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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Red Review #95 -- International Left and Labour News

With news from India, Cuba, the USA, Canada, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Chile and elsewhere.

There are also a number of stories related to the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh as well as to the deaths of Harry Belafonte and South African Communist leader Chris Matlhako.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) meeting in honour of the birth anniversary of Lenin, April 22, 2023 -- image via Facebook

April 19:

Addressing Cuba’s recently-convened National Assembly on April 19, President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed confidence that the Cuban People would overcome warlike measures imposed by the United States.

“Congratulations to everyone on the Day of Victory!” he proclaimed. “On April 19 in 1961, on the sands of Playa Girón (Girón Beach), Cuba won the right to celebrate this day in providing the first great defeat of imperialism in America. It was the triumph of the just against the unjust, of little David against the giant Goliath, of a socialist revolution under the nose of the empire.

“Thanks to this victory we today, on the tenth such occasion, install the People’s Assembly.” He declared that each of the 470 deputies “defends the interests of the majority,” that none of them won their seat through money or from the backing of an electoral party.

April 20:

With statements from the SACP and parties in Greece, the Netherlands, Turkey, the USA, Britain and Kenya.

Communists around the world are mourning the death on April 20 of famed South African Communist militant and internationalist Chris Matlhako.

The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) pays tribute to fallen hero of the working class and leader in the South African Communist Party (SACP), Comrade Chris Matlhako.

The CPS conveys heartfelt condolences to his family, the SACP as well as the working class in South Africa and across the world.

We also offer our deepest condolences to SACP General Secretary, Comrade Solly Mapaila, with whom he worked for a long time at the SACP’s head office and ensured the unity and continuity of the SACP in that regard.

A celebrated internationalist, Comrade Chris Matlhako lived and worked for the fulfilment of the working-class struggle and ushering of socialism in the world. His contribution to the struggle against the apartheid regime from his youthful age remains an inspiration to the young people of Swaziland as they fight for democracy.

On behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada, we send our deepest sympathy to the family of Comrade Chris Matlhako, and our condolences to the South African Communist Party which has lost an outstanding leader and cadre of the SACP and of the South African people. Comrade Chris Matlhako was also a prominent spokesperson and participant in the international communist movement, and a valued comrade and friend to the Communist Party of Canada.

His presence will be sorely missed at the International Meetings of the Communist and Workers' Parties, as we chart a collective course forward in the struggle to defeat imperialist war and exploitation, and to win a new world of peace, democracy, environmental sustainability, and socialism based on the political power of the working class and the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.

The Communist Party of Poland conveys its deepest condolences on passing away Comrade Chris Matlhako to his family, friends and comrades.

Comrade Chris Matlhako was a long time member of the Central Committee and the Secretary for International Affairs of the South African Communist Party, an activist fully devoted to the cause of socialism. He was convinced about the importance of internationalism and unity of the working class against imperialism and exploitation. Many times he participated in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties and other international events. Comrade Chris was very active in international peace movement and served as the General-Secretary of the Friends of Cuba Society, promoting international friendship and opposing imperialism.

The Workers Party of Ireland is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of comrade Chris Matlhako, member of the PB of the CC and Secretary for International Relations of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and conveys its message of deepest condolences to the family and friends of comrade Chris and to his comrades in the SACP.

Comrade Chris was a dedicated communist who spent his life in the service of the working class who joined the liberation struggle as a student, actively participating in the student movement to fight against the apartheid system and he joined the African National Congress and engaged in the mass democratic movement as an activist and leader. He was a longstanding member of the South African Communist Party, active at all levels and making a powerful contribution to party work at leadership level.

A dedicated internationalist, comrade Chris was well known within the international communist movement, including through his participation in International Meetings of the Communist and Workers’ Parties and the meetings of its Working Group. He served his party and the working class with distinction.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) expresses its deep condolences for the unfortunate loss of comrade Chris Matlhako, outstanding leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and who was its Secretary of International Relations of the Central Committee.

Comrade Chris Matlhako from a very young age joined the struggles for the liberation of South Africa from the apartheid regime, dedicated his life to the cause of socialism, the organization of the South African working class and the exercise of international solidarity. He was a dear friend of the cause of the Venezuelan working people in their struggle against imperialist aggressions.

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, in a televised address to the nation on Thursday, April 20, announced his plan to nationalize the country’s lithium industry to boost the economy and protect the environment.

“Chile has one of the largest lithium reserves in the world. It is a mineral that, being in electric bus and car batteries, is key in the fight against the climate crisis, against climate change. It is an opportunity for economic growth that will be difficult to beat in the short term. Together with the development of green hydrogen, it is the best chance we have at transitioning to a sustainable and developed economy. We can’t afford to waste it,” said President Boric.

He said that his national lithium policy includes the creation of a state-owned company, which would eventually take control of the country’s lithium mining sector from private industry giants. In this regard, he added that future lithium contracts would only be issued as public-private partnerships, with full state control. He also said that the government would not terminate current contracts, and hoped that companies would be open to state participation before the contracts expire.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his Bolivian counterpart Luis Arce reaffirmed their strategic alliance and signed 13 agreements covering oil, gas, mining, education, healthcare, and culture.

On Thursday, Arce arrived in Caracas where he met with Maduro to lead the formalization of the accords. The areas of cooperation were established during the Venezuela-Bolivia Third Joint Integration Commission installed the previous day with delegations from both countries, represented by the Venezuelan and Bolivian foreign ministers, Yván Gil and Rogelio Mayta, respectively.

In a televised joint press conference, Arce said the agreements “marked the relaunching” of the countries’ bilateral relations and pledged to continue working with Caracas to achieve regional integration. “We want Venezuela to know that it has a great ally and partner in Bolivia, not just commercially but for strategical and long-term issues.”

The contract and casual workers in BSNL have been facing the challenges of being overworked and underpaid for the past several years. The sufferings have multiplied after the introduction of outsourcing work and the possibility of permanent jobs being ruled out.

The casual and contract workers in Kozhikode and Wayanad districts, which fall under the Kozhikode SSA of BSNL, are on a relay hunger strike since April 18. They are protesting against the highhandedness of the outsourcing agencies, delay in wage disbursal and denial of social welfare measures from the franchisees.

Outsourcing has resulted in the reduction of wages by around 50% while the number of workers engaged has come down by 60%. The number of contract workers across the state has reduced to around 2,000 from 7,500 after the introduction of outsourcing.

The workers are accusing the BSNL, the principal employer, of remaining silent despite repeated representations over the violations from the companies engaged. The contract workers have resolved to continue the hunger strike until their demands are met.

April 21:

On April 21 the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) released an English language translation of an interview that its General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas did with the newspaper Proto Thema. It touched on a number of domestic and international issues. Here we republish answers to four questions on what it means to be Left, nationalization and socialism.

April 22:

The Communist Party of Ireland strongly condemns the decision of the coalition government to appoint Dame Louise Richardson, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, to chair the government’s Consultative Forum on International Security Policy and to draft the final report on the future of the security of this state.

The government intends to hold a series of staged events with “military experts”, both national and international, to pontificate on why in today’s world no one can any longer be neutral and why we should follow the example of Finland and Sweden in joining NATO. Tanaiste Micheal Martin said that Dame Richardson “has a strong expertise in security policy” and will “play a hugely positive role in chairing the discussions”.

The question must be posed, who has in the past and who now threatens this state? The government has not outlined where the threat to the Irish people comes from and why we need to change our traditional policy of neutrality. The only state to have attacked towns and cities in this country has been the British state – a member of NATO. A state whose security and military policies Dame Richardson fully supports. The other main threat to the Irish people came from the EU, when the Commission forced the Irish government to accept liability for 42% of European bank debt and impose austerity on our population. Remember Jean-Claude Trichet’s threat that “a bomb would go off in Dublin” if bondholders were burned?

April 23:

Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) state president A Soundararajan said even when the government had restricted the working time to eight hours, many companies were forcing the employees to work for more than 12 hours, resulting in organisations like CITU challenging it in courts.

“Now if they empower the organisations to extend it to 12 hours, there is no doubt that the working hours will be extended to 16 unofficially. This will affect the families and also results in fatigue syndrome now prevalent in countries like Japan,” Soundararajan said.

He warned this could result in spontaneous protests. “We oppose it tooth and nail. We are meeting tomorrow to decide on a future course of action,” he said. State government employees association president S Thamizhselvi and general secretary J Lakshminarayan, in a joint statement, described the bill as a ‘Black Act’ against the workers and demanded the bill be withdrawn immediately.

April 24:

Ten years ago, on the morning of 24 April 2013, the world was shaken by the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza, an eight-story building that housed several garment factories in Savar, on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Reportedly constructed on unsuitable land, the building also violated construction regulations, used substandard building materials, was extended by four floors without permission, and involved the bribery of officials to overlook these issues.

The catastrophe resulted in the deaths of 1,134 people and left over 2,500 injured, sending shockwaves throughout the fashion industry and sparking global demands for improved working conditions and labour rights in the garment industry. Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, has spent almost a decade in prison despite attempting to secure bail earlier this month. He is still facing multiple legal cases following the incident and is one of 36 people currently on trial for murder for the deaths caused by the building collapse.

Although a decade has passed since the tragedy, for many of the survivors and the families who lost loved ones, the pain and trauma are still raw. Among them is Nilufa Begum, a 40-year-old former swing operator at the Phantom Apparels garment factory on the fifth floor of Rana Plaza. Nilufa miraculously survived the collapse, even after a concrete beam fell on her, but her life was forever changed.

In the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which came months after a factory fire at Tazreen Fashions that killed more than 100 garment workers, unions and fashion brands created the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The Accord, which covers factories producing ready-made garments, has been successful in large part because it is a legally binding agreement. Accord inspectors have conducted more than 40,000 inspections and required 513 factories to comply with remediation.

Yet with more than 4,000 garment factories and more than 4 million workers, 58 percent of them women, safety hazards remain. A series of developments have weakened implementation of the Accord, including the ejection of the Accord Foundation from its office in Bangladesh and its replacement with an employer- and brand-dominated process in which worker voice is limited. And workers seeking to form unions to improve safety and health increasingly are facing employer and government harassment and even violence. Democratic unions encounter stiff resistance from authorities when they apply for the registration required to operate legally.

“The greatest challenges exercising freedom of association is the adverse mindset of employers,” says Rashadul Alam Raju, general secretary of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF). “Whenever workers organize, the employers try different means, including harassing and using violence against the workers, filing false legal cases against them and terminating them to prevent them from organizing. The reluctance of government bodies to address the problems is the second challenge.”

The Make Amazon Pay coalition is calling on Amazon to sign the International Accord for health and safety in the apparel and textile industry on the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. 

On April 24, 2013, the world was left stunned by the tragic loss of over 1,100 workers and injuries to over 2,000 others resulting from the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Following this catastrophic event, UNI Global Union and IndustriALL, the global union federations, spearheaded negotiations with clothing brands. The objective was to prevent a recurrence of the Rana Plaza disaster and to ensure that the safety of garment workers is prioritized to prevent similar tragedies in the future. 

“Amazon’s failure to sign the Accord is a failure to respect the workers producing goods in its supply chains, said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “As we mark the ten-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, we call on Amazon to sign the Accord and ensure the safety of its workers.” 

Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Monday met with a delegation of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) led by Roberto Morales Ojeda, member of the Political Bureau and secretary of organization of the PCC Central Committee.

Noting both China and Cuba are socialist countries and that China attaches great importance to the development of China-Cuba relations, Li, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said the two countries' leaders have jointly pointed out the direction for the development of relations between the two parties and the two countries.

China is willing to work with Cuba to faithfully implement the important consensus reached by the top leaders of the two parties and countries, deepen friendship, and expand mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation to further advance China-Cuba relations, said Li.

April 25:

As well as performing global hits such as Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), winning a Tony award for acting and appearing in numerous feature films, Belafonte spent his life fighting for a variety of causes. He bankrolled numerous 1960s initiatives to bring civil rights to Black Americans; campaigned against poverty, apartheid and Aids in Africa; and supported leftwing political figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

The Carnation Revolution that swept away decades of fascist rule in Portugal began on April 25, 1974. The revolution saw sweeping social and economic reforms and helped bring the end of Portuguese colonial power. The far left and the Communist Party played a leading rule in the early days of the revolution.

On the 49th anniversary of the revolution and with the 50th anniversary only a year off, the Portuguese Communist Party has been reflecting on the importance and legacy of it as well as its lessons and meaning for future struggles.

Here we republish English translations of a speech (and video) by Paulo Raimundo, General Secretary of the PCP from April 23 about the revolution as well as a comprehensive PCP Central Committee statement about it from December.

IATSE supports the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) in their collective fight to win a fair contract from Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on behalf of the talented workers they represent.

The motion picture and television industry thrives on the creativity, skill, and labor of every worker involved, and writers’ contributions are an important part of the success of the films, television shows, and other media IATSE members work on. We recognize and support our fellow entertainment workers in their mission to negotiate an agreement that addresses their issues from the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media-mega corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars.

In response to the AMPTP’s familiar resistance, the writers have taken the step of voting in favor of strike authorization, arming Writers’ Guild leadership with the authority to call a strike if the ongoing talks do not produce necessary results. As their current agreement is set to expire on May 1, 2023, I call on the AMPTP to immediately acknowledge the contributions of these talented and dedicated professionals and negotiate with their unions in good faith.

Should it become apparent a strike is imminent, we are prepared to inform our members of all relevant individual rights and obligations within the context of all existing IATSE-AMPTP agreements.

Starbucks workers from the Stuyvesant Plaza location will be joined by Albany union leaders and elected officials for an unfair labor practice strike to protest Starbucks’ refusal to bargain with workers, according to Starbucks Workers United. This will be the first Albany Starbucks store to go on an unfair labor practice strike, joining other Starbucks workers across New York, including Rochester, Buffalo, and Ithaca.

The tenured and tenure-track faculty at the University of Michigan – Flint (UMF) have begun efforts to unionize.

A group of about 16 organizers have been meeting, circulating information and membership cards, and consulting with eligible colleagues. The union would be called UM AFT-AAUP Local 5671 [American Federation of Teachers — American Association of University Professors, affiliating with a labor union representing more than 270,000 higher education workers nationwide.

They say they are propelled by concerns about work load, campus climate, pay equity and alleged administration attempts to quash dissent. Answers to all questions posed by East Village Magazine were provided as collective replies from the organizing group through emails from Sarah Rosaen, professor of communications. The committee includes both pre- and post-tenure colleagues, though most already have tenure.

“Anyone who has signed a union card is welcome to join the Organizing Committee, and we encourage interested colleagues to do so. We are working toward building a union that is as broad and representative of tenure track faculty as possible, and so we welcome participation from as many diverse voices as possible,” they asserted.

Supermarket shelves are becoming emptier in a number of Albert Heijn locations, with the staff at the retailer’s distribution centers on strike for a second consecutive day. Stores in the northeast and southwest of the Netherlands have been receiving reduced supplies in particular, a spokesperson for Albert Heijn said on Tuesday. This is because they receive their goods from distribution centers in Zwolle and Pijnacker, where the actions have had a major impact.

Labor union FNV indicated that staff has also stopped working in Zaandam, Tilburg and Geldermalsen. The latter location is especially important for the supply of products with a longer shelf life, such as cleaning products, shampoo and pet food. The turnover rate of these items is less high, but over time, shortages can also arise in the supermarkets.

More than 600 members and allies of the United Steelworkers union (USW) from across Canada will meet this week in Toronto for the USW National Policy Conference.

Hundreds of elected USW delegates will be joined by dozens of national and international guests under the conference banner “Engage, Mobilize, Organize.” To be held at the Sheraton Centre Toronto in the city’s downtown core, the four-day conference begins Tuesday, April 25.

The USW National Policy Conference is normally held every three years and is the largest gathering of Canadian Steelworkers. The conference was initially scheduled for 2022, but was delayed by one year due to pandemic-related issues.

Flight attendants rallied at four major Canadian airports Tuesday over what they say are unfair working conditions that keep them on the clock without being paid.

CUPE, which represents about 18,500 flight attendants across the country, says much of the time that they're present for their employers and in uniform, they're doing it for free.

The union says it leads to flight attendants working on average 35 hours each month without compensation.

Federal ministers said Tuesday they are monitoring for blockades of critical roads and infrastructure as striking federal workers made good on a promise to ramp up their picket efforts by disrupting traffic and limiting access to office buildings in downtown Ottawa.

More than 150,000 federal public servants with the Public Service Alliance of Canada were on strike for the seventh straight day as their union representatives continued to negotiate with the government for a bigger wage increase and more flexibility to work remotely.

Around the National Capital Region, hundreds of striking workers made their presence felt and heard, circling buildings, chanting through megaphones and blasting music throughout the morning.

The strike affecting various ambulance companies in several regions of Quebec will resume on Monday night, following a few days' break to discuss the essential services that will need to be maintained in this new phase.

The Administrative Labour Tribunal has once again ruled on these essential services, as 38 unions in various municipalities announced a "new" strike starting on April 25 at 12:01 am.

The strike will affect cities including Lévis, Lac-Mégantic, Berthierville, Rimouski, Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse, Joliette, Rawdon, and Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts. Two independent union groups are involved - the Quebec Federation of Prehospital Employees and Unionized Ambulance Workers of Beauce Inc. - as well as several employers, namely ambulance cooperatives and companies.

April 26:

Members of all five Northern Ireland teaching unions are on strike, mostly over a long-running pay dispute.

"Why is my labour worth so much less than it is in the rest of the UK when we have a world class education system?" teacher Melanie Doherty asked.

She said teachers will leave Northern Ireland if they did not act.

Amazon could soon be forced to recognise a trade union in the UK for the first time.

The GMB union says it has enrolled a majority of workers at Amazon's Coventry warehouse which qualifies them for recognition by law.

It has written to the company asking to be recognised.

Amazon says it "respects its employees' rights to choose to join or not join a labour union".


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