||Issue No. 132||19 April 2002|
Interview: Generation Next
Legal: We’re All Terrorists Now
Unions: Holding the Baby
International: Taking It To The Streets
History: Off the Wall
Economics: Financing International Development
Satire: Queen Mum's Life Tragically Cut Short
Review: Return of The People’s Parliament
Poetry: Silent Night
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Where's the Silver Tail?
Taking It To The Streets
Indian and Italian national trade union centres successfully co-ordinated national strikes and mass demonstrations this week to protest against their respective governments plans to introduce new labour laws which will make it much easier to dismiss workers.
In Italy on Tuesday nearly 12 million workers backed a national 24 hour general strike - that's almost the whole of the national workforce.
On the same day in Indian unions took our more than 10 million workers in state-run firms, banks, as well as insurance and financial sector, to protest government plans to amend a 55-year-old labour law, during the coming parliamentary session, which will make it easier to lay off employees.
These massive strikes on the same day, in both a developed and a developing country, show that while governments are prepared to buckle under pressure from corporates to make it easier to hire-and-fire working people are prepared to fight back against these pressures.
In recent years the pressure of globalisation has forced even labour and social democratic government's to swing to the right, cutting back spending on the public sector, cutting back workers' rights and privatising larger hunks of the state sector.
The only effective opposition to this swing to the right seems to be coming from organised labour using industrial and political muscle to drag their government's back towards the Left.
Certainly in Italy political commentators are arguing that the Left political parties are unable to put up a fight, and the only real organised opposition to the laissez faire politics of the Berlusconi government is coming from the union movement.
And the union movements throughout the rest of Europe are watching anxiously the fight now being conducted by Italy's trade unions.
They acknowledge that if Berlusconi wins it will create new pressures on them from their respective government to 'liberalise' hire-and-fire laws.
Tony Blair is rooting for Berlusconi, while the British TUC and its affiliates are actively backing their trade union sisters and brothers in Rome and the rest of the Italian peninsula.
A number of European trade union centres have passed motions of solidarity but several industry unions - especially in Germany - are hinting at stronger industrial action by their members, in support of Italian workers.
The Italian general strike - the first in 20 years - was co-ordinated by the three national trade union centres the CGIL, CISL and UIL.
The three trade union centres rarely co-operate but the feeling among rank-and-file workers about the threat to job security from the Berlusconi government was so strong that the union leaderships felt compelled to put aside their normal hostility and work together on this dispute.
The anger among the workforce is due to the Berlusconi government's plan to scrap Article 18 of the country's 30-year-old Workers' Statute, which says employees cannot be sacked "without just cause".
The evident success of the general strike has forced the conservative Italian PM to act to defuse union opposition to his reforms by offering a new round of talks and adding new social security benefits for workers who might be sacked because of his reforms as well as extra benefits for part-time workers, female workers and retirees.
At this stage none of the union centres is budging and all are committed to a new round of strikes and protests on May Day.
The stoppage by Indian trade unionists was called to protest amendments to that country's Industrial Relations Act which would increase the number of companies, both public and private, that can dismiss workers without government permission.
The proposed law would mean that firms with less than 1,000 employees would not have to seek authority to relocate or fire their employees. Current law sets the threshold at companies with 100 or more employees.
According to the organisers of the strike, 98 percent of Indian factories would be able to dismiss workers without official oversight.
Workers in India have been traditionally well protected by industrial relations laws which have come under pressure in the last decade as government s in New Delhi seeks to liberalise its laws and change the balance of power to favour employers.
In the last decade both central and state governments have rushed headlong into privatisation; the selling off of state corporations has always been accompanied with massive job losses.
The strike in India on Tuesday comes just ahead of a new parliamentary session where plans to increase the rate of privatisation are about to be debated.
The trade union campaigns are beginning to bite with commentators claiming the criticism of the pro-boss reforms has become so widespread that many believe that the Coalition government running India is about to find excuses to decelerate the rate of privatisation - and to halt the changes to the industrial laws.
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