Workers of the world fight for their rights

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico –Thousands of delivery workers strike work
Delivery workers in Recife, Pernambuco
Delivery workers in Recife, Pernambuco
Delivery workers in Recife, Pernambuco
Delivery workers close the Estaiada Bridge in São Paulo

In a concerted move, thousands of delivery workers have engaged in a strike on Wednesday July 1, 2020, demanding better working conditions in more than 10 Brazilian capitals, as well as in cities in Argentina and Mexico. It may be noted that the struggle of the delivery workers has been intensifying in Latin America since the beginning of the Covid – 19 pandemic. Earlier, delivery workers working for the delivery app Loggi had gone on strike in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, on June 9 and 10 2020.

The workers got in touch with each other, even in different countries, using the internet and WhatsApp. On July 1, 2020, the strike was strongest in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city. The protests began in the morning, with the workers blocking access to shopping malls, restaurant chains and warehouses of the Loggi corporation. Later, around 5,000 delivery workers gathered in one of the main avenues of the city.

The workers demanded rights – including insurance against accidents and the theft of their bikes. Presently, workers must work long hours – often more than 14 hours a day, without the rights that workers normally have. They also demanded a place in the city where they could recharge their phones, with clean bathrooms and tables and drinking water so they could eat their meals.

To break the workers’ organisation, iFood—Latin America’s largest food delivery startup—tried to hire scabs. On the day of the stoppage, it was offering a bonus of 30 reais (around US$5.50) per delivery for those who worked. Similar measures were taken by the other companies in the business—Rappi, Loggi and Uber Eats. Some the scabs were stopped by the strikers and forced to return home. Others were convinced to join with most of their colleagues.

The strike was supported by other workers too. The Union of Motorcycle Workers of São Paulo (Sindimoto), joined the demonstrations with sound trucks and their flags. They were responsible for concentrating a significant number of the strikers around them. The city’s school transportation drivers also held a protest on the same day in support of the delivery workers, demanding government assistance, as they have lost their income since the beginning of the pandemic.

The iFood corporation, based in São Paulo and with operations all over Latin America, is controlled by billionaires like Jorge Paulo Lemann, the wealthiest man in Brazil. Rappi, based in Colombia, last year received an investment of US$1 billion from the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. They wish to continue their super exploitation of the delivery workers to continue earning huge profits. As workers’ demands have not been met by the companies, they are calling for a new strike on July 12, 2020.

Argentina – Film industry workers demand unemployment assistance

Workers employed by the Argentine movie industry organised a rally in downtown Buenos Aires on June 25, 2020 demanding a monthly stipend of 30,000 pesos ($425 US dollars) to help them get through the present pandemic and the consequent layoffs. The demonstration included contingent technical workers demanding an end to their temporary and free-lance status. Since the lockdown began in Argentina, at the beginning of April, more than 5,000 cinema and television technical and temporary workers have been laid off and are yet to receive any form of government assistance.

Brazil – São Paulo Transit workers vote to strike

São Paulo transit workers voted in the last week of June 2020 to go on strike in July to protest against unilateral measures taken by transit company managements that downgrade health, working conditions and food subsidies. Over 90 percent of those voting approved the strike. The São Paulo transit system employs 2,500 workers.

The new measures coincided with the first death of a São Paulo transit employee due to COVID-19. So far, 300 transit workers have been infected by the coronavirus.

Mexico – School teachers demand back pay

On July 1, 2020, teachers in Chimalhuacán, a suburb of Mexico City, picketed the State government house in Toluca demanding their back pay. The 700 education workers, now teaching online classes, are owed nine months of back pay. Collectively, the Chimalhuacán educators teach 20,000 students in 75 schools, with classes of up to 80 students.

State authorities say there is no money to pay the teachers.

Chimalhuacán is one of the most impoverished cities in all of Mexico; about 13 percent of its 600,000 inhabitants exist in shantytowns and live in extreme poverty. Over one half of its children and teenagers have no access to education or health care.

Peru – Copper miners demand reopening of Cobriza mine

Workers organised a rally in the Andean city of Huancayo against the sale of the Cobriza mine, which was shut down last December, following the death of three miners and as a consequence of the bankruptcy of the company running it – Doe Run Perú. The liquidation of the mine is being carried out in violation of an agreement which guarantees the jobs of the 2,500 miners formerly employed there. In fact, the workers have not been paid for seven months now. Peruvian authorities used the COVID-19 emergency measures as a pretext to jail 200 of the miners on their way to the morning rally that had been scheduled to begin at 8:30 am, allegedly for violating the 9 pm to 4 am curfew.

USA – Bath Iron shipyard workers strike continues in Maine
Bath iron shipyard workers on strike in Maine
Bath iron shipyard workers on strike in Maine

Shipyard workers at the Bath Iron Works north of Portland, Maine who walked out over contract issues on June 22, 2020 learned that they have lost health care coverage as the strike by some 4,300 workers continues. There have been no talks since the strike began, although a federal mediator has now been brought in. The workers overwhelmingly rejected management’s “last, best and final” offer before going on strike. The company had proposed a paltry 3 percent annual wage increase to workers whose wages were frozen in the last contract that expired in 2015. The main point of contention, however, was the company’s demand to expand the use of outside contractors that it says are needed to catch up on a backlog of unfinished ships.

The workers are opposing the management’s proposal to expand subcontracting and erode seniority rights. There is concern that since management will be able to assign workers to jobs regardless of seniority, this could be used to harass and drive out older, more highly paid workers. Earlier in June 2020, the management announced its intention to start hiring workers through more outside contractors and use them as strike-breakers.

The shipyard has a six-month backlog of orders from the US Navy. It is one of the five largest suppliers for the Navy and one of only two facilities that build destroyers. The strike has affected vital supplies to the US Navy.

Several workers pointed to the irony of the fact that reports of COVID-19 cases among shipyard workers are being reported even as the company has cancelled health benefits. The shipyard had remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the workers have been forced to continue working, because the Trump administration considers the building of warships “critical infrastructure.”

General Dynamics recorded over $3 billion in profits in 2019. The massive Pentagon budget recently approved by the US Congress provisions $4.4 billion specifically for Columbia-class submarines as part of its buildup of nuclear capabilities. This promises a bonanza for General Dynamics. While demanding concessions from shipyard workers the company reportedly has used some of its $15.3 billion in gross profits since 2018 to buy back some 2.4 billion in its own stock in order to enrich investors and top company officers.

In 2015 workers at the Bath shipyard were forced to take substantial cuts in health care and pensions along with a wage freeze, in the name of ensuring the competitive position of the company. Even though it has earned super-profits in the last five years, the company is continuing to super-exploit the workers.

Disneyland workers protest unsafe conditions

To protest the conditions under which the company was planning to reopen its entertainment facilities, a caravan of Disneyland Resort workers in cars drove around the company’s Anaheim, California complex on June 27, 2020.

According to press reports, the company has not agreed to minimal conditions requested by labour unions before opening. These conditions are testing guidelines for COVID-19, greater number of staff in order ti maintain deep cleaning standards, electrostatic cleaning of rooms and acceptance of guidelines of the Centre for Disease Control. Disney’s Anaheim complex is located close to Los Angeles County, which currently has a mass of COVID-19 cases. Anaheim, located in Orange County, has the most cases in that county. Unemployment benefits for workers will run out in July, creating an economic cudgel to force workers to return to work under unsafe conditions.

Canada – Quebec drug store warehouse workers vote to strike

Seven hundred warehouse workers servicing the Metro-Jean Coutu drug store chain have voted overwhelmingly for strike action. The workers, based in the Montreal suburb of Varennes, are demanding improvements to pensions, insurance coverage, work schedules and the regulation of sub-contracted and part-time employees.

The workers saw a temporary COVID-19 $2 per hour boost to their wages end on June 13, 2020. Drug store and grocery operations throughout Canada have been deemed essential services and have remained open throughout the pandemic. Quebec has been the hardest hit of all the Canadian provinces by the pandemic. To date, over 55,000 Quebec residents have tested positive for the virus and 5,450 deaths recorded. The epicentre of the infection continues to be in the Montreal area.

Jean Coutu is an iconic drug store brand in the province of Quebec and eastern Ontario. The Montreal-based Metro grocery store chain purchased it in 2018 and its profitability has increased greatly.

Cambodia – Textile workers demand unpaid wages

More than 50 workers from the New Best Global Textile factory in the Samraong Tong district travelled over 70km to demonstrate outside the Labour Ministry office in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, on 29 June, 2020. The workers were demanding that the government should act to secure unpaid wages and other benefits that were not paid after their employer fled the country in March.

The textile workers told the media that they had waited for three months for the Labour Ministry to honour its promises to help the workers. The demonstrators said that they would stage another protest with more of the 763 sacked workers if there is still no action by the government.

Pakistan – Sindh water purification plant workers demand wages

Workers from the government-owned reverse osmosis water plants in Sukkur, Sindh province, held a demonstration outside the district collector’s office on 29 June 2020, to demand seven months’ outstanding salaries.

The workers had been employed for several years by a private contractor but after the contract with the government expired in October 2019 they were made to keep working and ensure the plants remained operational even though they were not being paid. The protesters have threatened to shut down the plants if either the government or the private contractor fail to pay the overdue wages.

The failure of government departments to pay salaries is widespread in Pakistan. Workers of the municipal administration in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa went on strike on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 to demand two-months of non-paid salaries and other entitlements.

Bangladesh – Trainee doctors strike at a major Dhaka hospital

Trainee medical officers at the BIRDEM General Hospital in Dhaka walked off the job and demonstrated outside the building on Sunday, 28 June 2020 with several demands, including restoration of full pay, PPE and permanent jobs. The doctors were forced to return to work on Tuesday 30 June 2020 evening, after the hospital administration declared that the doctors were only temporary and threatened to terminate their jobs.

At least 90 doctors continue to work in trainee positions, some of them even after three years. They complained that they were recruited as resident medical officers and not told that they were temporary until after they began working. The doctors said that their monthly salary for the last two months has been cut by 10,000 taka ($US117), supposedly due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and that they were not paid the Eid festival bonus.

One doctor said that about 20 of them tested positive for COVID-19 because they were supplied low-quality PPE and that the hospital did not arrange their treatment. They demanded treatment for infected doctors and their families, and one million taka compensation for the family of doctors who may die of COVID-19.

Garment workers demonstrate in Gazipur

Hundreds of workers of Alif Casual Wear factory from Gazipur blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway on June 27, 2020. The workers were protesting over the non-payment of wages for March and April during Bangladesh’s official coronavirus lockdown. The demonstration was organised after factory authorities failed to honour a promise to pay the outstanding wages by June 26, 2020.

Zimbabwe – Nurses strike

Nurses in Zimbabwe have gone on strike for the second time this year, over low wages and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

They are being forced to take pay as low as US $59 per month. This is while inflation of 786 percent forces the price of basic goods —which are now scarce—to skyrocket, as fears of the hyperinflation of a decade ago continue to grow. The government promised a US $75 allowance and salary increment of 50 percent to head off strike action by the nurses but has not given them even this abysmal increase. The nurse’s unions rejected the government offer as inadequate.

Zimbabwean secret service agents tried to intimidate nurses at St. Alberts Mission Hospital, Mt. Darwin, after they had informed district medical officer Kelvin Mupunga of their intentions to strike. At least 15 nurses at Victoria Chitepo Hospital were arrested.

Nurses infected by the coronavirus have been abandoned by the government in dilapidated and underfunded quarantine centres. As many as 197 health care workers have been infected and placed in quarantine. Many quarantine centres do not provide food or basic hygiene services. After outrage at these conditions started to surface, the government allowed for lodges and hotels to be used as quarantine areas. However, the nurses are forced to pay for the cost of living in this better accommodation. The dire situation they face is made even worse as skeleton crews left behind during the strike to attend to the sick are becoming infected with COVID-19. At United Bulawayo Hospitals, 68 nurses tested positive for the coronavirus in a single day. The government attempted to undermine the strike by nurses and doctors by hiring more nurses. However, many of the new nurses refuse to work because of low pay and the fear of catching the coronavirus.

South Africa – Health care workers protest

South African health care workers at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital (CMH) in East London, Eastern Cape, protested on June 23 and 24, 2020, threatening to shut down the hospital in response to management’s handling of COVID-19.

Three hospital workers died recently after contracting the virus, and 72 workers have tested positive. The situation is mirrored across the entire Eastern Cape, and at other hospitals in the province, nurses, porters, and cleaners have refused to work in increasingly dangerous conditions and without adequate protection. At CMH, workers only resumed duties when management agreed to a decontamination of the whole hospital.

Police fire at workers protesting over unequal pay and conditions

On 29 June 2020, outsourced municipal workers in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, protested outside a council meeting to demand permanent employment. These workers, including security guards, meter readers and seasonal workers, receive less pay than workers employed directly by the municipality. After the workers refused to disperse, police fired a stun grenade into their ranks and arrested three people.

Cell C mobile phone workers plan strike to protect jobs

Workers at a mobile phone company in Johannesburg, South Africa, threatened to walk out if the management does not reverse its decision to throw out workers it considers “redundant” in the present conditions. The Information Communication Technology Union members are fighting to prevent a 40 percent cut in the workforce at Cell C, South Africa’s third largest mobile operator.

Netherlands – Further strikes by Dutch steelworkers at Tata Steel
Ireland

Steelworkers at the Tata Steel plant in Ijmuiden, the Netherlands, held an eight-hour strike on 28 June 2020, following a one-day strike on June 26, 2020. The FNV union members are opposing 1,000 job cuts, equating to more than 10 percent of the workforce.

The workers have struck work on many days since June 10, 2020 over Tata’s plans. The latest strike followed the breakdown of talks between the management and the workers. The union proposed that job cuts be postponed until October 2026. Tata said it needs more time to examine the union’s proposals. The action on 28 June 2020 led to the delay of a shipment of steel from the site to its Port Talbot plant in South Wales, where again 500 jobs are threatened.

In November 2019, Tata confirmed plans to cut around 3,000 jobs across Europe. Like many firms internationally, Tata is utilising the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to impose further restructuring and make the workers bear the burden of the crisis.

Ireland – Protest by City Jet airline workers

Pilots working for City Jet held a protest outside the company’s Dublin headquarters in Ireland on June 23, 2020. The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) members were protesting the company’s plans to shut down its Dublin base, which would mean the loss of 57 pilots’ jobs.

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