Workers of the World: ROUND-UP

Submitted by Anon on 18 August, 2003 - 7:01

  • People's United Opposition Party launched in Indonesia
  • Guatemalaen maquila workers' victory
  • Victory in the Hyundai strike
  • Sri Lankan trade unionists under attack
  • Yao Fuxin and Xio Yunliang moved to labour camp
  • Brazil pension reform sparks workers protest


People's United Opposition Party launched in Indonesia

The left in Indonesia has launched a new political party, in preparation for the 2004 election. At the end of July around 300 representatives from more than 50 organisations founded the People's United Opposition Party (Partai Persatuan Oposisi Rakyat, or Popor).

Dita Sari was elected the new party's chair. Popor's vice-chair is Jusuf Lakaseng, who like Sari is a leader of the socialist People's Democratic Party (PRD). Dita Sari said: "We have established this party to strengthen the national opposition forces, which have been divided by the elite forces, the oppressors of the people."

Sari said: "Our platform is clear, it is anti-New Order [as the old Suharto regime was known], anti-militarist and against global capitalism". The Popor congress agreed to reject economic neo-liberalism, call for an end to the war in Aceh and demand the speedy trial of all Suharto's crooks and human rights violators.

Among the organisations present were trade unions, including the large and politically independent food and drink workers' union and the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggle, as well as teachers' unions, peasant and human rights organisations. The National Student League for Democracy also affiliated to Popor.

Guatemalaen maquila workers' victory

The Candian-based Maquila Solidarity Network reports that workers at two Guatemalan garment factories owned by the Korean manufacturer Choi & Shin have signed their first ever collective bargaining agreement.

Workers had feared the factories would be shut down in order to get rid of the two unions, SITRACIMA and SITRACHOI, the only legally recognized unions in the country's maquila sector. In the midst of negotiations for the US/Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Guatemalan government threatened to deprive the company of its export licence if it failed to negotiate the agreement with the unions, reinstate unjustly fired union members, and gain agreement with the union on a plan to resolve problems in the factories.

The Guatemalan government has done little to protect the Choi & Shin workers' rights in the past, and has failed to prosecute those responsible for anti-union violence. According to the Network the government did not want the case to bcome an issue in the CAFTA negotiations.

  • For more information, click here

Victory in the Hyundai strike

Korean workers at Hyundai, the world's eighth-largest carmaker, have won a big pay rise and shorter working week after a seven-week strike. Under the deal, Hyundai agreed to raise wages for 40,000 workers by 8.6%, well above South Korea's 3.1% inflation rate and introduce a five-day working week in October.

Hyundai bosses also agreed to form a joint union and management committee to discuss adopting new technologies and job security, and agreed to notify the union 90 days before introducing new vehicle production or shifting production abroad.

The 47-day strike not only saw Hyundai lose millions in sales, but also hit production at the firm's overseas plants. Severe inventory shortages forced the company to halt production at its plants in Russia, Egypt, Malaysia and Pakistan.

The five-day working week has become the focus of workers concerns during the summer of discontent. The government promised to introduce the five-day week, but wants to allow employers to cut workers' pay. The victory at Hyundai demonstrates the power of the working class and the way cuts in working hours can be won by other workers.

Sri Lankan trade unionists under attack

Garment workers in Sri Lanka have faced intimidation and death threats while attempting to set up the first trade union in a free trade zone, according to War on Want.

In July, members of the Free Trade Zone Workers Union (FTZWU) at the Jaqalanka garment factory organised a ballot for trade union recognition. The factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, close to Colombo airport, produces garments for major brands such as Nike. Workers faced threats, intimidation and harassment from management in the lead up to the ballot, so few voted and the union was not recognised.

This is an extremely important struggle, not least because these workers are the first in Sri Lanka's free trade zones to try to organise.

For more information visit Tie Asia's website: www.tieassia.org/Jaqalanka.htm

Yao Fuxin and Xio Yunliang moved to labour camp

Xiao Yunliang and Yao Fuxin, leaders of the workers' protests last year in north-eastern China have been moved to a farm labour camp, according to the China Labour Bulletin.

They have been moved from the Liaoning City Detention Centre to Yingkou prison, several hundred miles away. The families were only told after the transfer took place. China Labour Bulletin says the move will mean that both men will be forced to carry out labour while suffering ill-health. Yingkou prison is also known as "new life" or "rebirth" prison and most of the inmates undertake intensive farm work.

Despite over three years of protest and petitions, the workers from the Ferro-Alloy Factory in Liaoyang where the men worked have not yet received the missing wages and unemployment benefits they are owed. In the face of almost daily police harassment, the workers in Liaoyang have repeatedly called for the release of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang and have promised to continue their campaign.

  • For more information, click here

Brazil pension reform sparks workers protest

Brazilian President Lula Da Silva managed to force his pension reforms through, despite protests outside the parliament. As legislators prepared to vote on the bill, armed riot police attacked 40,000 civil servants protesting about the reforms.

The reform will raise the age of retirement, place ceilings on civil servants' pensions and allow the pensions to be taxed - helping to keep the budget in surplus, and big business and the IMF happy. The changes still need to go to the upper house (Senate) for approval, but workers are already saying that Lula is a traitor to his working class roots.
Live fast-food, die young?

Every day a quarter of all Americans visit a fast-food restaurant. There are 30,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide and 2,000 new ones open every year . Although McDonald's profits have fallen in the last two years it is not the result of decline in the fast food market overall. The story of American fast food consumption is very impressively told by Eric Schlosser in his book Fast Food Nation. Liam Conway looks at the grisly detail of Scholosser's book

The fast-food industry is at the centre of the decline of average wages in America. From the slaughter houses, chip processing plants and chicken lots to the shiny, colourful restaurants this industry has a huge influence over politicians, especially when it comes to maintaining low-waged, non-union workplaces with poor or non-existent health and safety regulations.

Schlosser tells his story mainly through the experiences of the workers - they are his heroes - though he is somewhat clueless about how they might improve their fortunes. Take Elisa who works in one of Colorado Springs 21 McDonald's.

At 6 am Elisa starts preparing fast food. Everything is frozen - McMuffins, bacon, pancakes, biscuits - or freeze dried - scrambled eggs, orange juice. In fast food restaurants nothing is prepared on site and standardised preparation processes govern everything. As Elisa says, "everything is just add water".

In Burger King, burgers are placed on a conveyor belt and emerge 90 seconds later fully cooked. In McDonald's the fries have to be 0.28ins thick. In Taco Bell the guacamole isn't made by the workers in the kitchen but by even lower paid workers in a factory in Mexico.

No skill is required for this work - it's all built into the machines. McDonald's aim for "zero training" of their workforce but they receive $2,400 from the government for training every employee like Elisa.

When she's finished preparing Elisa works at the counter for seven hours. Like most fast food workers Elisa is very young - just 16 years old. Her parents are Puerto Rican and she has long since regretted her childhood dream that one day she would work in McDonald's.

While McDonald's executives cream in the training subsidies and use their Republican Party friends to keep down the minimum wage, young workers risk their lives at their work. Slips, falls, strains, burns are standard fare for the workers.

Less well known is the fact that four to five workers are murdered in fast food restaurants every month in the USA - fast food outlets are some of the few businesses that handle lots of cash. Workers are completely unprotected from armed robbers who often strike late at night when the streets are deserted. Often the robbers are ex-employees who know how to get to the cash. Working for McDonald's has literally made these young people criminals of want.

Schlosser also takes us on a journey to the source of the beef, fries and chicken that are at the basics of every happy meal. McDonald's is the biggest purchaser of beef and potatoes in the US and the second biggest buyer of chicken. The company has huge control over suppliers - their production processes and labour relations.

The chicken in McNuggets comes from a specially bred bird called Mr McDonald - it has unusually large breasts. The beef for the American Big Mac originates from cattle in feedlots of 100,000 head. The animals are fed on grain, steroids and antibiotics - they never see, let alone eat, a blade of grass. They're ready for slaughter in 3 months.

Until the 1970s slaughterhouses had some of the US's strongest unions. The unions went as the industry relocated to the wild west, where it is literally run by cowboys. The workers are mainly illegal migrants who live in compounds close to the slaughterhouses.

In the slaughterhouse it's hot and humid. Alongside conveyor belts men and women work at a rate of knots with sharp knives hacking away at the animals. They have to keep up with the production line. Knives often fly from the hand and injure other workers. Carcasses swing along the overhead rail so fast workers have to dodge them to avoid being concussed. This is the most dangerous job in the USA.

When the innards are pulled out of the animal, faeces fly across the slaughterhouse and end up on the burgers. Small wonder there has been such a huge rise in food poisoning in the USA - 200,000 cases are reported every day.

To cover up the shit in the meat, the crappy working conditions and the murders in happy hour, McDonald's and all the other fast-food giants sell themselves and their products as friends of the American family, especially the children. It's a massive "Truman Show" style deception. "The challenge", says Roy Burgold, Chief Marketing Executive, "is to make customers believe that McDonald's is their 'trusted friend'."

Schlosser's book is an easy way to learn the economics of globalisation and the mechanics of capitalism without the jargon of economics. What's missing, and given Schlosser's politics, it's hardly surprising, is any ideas about what to do to stop the barbarism that he so graphically describes.

The bosses depicted in Schlosser's book know the answer, because their main preoccupation is with labour laws - with preventing the rise of trade unions or any working class notions of solidarity. So far they have been successful in the US and Europe in undermining the ability of workers to fight back. The task of socialists to be at the forefront in organising the working class into independent unions, to build movements like No Sweat so that workers across international boundaries know what's going on and know how to fight collectively in their own interests. Collectively, the workers in the restaurants, slaughterhouses, potato plants and guacamole factories, can take on corporate capitalism and win. As any real Marxist knows, they are the only force on earth that can.

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