This column is devoted to reporting the resistance by working people to the employers' assault on their living standards, working conditions, and unions.
We invite you to contribute short items to this column as a way for other fighting workers around the world to read about and learn from these important struggles. Jot down a few lines about what is happening in your union, at your workplace, or other workplaces in your area, including interesting political discussions.
Kmart Workers Fight Bosses' Attendance Plan
Chanting "No Justice, No Peace," a dozen workers picketed the offices and cafeteria at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Kmart distribution center May 18, as more than 70 workers met with management in the cafeteria. The members of Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) Local 2603 are demanding equal paid time off with workers at most other Kmart distribution centers.
Kmart's draconian attendance policy, or 'bank of hours' as it is called, has led to 100 firings in the past 18 months. Other workers felt compelled to quit when their bank of hours ran out. After one year, workers receive a bank of 40 paid and 40 unpaid hours that they can miss. Workers with less than a year receive only 40 paid hours. If anyone, for any reason, exceeds their bank, they are dismissed.
After surveying the other Kmart centers, ACTWU discovered that workers at all but one other one received 80 paid hours after one year. So, "Stand up for 80/40" has become the slogan of the day, and workers are demanding that it be implemented immediately, not dragged through contract negotiations.
Kmart has refused to settle the issue immediately, but workers in Greensboro are not giving up. During warm-up exercises and as they leave at the end of second shift, workers chant slogans. Break-room meetings have been held to explain the issue to the entire workforce, and many workers wear "Stand up for 80/40" stickers. A public plant gate rally is planned for May 24.
ACTWU members are also beginning to discuss how to reach out to a new layer of temporary workers from Mexico who have recently begun to work at the center. The company is pushing them to work at a much faster pace than the norm. A recent meeting of the union Justice Committee decided to put out some stickers in Spanish and to include Spanish picket signs at the May 24 rally .
Protest in El Salvador
Some 5,000 state workers marched in San Salvador May 15 to protest a proposed hike in the value-added tax, oppose government privatization plans, and demand pay raises. The demonstrators came primarily from the state telecommunications and hydroelectric companies. The government's proposal also includes a tax increase on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes.
12,000 tractor workers strike in Polan
Some 12,000 workers at the Ursus tractor factory went on strike May 8. The workers are demanding a monthly pay increase of $70 to make up for inflation, running at 30 percent annually, as well as low-interest loans for the plant. The workers are facing layoffs as the government moves to cut back at many state-owned enterprises.
On May 19, the strikers blocked a main railway line out of Warsaw, forcing trains to be re-routed. They also staged two marches in the capital to press their demands. The prime minister, Jozef Oleksy, said the government refused to negotiate in an atmosphere of "tension and aggression."
South Korea riot cops arrest Hyundai strikers
The South Korean government dispatched 1,000 riot police to halt a sit-down strike at the Hyundai Motor factory in Ulsan - the largest car factory in the country - on May 19. The cops arrested about 280 workers who were camping out at the plant. The workers were protesting a company decision to shut down some production lines indefinitely.
The Federation of Hyundai Labor Unions announced a rally to protest the government's action for May 22. The union alliance represents 50,000 workers at 25 Hyundai companies, though neither the company nor the government officially recognizes the union. Seoul has deployed 7,000 police in Ulsan to search for and arrest other workers and union leaders associated with the protest, and to prevent further demonstrations against the company and government.
South Korean president Kim Young Sam also warned workers at the state telecommunications company that a planned strike would be met harshly, citing it as a threat to national security. The strike threat was a response to punitive measures taken against union leaders.
Diane Shur and M.J. Rahn, members of ACTWU Local 2603
from Greensboro contributed to this column.
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