200,000 workers march
More than 200,000 Portuguese workers carried out the largest day of struggle in decades as they marched down the main boulevard of Lisbon on March 13 to demand an improvement in their living conditions. Workers from every trade and profession, service, production, transportation and public service, women and men, seniors and youths in this country of 10 million people filled the center of the capital in response to the call from the CGTP-IN union confederation.
In an earlier comment warning about the crisis, Bishop D. Manuel Clemente from Oporto, Portugal’s second city, said that real unemployment was at 15-20 percent in his region and that more and more middle-class families were experiencing hunger.
The progressive Portuguese Web site Odiario.info called the protest “a magnificent affirmation of combativeness, class consciousness and collective determination. The significance of this demonstration is clear. It represents an overwhelming response to the attempts of the government and of the big capitalist bosses to point to the international crisis as being the sole element responsible for the brutal aggravation of living and working conditions; and to make the workers pay all the costs and suffer all the consequences of the crisis; also to use the crisis to justify a new escalation of arbitrary measures, including a new wave of layoffs and an attack on workers’ rights that make jobs insecure.”
Premier José Sócrates and his nominally Socialist Party have carried out rightist social and economic policies since taking office four years ago.—John Catalinotto
100,000 peasants march
More than 100,000 peasants under the banner of All India Krishak and Khet Mazdoor Sangathan (All India Peasants and Agricultural Laborers Organization) from all over the state of West Bengal in India gathered in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) and marched to protest the anti-peasant policies of the federal and state governments that seek to uproot the peasants from fertile agricultural lands, and hand these lands over to national and foreign capitalists as Special Economic Zones for setting up industries and for real estate business.
Last year, in spite of state and other repressive acts, a determined and militant peasants’ struggle staved off the forcible acquisition of peasants’ land in the Nandigram region. Mass actions also stopped the setting up of a small-car factory at Singur.
The hungry and oppressed but determined peasants marched through the streets throwing a challenge to West Bengal government: “Either meet our demands or shoot us down.”
The demands included a stop to illegal markets and for supply, at a fair price to the peasants, of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as essential commodities; withdraw the tax on diesel fuel and supply free electric power to farmers with less than three acres of land; ensure a fair price for the agricultural produce, e.g., rice, potatoes and jute; stop police atrocities on the poor peasants and the tribal people; stop investment of foreign and national monopoly capital in retail trade; introduce free medical care and education for the rural poor; stop the trafficking of women; conserve and protect agricultural lands and protect the rural people from the ravages of drought, flood and river erosion.
The march ended with a huge public meeting where leading intellectuals of the state and political leaders from the Socialist Unity Center of India expressed solidarity with the peasants’ struggle.
Workers hold boss overnight
All the unions in France have called for “a day of action” March 19 to confront the loss of jobs in France. Official unemployment increased from 7.2 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 8.2 percent the last quarter of 2008 (Libération, March 5), and the provisional figures for 2009 are grim. France’s economy is predicted to shrink by at least 1 percent in 2009, meaning it is unlikely that hiring will pick up.
The mood of French workers is clear from what they did to the head of Sony France on March 11.
Sony is scaling back its manufacturing operations in France because its global losses across most of its products demand “cost cutting,” which is a polite word for layoffs.
When the head of Sony’s operations in France and its director of human resources went to their plant near Dax in an isolated area of southwest France to present their layoff plans, the 311 workers in the plant didn’t like what they heard.
So they “detained” the head of Sony France, the director of human resources and their local bosses in their offices overnight, releasing them only when the government agreed to act as a mediator.
Patrick Hachaguer, the CGT leader at this plant, said Sony offered one month of salary for each year worked, but nothing extra for workers over age 55. “We don’t have much to lose because we’ve already lost our jobs,” he added. “Sony France decided to give us cut-rate compensation when we’re in a much worse situation because of the economic crisis.”
Sony had previously offered more compensation in its layoff packages.—G. Dunkel
Thousands demonstrate in victory celebration
A general strike in the French-controlled Caribbean island of Martinique has ended with agreements between the February 5 Strike Collective and the local business and government officials.
The strike had coincided with similar actions in Guadeloupe, where a 44-day work stoppage secured a 200-Euros monthly salary increase. It has been reported that the agreements in Martinique are along the same lines as those in Guadeloupe.
Both strikes had been intensely political, with calls for a greater say among the majority African population in the affairs of the French colony, which is nominally an overseas department of the mainland.
State repression brought violence on several occasions in both Guadeloupe and Martinique during the general strikes. In Guadeloupe, trade unionist Jacques Bino was killed on Feb. 16 in a clash involving the French riot police who were dispatched in the hundreds to quell the strike. The workers named the agreement ending the strike the “Jacques Bino Accord.”
In Martinique, workers clashed with riot police as well as business elites, called the “Bekes,” who are largely the French descendants of slave owners from the 18th and 19th centuries. French police reported that four of their personnel were injured in rebellions that erupted in late February.
In a tremendous culmination to the strike, a crowd estimated at 20,000 turned out to celebrate the victory on March 14. The population of the island is approximately 400,000.
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