World of Work:
From JEFF APTER in Paris
Special to the UE NEWS
INDONESIA. Mokhtar Pakpahan,
the leader of the Indonesian Prosperous Trade Union (SBSI), the countrys 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
unions 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
Suhartos 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 Indonesias 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 UEs sister organizations are in the process of
amalgamation. At the moment, the worlds largest single union is Germanys
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 countrys 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 Denmarks 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.
Denmarks 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 governments plans to privatize the
islands 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