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World of Work:
World Labor
News Roundup

From JEFF APTER in Paris
Special to the UE NEWS

INDONESIA. Mokhtar Pakpahan, the leader of the Indonesian Prosperous Trade Union (SBSI), the country’s main independent union body, has been released from prison and the union legalized following the fall of dictator Suharto after a 32-year reign.

Pakpahan was arrested on the vague pretext of subversion on the union’s second national convention last September and on his release had to have urgent medical treatment. SBSI played a major role in the unrest which led to Suharto’s fall. The union now fears ordinary working people will have to shoulder the burden of a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The deterioration of Indonesia’s economy is expected to push unemployment to 11 percent, or 16 million people, by December. At the same time, 58 million will be living below the official poverty line, compared to 22 million last year.

GERMANY. Several unions — many of them UE’s sister organizations — are in the process of amalgamation. At the moment, the world’s largest single union is Germany’s IGMetall, which brings together 2.7 million employees in all branches of engineering and metalworking. Soon after reunification of West and East Germany in October 1991, it reached a dizzying 3.6 million members.

But the highest unemployment level in 50 years — four million or 11 percent of the workforce — has taken its toll on the unions, leading to the decision that the fight for jobs, wages and conditions can be better achieved through merger. Union membership fell from 13.7 million in 1991 to 10.5 million now, of which 8.9 million belong to the DGB, the country’s main labor federation. The merger process will reduce affiliation from 15 organizations at present to 11 mega-unions in the coming months and as few as five by 2000.

EUROPE. The European Trade Union Confederation has firmly endorsed its support for the 35-hour week as a major contribution to job creation. ETUC leader Emilio Gabaglio said that the French and Italian administrations’ plans to establish the 35-hour working week "open further opportunities to reduce working hours and create more jobs." Nearly 20 million people are unemployed in the 15-member countries of the European Union, a kind of European NAFTA, and unions in many other European countries, including Britain, Germany and Spain are fighting to reduce working hours and create new jobs.

DENMARK. Striking employees have been forced back to work by legislation following the biggest industrial action since 1985. Manufacturing, construction and transport were hit hardest by the stoppage during which a half a million workers — one fifth of the total workforce — were either on strike or locked out.

The strike was triggered when most rank-and-file union members rejected a deal between Denmark’s labor federation (LO) and the employers. The deal was rejected because the proposed settlement did not extend leave time sufficiently beyond five weeks.

Under Danish law, the administration must resolve national disputes if unions and employers are unable to negotiate an agreement and the two sides must carry out the decision. The compromise nevertheless gives workers two extra days annual holiday. Employees with children under age 14 will also get three extra "care days," two this year and one in 1999. Employers are to be compensated through a reduction in their health insurance contributions.

Denmark’s last two major strikes, in 1977 and 1985, were also ended by governmental intervention. Since 1945, the government has intervened 10 times in 12 national industrial disputes to impose solution.

PUERTO RICO. Unions carried a two-day general strike July 7-8 to protest the government’s plans to privatize the island’s state-owned telephone company. Some 500,000 workers took part in the protest, which successfully shut down industry, banking and commerce.

Although the government said it was willing to talk, the 6,700 telephone workers continue a strike they began on June 18. And the coordinating committee which led the general strike says another is possible in August. In addition, protests, automobile caravans and short, sporadic work stoppages are expected.

Workers fear job cuts and higher phone rates once the company is privatized but the government claims the sale is necessary to keep up with the global market. Unions are linking this struggle to the disastrous effects of health care privatization. Gov. Pedro Rosello approved the sale in May, and on July 7 rejected the strikers’ demand to submit the decision to a referendum. His predecessor in 1990 scrapped a plan to sell the company after widespread protests.

NORTHERN IRELAND. Organizers say that nearly 100 trade union stewards and activists from both communities have signed the Charter for Class Politics aimed at uniting workers. The Charter demands a minimum wage of 4.61 (roughly $8) an hour, full trade union rights and abolition of anti-union laws, an end to privatization and higher taxes on the rich to pay for hospitals and welfare.

UE News - 08/98

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