March 28, 2013: Tens of thousands of people rally in the streets as the World Social Forum open in Tunis. “Another world is possible” confirm the demonstrators, demanding social justice instead of neo-liberal policies.
IndustriALL’s General Secretary Jyrki Raina and Assistant General Secretary Fernando Lopes marched with over 30,000 participants from around the world through Avenue Mohammed V in central Tunis as the World Social Forum (WSF) opened on 26 March. IndustriALL affiliates from South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and other countries attended the colourful rally.
Seminars on a wide range of issues will be organized at the WSF on 26-30 March, ranging from the fight against neo-liberal and austerity policies, to supporting gender equality, democratic development and human rights in North Africa and the Middle East.
In a session on the financial transaction tax (FTT), unions and non-governmental organizations agreed on continued campaigning for the FTT, tax justice and abolition of tax and regulatory havens. The campaign received a boost in January, as eleven member states of the European union decided to go ahead with FTT. These countries account for two thirds of the EU’s gross domestic product.
Already 40 countries from Brazil to Pakistan apply some form of financial transaction tax. This counters the argument that an FTT is impossible without full global coverage. As Global Unions emphasize, the FTT would go a long way towards curbing short-term speculative trading and financing job-intensive recovery programs, social protection and development of climate change action.
Earlier, IndustriALL leadership met with the government, the UGTT confederation and its sectoral unions in the metal, textile and petrochemical industries to reconfirm its support for the democratic development process in Tunisia.
IndustriALL’s strategies and action to support free and independent unions in the Middle East and North Africa will be debated at a regional conference on 4-5 April in Beirut.
March 28, 2013: Up to 100,000 workers in the industrial Silesia region of Poland went on strike in the morning of 26 March in protest over the government’s labour, health and education policies.
The general strike was organised by Solidarity, Forum Zwiazkow Zawodowych, OPZZ and August 80 against proposed changes to the labour code, which would extend the use of ‘junk’ employment contracts and which limit employment rights and reduce overtime payments, and against the government’s health policy and changes to the education system.
The protest action was taken by a coalition of trade unions, including affiliates of IndustriALL Global Union, and joined by workers from the rail, mining, metallurgical and energy sectors as well as teachers and public health service employees. Workers at steel mills, mines and electricity plants downed tools till 10am, with the transport sector paralysed for two hours from 8am.
The protest was called after tripartite talks between unions, employers and government on a number of burning labour and social-related problems failed to produce concrete results in January and February.
The demands of the protesting groups are:
March 28, 2013: On 20 March the headquarters of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, were visited by the representatives of the Prosecutor’s office. The authorities requested various official documents from the union.
The headquarters of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) were visited by the officials of the Prosecutor’s office on 20 March. They were accompanied by the Ministry of Emergency Situations employees. Alexei Etmanov, ITUA president, was given a letter specifying the documents which were requested from the union.
Among the requested documents were a full list of ITUA activities in 2011 to 2013, a list of all ITUA members, various financial documents, examples of leaflets and other printed items, bank account listings; 21 articles overall.
ITUA, an IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, was identified as one of the targets of legal inspection by the authorities in Saint Petersburg. The Prosecutor’s office is inspecting all the NGOs in the city.
Russian government is increasingly suspicious of the NGO activities. Recently, it’s put a lot of pressure on such organizations. Apparently, the ITUA inspection was part of a larger campaign quite possibly targeting all the NGOs in Russia.
Interestingly, Russian law explicitly prohibits the Prosecutor’s office from requesting documents which are relevant to other government agencies, for example, financial documents relevant to the tax office. Even so, all the NGOs in Saint Petersburg were requested the same long list of paperwork.
March 28, 2013: Sactwu is considering whether it will appeal a High Court ruling that set aside the Minister of Labour’s decision to extend the 2010 clothing industry wage agreement to companies not party to the clothing industry bargaining council.
The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union has responded to the ruling saying that the ruling does not set aside the minimum wage regime in the clothing industry. It also does not mean that non compliant companies now have the right to negotiate outside of the bargaining council system. Sactwu General Secretary Andre Kriel stated, “For us, the bargaining council remains the only place where we intend to bargain. There will be no negotiations outside this forum.”
Whilst the ruling does not mean that the Minister will no longer in future be able to extend a bargaining council agreement to non-parties, it may set a bad industrial relations legal precedent. The ruling comes a week after the Free Market Foundation, an organization promoting free market ideals, filed a constitutional challenge against the provisions of the Labour Relations Act that allows collective agreements made in bargaining councils to be extended to employers and employees who are not members of the councils.
“This brutal attack against our country’s democratically legislated industrial relations system, in particular its collective bargaining architecture, cannot be left unchallenged,” said Kriel, speaking of the challenge. “We will mobilize to resist the reactionary, right wing economic and destructive intentions of the Free Market Foundation. Their intentions are not of any goodwill. It is nothing other than to create more and more exploitative conditions of vulnerable workers, to militate against our nation’s stated vision of decent work and to unleash a race to the bottom.”
March 28, 2013: Oil sector union Syntepci has formed the first women’s committee since it was formed 40 years ago that was inaugurated at a joint conference of oil and textile workers held to commenmorate International Women’s Day.
167 women workers from the oil and textile sector attended the conference on 15 March 2013 to encourage increased participation of women in the union. Two women activists received an award recognising their contribution to their union, which will hopefully inspire activism among others.
Project Coordinator Charlotte Nguessan urged women to participate in programs to combat HIV and AIDS in their places of work and in the family, in particular addressing stigma and discrimination. She spoke of how women are often rejected by their families when they test positive and the negative impact of denial on the take up of treatment to prevent mother to child transmission. Nguessan suggested that partners need to be encouraged to go for testing together when a woman is pregnant.
There was also an information session on the new Marriage Act in Ivory Coast presented by two representatives of the Association of Women Lawyers. The law has advantages for men and women. It allows for men to benefit from the pension of his wife upon her death. It has also reduced income tax levels for married women with children and workers have already seen their wages increase as a result of the new law.