This column gives a voice to those engaged in labor battles and building solidarity today — from school workers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado, to retail and factory workers looking to stand up and fight. Send in articles, photos and letters on picket lines and other labor protests to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to: 306 W. 37th St., 13th floor, New York, NY 10018; or call us at (212) 244-4899.
“It’s very important for us to unite,” Samoilov told the rally. “I do believe in solidarity among workers in Kryvyi Rih, as well as in Ukraine and the whole world.” The action attracted members from a wide variety of unions.
The members of the union at the ArcelorMittal steel plant, which employs more than 20,000 workers, were a prominent contingent. They marched for safe working conditions, pay raises and job protection.
“Every one of us has the right to decent jobs and salaries,” Mykola Moriakov, chairman of the NPGU at ArcelorMittal, told the rally. “And a right to work in safe conditions.”
Negotiations on a new union contract should have started last year, but ArcelorMittal bosses have refused to bargain. The May Day rally was part of a series of actions by the unions to put pressure on the company, the largest steel producer in the world.
In mid-March workers mobilized to promote their demands — raise monthly wages to 1,000 euros ($1,200); put all mill buildings, structures, equipment and work rules under examination to enforce safety and sanitary conditions; stop cutting workers and outsourcing jobs; and for the company to cease attacks against union members.
The nine unions at the plant, including both the independent and the old government-run trade unions, organized an unprecedented special conference March 27 to coordinate the campaign for their demands. Three-quarters of the 400 conference delegates voted in favor of strike action if the company continued its refusal to bargain.
The month before, more than 12,000 workers signed an appeal to the bosses supporting their demands.
Workers held a “night action” May 3, occupying the company offices after negotiations failed to produce any results, Samoilov reported. The company then agreed to talks and a deal was reached May 6 to set up a “conciliation commission” to address the unions’ demands.
Over the past year and a half there have been protests, mine occupations and other actions demanding payments of wage arrears, raises and safer working conditions across Ukraine.
These members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 were joined for the next two days by solidarity actions of 14,000 members of the California Nurses Association who work at the university’s medical centers and student clinics, and 15,000 members of the University Professional and Technical Employees, who work as pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, physician assistants and researchers.
Union leaders and state college bosses failed to reach agreement last year and mediation efforts have since failed. Low wages, health care premiums, pensions and job outsourcing are some of the main issues.
Workers were particularly upset when the union published a study in April based on university statistics that had not been public that showed a growing gap between pay for administrators and workers. It also showed that workers who were Black, Latino and female were paid less for comparable jobs.
Union members voted by 97 percent to strike. University officials then imposed their rejected offer on workers.
“Join the union. Pay the Sisters the Same as the Misters,” read one participant’s T-shirt.
The action was organized by NZEI Te Riu Roa — the New Zealand Educational Institute — a union that represents some 50,000 teachers, support staff and principals.
“I represent the large army of administrative workers, mostly women, who are often invisible,” the union’s Julie-Anne Roberts told the rally. “It’s time that we were recognized and paid for the skills we bring.” Members of the Post Primary Teachers’ Association and Maritime Union of New Zealand joined the protest.
Many workers also turned out to protest low pay rates. One school support worker said that even those in the top pay grade earn less than 20 New Zealand dollars an hour ($14).
Others said they had to cope with overcrowded classrooms and heavy workloads. “As a teacher I’m not happy dealing with the problems of a society that’s not working,” Cheryl, an early childhood teacher, told the Militant.
A number of participants had read about the strikes and rallies by school workers in the United States on the internet, and were eager to get the Militant to learn more about them. Three people signed up for subscriptions.