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Vol. 77/No. 7      February 25, 2013

On the Picket Line

South African farmworkers win minimum wage raise

South African Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant announced Feb. 4 a 52 percent increase in the minimum wage for farmworkers in the country. The increase comes after strikes by tens of thousands of farmworkers in the Western Cape in November, December and January.

“It’s not enough, but it’s more than before,” Ryno Filander, a farmworker near Robertson, said in a phone interview. The increase from 69 rand a day to 105 rand ($11.77) is less than the 150 rand farmworkers were demanding.

Farmworkers faced rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades from the police, opposition from government officials, and harassment and violent attacks by the farm owners. The bosses worked overtime to foster divisions between native-born and foreign-born workers and between seasonal workers and permanent employees.

The most recent strike started Jan. 9 and began winding down Jan. 25.

“Some workers are still languishing in jail, denied bail, and about 400 who are out on bail are facing charges of intimidation and public violence from the latest strike. And more than 1,000 workers have been dismissed by the farmers in retaliation for the strike,” said Nosey Pieterse by phone Feb. 8. Pieterse is general secretary of the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union, one of several unions involved in the strike.

During the November and December strikes some immigrant workers were deported, “but this time around we have not received any reports of deportations,” he said.

“Our fight wasn’t just for raising the minimum wage,” Filander, a member of the Commercial Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), said. “It was also about the conditions farmworkers face,” including housing, job safety, education, land access and how workers are treated by bosses on the job.

“Yes, we have learned through these strikes,” said Simon Jacobs, a farmworker and shop steward with CSAAWU. “We learned that if you want something you must fight for it.”

—Seth Galinsky

Quebec hotel workers fight to keep union jobs

SAINT-HYACINTHE, Quebec —The strike by 180 workers since Oct. 28 at Hôtel des Seigneurs here took a new turn Jan. 10 with a news release saying the city plans to buy the convention center that is part of the hotel.

The hotel and convention center is owned by Vancouver-based SilverBirch Hotels and Resorts, which has more than 20 hotels across Canada.

Since the middle of last year labor contracts have been negotiated in 35 Quebec hotels. Union members in more than 20 hotels won annual wage increases of 3 percent through 2016, a 2 percent increase in employer contributions to pensions funds, and some improvement in job protection. Hôtel des Seigneurs workers have been demanding an hourly raise of 60 cents in addition to the increase won in other hotels in order to reduce a significant wage gap with nearby Montreal hotels. They have also been demanding protection from job losses, including from the convention center sale.

Local union President Robin St-Pierre said to the Militant that the union wants the collective agreement to be honored by any new buyer. Otherwise, union workers could be replaced in the convention center.

“What’s at stake are jobs in the kitchen, convention center room set-up and cleaning, and waiting on tables—that’s more than half the unionized workers,” Monique Nault, who has worked in banquet services for 26 years, explained on the picket line Jan. 31.

“We won’t go back till they guarantee our jobs in the convention center,” said Kim Baron, a kitchen worker with 25 years seniority.

—Philippe Tessier and Katy LeRougetel

Rally supports Peugeot strikers near Paris

AULNAY, France—Several hundred strikers and supporters rallied in front of the Peugeot auto assembly factory in this northeastern suburb of Paris Feb. 5 to support 400 workers on strike here since Jan. 16.

Peugeot said it will close the plant of 2,800 workers next year and eliminate 8,000 jobs in France. Workers are demanding a guarantee of jobs with comparable wages after the plant closing.

Local and national union leaders and local elected officials spoke at the rally, including Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the French Communist Party.

The strike was called by the three unions in the Aulnay plant: the CGT, CFDT and SUD. While most production workers are not on strike, production is paralyzed.

The layoffs at Peugeot are part of moves by bosses in France to become more competitive. On Jan. 11, a number of boss associations and trade union federations concluded a national agreement that would make it easier to lay off or transfer workers, lower wages and change hours in the event a company faces “serious economic difficulties.”

The Socialist Party government of President François Hollande has pledged to adopt legislation in March that would give force of law to the agreement.

The two unions that refused to sign—the CGT and FO—have called for demonstrations against the agreement in early March. They represent the majority of unionized workers in France.

Renault is currently seeking an agreement with unions to eliminate 8,260 jobs in France, freeze wages in 2013, and reduce vacation time in exchange for promises to increase the volume of cars produced in the country.

Goodyear recently announced plans to shut one of its factory in Amiens, which employs 1,173 workers.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls instructed police Feb. 5 to “closely” monitor companies facing economic difficulties where there is a “risk of radicalization.”

Claude Bleton and Derek Jeffers

Workers strike New Zealand magazine over severance pay

AUCKLAND, New Zealand—Twenty-three members of the FIRST Union (Finance, Industrial, Retail, Stores and Transport) went on strike Jan. 31 against magazine distributor Gordon & Gotch after contract talks broke down over the company’s moves to reduce redundancy (severance pay).

“The company says it is not making money but that is not important,” said Maggie Qui on the picket line Feb. 3. “We have been here many years and deserve to have that redundancy pay.”

Qui, who has worked for Gordon & Gotch for eight years, said her job in the returns department is threatened by moves to process more and more returns online. Now the bosses are looking to eliminate what for her would be four weeks’ worth of wages in severance.

Workers on the picket line said bosses successfully bribed two machine operators with a pay raise to cross the picket line and have been operating with the two workers, management and agency staff (temporary workers).

The company did not return calls requesting comment.

—Annalucia Vermunt

Related articles:
NY school bus strikers resist bosses, city gov’t
‘If they do this to us, they’ll do it to everyone’
Uruguay strikers win right to suspend work over safety
On-the-job construction deaths rise in New York
5 miners killed in first 5 weeks of year
Membership in US unions is lowest in nearly a century
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