Media workers killed in Yemen


            Three Yemeni media workers were killed in two separate recent attacks in the war-torn country. Yemen TV producer Mohammed Naser al-Washali and set decorator Abdullah Al-Najjar, who were filming a drama TV series, were killed on April 12 by a missile fired by the Saudi-led coalition, according to the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS), an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).


            In addition, news photographer and camera operator Abdullah Al Qadry, working for Belquees TV and AFP French news agency, was also killed after a rocket fired by the Houthi group set his vehicle on fire. During the incident, two other journalists in the car were also injured, the YJS added.


            The IFJ and the YJS have urged all media outlets to provide protective equipment to journalists and photographers and to train them on occupational safety procedures during the coverage of the conflicts.


            “We are appalled by the loss of our three colleagues in Yemen, during what feels like a never-ending conflict,” said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger. “We call on the Saudi-led coalition to take responsibility for their killing of media workers and we demand a thorough and transparent investigation to explain why they bombed a filming location. Those responsible must be held accountable.”


Iranian teacher activist released


            While welcoming the April 15 release on bail of Iranian educator unionist Mohammad Habibi after 44 days of detention, Education International, the global umbrella group for teachers' unions, has urged the Iranian authorities to set jailed trade unionists free.


            Education International welcomed the release of Habibi, a board member of the Tehran branch of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA). He had been arrested on March 3 in front of his students. Habibi is one of many independent trade union members harassed by Iran’s public authorities.


Other Iranian teacher unionists known to be in jail are Mohammad Beheshti Langroudi and Esmail Abdi – the latter is a leader of the ITTA’s Tehran branch. On April 17, Abdi, sentenced to six years in prison by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court, started a new hunger strike to protest against his detention conditions and to request fair treatment of his case. He has also denounced the violation of workers’ rights in Iran.


            For years, Education International (EI) has condemned the continued harassment and imprisonment of Iranian education unionists for their legitimate union activism and their work in favour of quality public education.


            Esmail Abdi was recently awarded the International Solidarity Award by the UK’s National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in recognition of his commitment to fighting for the rights of teachers and for quality education in his country.


German public workers pay raise


            After weeks of strikes led by the Ver.di trade union, public sector workers in Germany have won a 7.5 percent pay increase.


            Rolling strikes over recent weeks had been conducted in public transport, hospitals, childcare facilities and administrative offices up and down the country, as over 220,000 of Germany’s 2.3 million public employees went on strike for better pay.


Early on April 18, Ver.di was able to show that the industrial action had paid off as it announced an agreement with the government for a new wage deal to last until March 2020. The deal includes three pay rises over a 30-month period, retroactive from March 1, 2018.


            The first stage will be a 3.19 percent wage increase lasting until April 2019, followed by a 3.09 percent increase until March 2020, when a further 1.06 percent will be added onto wages. Additionally, state employees such as garbage collectors who are on lower wages will receive a one-off payment of €250.


            The deal will cost local governments €7.5 billion in extra salary payments, plus an additional €2.2 billion for the federal government.


            “This is the best result we have had in years,” Ver.di leader Frank Bsirske said of the result of the negotiations.


            Thomas Böhle, who led the negotiations for local government, said that higher pay had been agreed upon for the top pay grades - meaning state jobs would become more attractive for specialists such as IT experts. Local governments had been reluctant to sanction a pay increase for lower wage employees, saying that they did not face difficulties filling these positions. They were much keener to reform the higher pay grades, where they compete against the private sector for highly qualified staff.


Panama building trades strike


            The National Union of Workers of the Construction Industry and Similar Industries of Panama (SUNTRACS) launched a national strike on April 18 over disagreements with the Panamanian Chamber of Construction (CAPAC) on wage increases for the next four years.

            The General Secretary of SUNTRACS, Saúl Méndez, said that the strike was declared because the negotiations over the last six months have not led to an agreement to increase salaries. "SUNTRACS does not want the strike, we just want to achieve the signing of the collective agreement 2018-2021," emphasized Méndez.

            The last offer by CAPAC to the construction workers was just 2 cents per hour, representing only 4 dollars per month. The union is seeking to win an increase of 15% per year on current salaries.

            Union sources point to official data indicating that Panama's construction industry in 2016 generated profits of $8 billion, rising in 2017 to $9.1 billion.


Rail strikes continue in France


            On April 18, French rail workers embarked on their fourth strike since the start of the month. Striking rail workers, civil servants and students demonstrated across the country the next day against President Emmanuel Macron's neoliberal drive to privatizate the public sector.


            An estimated 300,000 people took part in street marches called by the militant CGT trade union federation in Paris and other cities. The CGT is seeking a “convergence of struggles”, where various industrial disputes and causes of discontent fuse in one mass upheaval against the government, as happened in May 1968 and more recently at the end of 1995.


            “This is just the start,” said Yann Bernard, a representative of the CGT union’s railway division, promising more action against Macron’s broad economic reform drive.

A sea of flags and slogans fluttering over the crowds on April 19 showed workers from beyond the state-owned railways taking part, including people from the state hospital sectors.


            But less radical union groups are reluctant to back the CGT's strategy. The head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told the media that his union had nothing to do with the April 19 marches, and that it would not join the CGT on May 1, the annual day of labour action  Berger says the CFDT does not share the CGT objective of uniting different groups with different grievances, from railway workers to power sector employees and state hospital staff, and even some students protesting against restrictive university entry criteria.


            Recent polls indicate over 40 percent of the public support the rail strikers' demands. While a majority still favour Macron in the railworkers' dispute, his policies of cutting the wealth tax, slashing housing aid, and raising pensioner taxes have angered growing numbers of people.


Casino workers join UniteHERE


            Workers who clean Foxwoods Resort Casino in Massachusetts voted on April 20 to join a union, the New England Joint Board of Unite Here has announced.  The vote was 163 to 131. Voting took place throughout the day, conducted by the Mashantucket Employment Rights Office. The union represents hospitality, gaming and manufacturing workers in New England.


            The workers began organizing with the New England Joint Board more than a year ago, saying they had concerns about their working conditions. The predominantly immigrant workforce cited the threat of outsourcing as a prime motivating factor.


            Unite Here became the fifth union to represent workers employed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods.


Syrian unions slam US threats


            In the wake of the US-UK-French airstrikes on April 14, the General Federation of Trade Unions in Syria has sharply condemned foreign threats against the country.


            A statement from the Federation says, "The United States and its followers from European countries, such as France, Britain and their proxies in the region such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, have been staging provocations  against Syria to carry out their agendas on Syrian territory since their terrorist war against Syria began eight years ago.


            "These days we are witnessing the fabrication of alleged evidence, the latest example of which is the fiction of the Eastern Ghouta hit by chemical weapons used by the Syrian Arab Army. These colonial powers have always used the UN Security Council and its instruments to strike sovereign states by using illusory and fabricated pretexts to achieve their goals, such as the famous fiction of Colin Powell in the UN Security Council used to strike Iraq...;


            "The more the Syrian Arab Army achieves victories on the ground, the more the terrorists urge their paymasters  to save them, as happened when they fabricated the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhaun.


            "This time, US President Trump, French President Macron, and British Prime Minister May accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in Douma on the basis of evidence and fabricated false videos of the so-called White Helmets, who are the medical wing of the fascist terrorists Al-Nusra in Syria."


            The Syrian union movement has called for international protests condemning US aggression, warning that Trump's actions "will lead to a new world war that will drag the whole world to further chaos, destruction and poverty and increase the number of refugees from the wars waged by the United States against sovereign states in the world."


EU wage hikes trail productivity


            New figures calculated by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) show that wage increases in the European Union over the last 16 years would have been four times higher if they had fully reflected productivity increases.


            Standard bourgeois economic theory states that wage increases should follow productivity increases. But in Europe productivity has increased far more than wages.

 From 2000 to 2016 productivity increased three times more than wages in Germany and Croatia, and two times more than wages in Poland and Belgium.


             In Austria productivity increased 65% more than wages, 60% in Spain, 30% in the Netherlands.


            In Hungary, Romania, Portugal and Greece real wages went down in the last 16 years, while productivity increased.


(The above article is from the May 1-15, 2018, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)