul, where expensive ships and yachts are built.  The recent deaths mark a dramatic increase in occupational fatalities at this busy shipyard, where workers toil long hours for sub-standard wages with little to no health and safety protections, and even less job security or social benefits.

Since 2000, there have been a total of 31 occupational fatalities at the Tuzla shipyard. In 2006 alone, six workers were killed. “They are all victims of occupational murder, not occupational accidents,” said Musa  Çam, general secretary of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DiSK), one of four national union centres in Turkey. “The list of the workers who were injured or crippled because of insufficient job security is much longer. Some of the workers have no social security so they couldn’t benefit from health service.”

Shipyard employers are some of the worst exploiters of precarious workers. The Union of Port, Dock, Ship Building and Repair Workers (Limter-İş), an affiliate of the International Metalworkers’ Federation, represents workers at the Tuzla shipyard and operates under intense difficulties. On May 31, 2006, police attacked workers protesting the company’s failure to pay wages for two months. Six workers were seriously injured and 16 were arrested, including Limter Is president Cem Dinç and union official Kamber Saygili, who remained in jail for 40 days.

“How many more men and women must die in vain, before shipyard workers win living wages, permanent employment, social security and basic worker protections that all workers are entitled to?” asked Marcello Malentacchi, IMF general secretary. “The IMF fully supports Limter-İş and their struggle to improve working conditions at the Tuzla shipyard.”

IMF commends Gerdau for raising funds for people affected by the recent earthquake in Peru, but calls on the company to also stop the anti-trade union practices it adopts in Peru and Colombia.

PERU, September 11, 2007: In an open letter to workers at Gerdau S.A. Group, the International Metalworkers’ Federation commended Gerdau for its decision to encourage employees to contribute to victims of the massive earthquake that recently hit Peru and the company’s commitment to contribute twice the amount raised by its employees. However, the IMF also calls on the company to extend this act of social responsibility by ending the anti-trade union practices it adopts in Peru and Colombia.

On August 15 a massive magnitude-8 earthquake devastated cities in Peru’s southern desert. Hundreds of people died and many thousands more were affected by the disaster. The earthquake was centred at the oasis city of Ica and the nearby port of Pisco, about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

Immediately after disaster struck individuals, social organisations, trade unions, religious organisations and companies began collecting medicines, food, clothes and building materials to help the victims and to try to reconstruct the affected areas. Trade union organisations across Latin America also expressed solidarity with workers and people affected by the earthquake in Peru.

In the specific case of Gerdau, which has a steelworks in Chimbote and offices in Lima, none of its employees were affected by the earthquake. However, two families of workers died during the disaster. In response, Gerdau issued a message to all its employees calling on them to contribute to the campaign to raise funds for earthquake relief, with the company committing to contribute twice the amount raised by its own employees in Peru.

A copy of IMF’s open letter to Gerdau employees is published on the IMF website in English, Spanish and Portuguese.




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