Panic in Paradise

Workers around the world are showing a growing desire to exercise their fundamental labour rights in response to the dual threats of a lingering pandemic-induced job cuts and an abnormal spike in cost of living. Employers everywhere refuse to honour workers’ universal right to join union. The situation is no better even in industrially advanced countries, not to speak of backward third world regimes, many of which are out and out authoritarian. In India new labour codes introduced by the right-wing Modi government will make it extremely difficult to organise labour in trade union. Hard-earned union rights are being ruthlessly curtailed by the corporates with the connivance of persons in power. They now frequently resort to lay-offs and retrenchments while workers look helpless in absence of basic labour rights. Rightist populism that dominates polity at the moment, in most countries, including so-called advanced western democracies, is a new weapon to bash labour.

Much to the dismay of global business tycoons this year workers and employees in many places chose May Day to launch their agitation programme and serve strike notice. People attended the traditional May Day rally in large numbers in France against the French pension reform law and for social justice. In France workers took to the streets in Paris and other big cities during Trade Union organised protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s increase in retirement age. Elsewhere employees of the largest labour union in the Netherlands, FNV resolved to go on strike to force the union itself to pay them higher wages. The union leaders said their employers had missed a May 1 ultimatum to raise its wage offer for the coming years. They said this would result in a general strike by FNV staff, with more strike action to follow if demands are not met.

And in Italy the three main unions held a huge rally in the southern city of Protenza protesting against a labour package approved by Prime Minister Georgia Melani’s far right government.

Meanwhile, thousands of film and television writers will go on strike throwing Hollywood into turmoil as the entertainment enterprises grapple with seismic changes triggered by the global streaming TV boom. The Writers Guild of America called its first work stoppage in 15 years after failing to reach an agreement for higher pay from studios such as Walt and Netflix. The last strike lasted 100days and cost the industry more than $ 2 billion. In truth employers understand only one language--the language of stalled production and loss in profit. For one thing even people in America are now facing crisis for technological up-gradation. Then a union representing American Airlines Group pilots said its members had authorised a strike mandate ahead of the busy summer travel season.

And Bangladesh workers got into focus as the Industry ALL observed the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster when more than 1,100 people died because the Plaza---the eight -storey building housing five garment factories collapsed.

The tragedy of Rana Plaza served as a turning point for the textile and garment industry as the Bangladesh Accord was created. Unions were able to turn a calamity into a historic agreement to make the garment factories safer. As per the agreement workers now have the right to refuse unsafe work. But in a situation of acute unemployment workers are being forced to work in unsafe conditions, nothwithstanding the Accord. Toward the end of last year, the Accord was extended to Pakistan. To date 46 brands have signed the Pakistan Accord. But the fight for the garment’s workers working with health hazards and risks, is not yet over. More brands need to join the Accord, especially in North America, to gain the leverage essential to make this a truly global Accord. Garment factory workers are mostly women and they deserve a workplace that could provide living wage and decent working atmosphere, not a concrete ghetto that threatens to take their lives.

The impact of Russia-Ukraine war on the economy globally is enormous as it has fuelled inflation and unprecedented price rise of essential commodities making things difficult even for organised sector workers. As for the unorganised sector millions the less said the better. The May Day rallies could have been a war-cry against war dictated in the main by the American military-industrial complex. No, that didn’t happen. Workers finished their May Day meeting by demanding fair wages only.


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Vol 55, No. 46, May 14 - 20, 2023