The Guardian 7 December, 2005

Global briefs

IRELAND: A ferry workers’ protest over hiring of lower-paid replacement crews from Eastern Europe has taken on national dimensions, with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern soundly criticising the company, and the ferry workers’ union calling for a national day of protest. The crisis began on November 24 when workers barricaded themselves on board two of Irish Ferry’s boats after the company brought replacement workers, accompanied by security personnel, on board one of the ferries. The Prime Minister termed Irish Ferry’s approach "a retrograde step … not in line with Irish industrial relations; they are trying to turn back the clock." Calling the dispute "a defining moment in the relations between employers and workers in this country", Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) General President Jack O’Connor said he would urge the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to call a national day of protest.

HAITI: International human rights organisations led by the National Lawyers Guild and Global Exchange registered a complaint on November 16 with the Organisation of American States (OAS) Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The organisations accused Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping forces of directly participating in the massacre of civilians or giving important logistical support to massacres. Their charges are based on testimony of witnesses and incidents caught on film. The human rights groups also said UN troops were directly involved in the deaths of civilians in six neighbourhoods where they failed to protect civilians targeted by the Haitian National Police. The UN command has denied the accusation.

NEW ZEALAND: Workers from Starbucks stores across the city of Auckland spontaneously walked off the job on November 23, turning a protest that started at one store into a citywide strike. When workers heard that managers were to cover shifts of protesting workers at the Karangahape store, over 30 workers left 10 different Auckland Starbucks stores to join KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s workers and other supporters there. "What began as an event to highlight the poor conditions of low-wage and minimum-wage workers turned into a show of solidarity and strength between Auckland’s Starbucks workers", said campaign coordinator Simon Oosterman. Daniel Gross, co-founder of the New York-based Starbucks’ Workers Union, called the strike an important step toward changing working conditions in the fast-food industry worldwide.

LIBERIA: The International Labour Rights Fund (ILRF) has filed suit in a California court, accusing the Bridgestone Firestone consortium and the Liberia-based Firestone Plantations Company — the world’s largest rubber plantation — of imposing virtual slavery conditions on an estimated 14,000 Liberian plantation workers. The organisation’s suit demands "injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and disgorgement of all profits." The suit details very long hours and draconian working conditions coupled with low wages and shocking living conditions in company shantytowns. It also charges that the high output quotas forced many workers to get unpaid help from their underage children, in order to avoid being fired. The ILRF called the plantation system "a private fiefdom" that started as a criminal occupation of Liberia by Firestone in 1926.

Back to index page