The Guardian 13 April, 2005

Global briefs

BRITAIN: Returning Britainís railways to public ownership will save taxpayers at least £500 million(A$1.2 billion) a year, according to a report issued by the Catalyst research organisation. The RMT rail union, Britainís largest rail union, called the move "the only sane option in light of new evidence of the huge and growing cost of privatisation to taxpayers". "Catalyst has shown that public ownership will plug an enormous financial hole in the railways that has been leaking at least US £800 million (A$2 billion) into private pockets every year since 1996", RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said. The study shows that privatisation has already cost taxpayers over £6 billion (A$15 billion).

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Late last month Goran Markovic, head of the Workers Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was fired from his position as a teaching assistant in sociology at a private university. Authorities at the university had started putting pressure on Markovic last autumn after he headed the partyís slate in municipal elections. Since the countryís labour law bans the firing of workers for political convictions or membership, the university tried to get Markovic to resign voluntarily. When he refused, he was called in twice for meetings with the institutionís owner, a right-wing Serb who left Yugoslavia 30 years ago for the US and returned in recent years to buy up privatised state enterprises. After Markovic refused to say his party activity had been a mistake, he was dismissed.

PAKISTAN: A national strike by thousands of workers protesting against high unemployment and the military governmentís plans to privatise public utilities, brought government services in Pakistan to a halt last month. The walkout hit banks, hospitals, post offices, schools and colleges, transportation and other public services. "Workers and pensioners are being deceived", said Pirzada Imtiaz Syed, head of the All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU) which organised the strike. "We want real wage increases and real jobs", he added, "not a return to the labour conditions of the Middle Ages". Unemployment has risen to more than 25 percent of the countryís eight million workers. Polls show that about 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

GUATEMALA: After the Guatemalan Congress ratified and President Oscar Berger signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), protests organised by the Indigenous, Campesino, Union and Popular Movement (MISCP) continued around the country. Among protests from unions around the world was a letter from the AFL-CIO. In it the president of the peak US union body, John Sweeney, expressed his grave concern to President Berger that "violent means have been used to repress peaceful protesters" and urged the government to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks and "bring to an end" use of violent tactics to repress protests. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions issued a similar statement.

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