This is our weekly update of union news stories from around the world. This week, teachers strike in Chicago and Melbourne, Construction workers dispute in Australia, the TUC meets in Brighton and pledges combined industrial action, unrest spreads in Southern Africa, food prices rise due to drought and speculation, and UFOs ground flights in Germany.
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Defending education from privatisation and corporate interests: 26,000 Chicago teachers are on strike this week, for the first time in 25 years. Chicago has the third biggest school system in the US.
Teachers say that education is being undermined by a new system that focuses entirely on test scores, and disciplines teachers whose students don’t perform well. The teachers say this approach ignores other factors, like growing class sizes, poverty and a shortage of school books, and that teaching students to pass tests is not good education.
The strike is significant because it pits Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, against the teachers’ union. Emmanuel is President Obama’s former chief of staff, and teachers have traditionally been strong supporters of the Democratic Party. In an election year, where Obama is struggling to mobilise his base, this struggle has wider consequences.
And it’s not just Chicago that is experiencing this problem: 300,000 education workers have lost their jobs since 2009, and teachers across the country complain about a lack of respect for the profession, as they are regularly attacked for poor standards in schools. Even Hollywood, with films like Won’t back Down, has joined in the attack on teachers.
Many teachers fear that corporate interests wanting to use software to teach classes are behind the attack.
Teachers in Australia are on strike too – let’s hear from our correspondent down under, Cindy O’Connor, about that dispute.
Cindy on teachers and Grocon In Melbourne, Australia, a big construction workers dispute has seen the construction company, Grocon, enlist the Hell’s Angels to intimidate strikers. The construction company, with the support of the right wing politicians in the Victoria federal government, have been trying to break the power of the CFMEU union. The dispute has seen pitched street battles between riot police and striking construction workers.
In the UK, the TUC is holding its annual Congress in Brighton this week. Delegates at the TUC, which represents most unions in the UK, backed co-ordinated strike action by millions of public and private-sector workers fighting Government attacks on pay and services.
They rejected the Government’s failed austerity programme which has caused a double-dip recession, a stagnant economy and plummeting living standards, wile seeing public debt rise.
Delegates vowed full support to all public and private-sector workers taking industrial action against cuts or attacks on pay, jobs, pensions or conditions and to co-ordinate unions in taking strike action. Unions will be building for a massive march on 20 October for “A Future that Works”.
Teachers again: Earlier this year, teachers in Tanzania struck for a 100% wage increase – the teachers were eventually awarded 14%. Southern Africa has seen a wave of industrial unrest. There have been running battles in Malawi, as Blantyre City Council workers demand a 150% wage increase, with similar demands across the sub-continent.
Behind the rising industrial action across the world is the rising cost of living, with the cost of basic foodstuffs soaring.
This is due to devastating droughts in the US as well as Russia, as well as speculation on the financial markets – Barclays Banks made £529 M by betting on the food crisis. As climate change makes crop production less predictable we are likely to see more speculation and rising prices, which we expect will result in more upheaval: in poorer countries, workers spend a much higher proportion of their income on food, so when food prices rise it becomes impossible to live on existing salaries. Indeed the rising cost of living was one of the primary motivators for the Arab Spring, as workers in North Africa and the Middle East found their wages were no longer enough to live on.
Meanwhile in South Africa, the unrest in the platinum belt that led to the massacre of miners at Marikana has spread to other sections of the mining industry. This week saw 12,500 workers at the Gold Fields Driefontein complex embark on wild cat action in which 4 miners were shot. There have also been protests at a number of other mines, and most workers at Marikana have failed to report for work. Mining is still the backbone of the South African economy, and the industrial unrest as it the sector hard.
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