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Vol. 78/No. 26      July 21, 2014

On the Picket Line  

Car battery workers’ strike in Quebec enters third month

BOUCHERVILLE, Quebec — Spirits were high June 30 as some 20 strikers walked the picket line at Bathium, a subsidiary of the French-Bolloré Group that makes batteries for electric cars. Sixty-one members of Unifor Local 2011 walked off the job April 29 after voting 96 percent to go on strike. They had been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 2012.

Among the workers’ demands are higher wages, no hiring by temporary work agencies and an end to a divisive two-tier wage scale. After seven years of service, workers can receive up to $6 an hour more at the discretion of the bosses.

Workers on the line said the company had denied them access to shop stewards during working hours and refused to pay shift premiums.

Yvon Paquette, Local 2011 recording secretary, told the Militant during a June 10 visit to the picket line that Bathium is using supervisors to keep the plant running. The next negotiating session is scheduled for the end of September.

Workers from Uni-select, Pratt and Whitney and Bombardier have joined the picket line in solidarity.

— Philippe Tessier

Workers strike in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman

An impressive number of workers in the Arabian Peninsula kingdoms of Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have been on strike.

In Kuwait a walkout by government workers employed by the Social Security administration is now into its fifth week, the longest strike in Kuwaiti history. Workers walked off the job June 7, after a year of stalling on implementing better pay and benefits that were already agreed to by government officials, according to the Kuwait Times.

In comments before parliament July 1, MP Hamdan al-Azmi urged the government to “respond to workers’ demands in order to avoid more labor strikes in the public sector,” the paper reported.

At the end of June workers protesting the layoff of nearly 800 women who prepare elementary school lunches staged a couple of sit-ins and tried to occupy the office of Kuwaiti Undersecretary for Education Mariam al-Wutaid. The workers are demanding the government find them other jobs in the schools or require they be hired by the companies that won the contracts to prepare school meals for next year.

In the Kingdom of Bahrain, some 2,000 migrant workers, mostly from India and Bangladesh, struck MRS Fashions in Hajiyat June 10-16 over wages, poor working conditions, threatened deportations, and abuse by management. The company manufactures clothing for Macy’s, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Walmart and other major outlets.

The walkout began after “Indian machine operator Tariq Iqbal was allegedly assaulted by his line manager after trying to resign” because of “unhealthy working conditions,” reported the Gulf Daily News. “The manager said I cannot go home, tore up my resignation and threw it in my face,” he told the paper. Upon hearing that Iqbal had been handed over to the police and faced deportation, workers halted production.

The government then threatened to deport all the Indian and Bangladeshi workers on strike. The workers responded with a list of 12 demands, including a pay raise, better food and medical care.

“This place is like a prison,” Pavan Kumar, a worker from India, told Gulf Daily News. “Our target is 2,200 garments to be completed by 60 laborers in one shift. During working hours we need permission even to go to the bathroom or drink water.”

The strike ended June 17 after workers accepted pay raises of 10 to 14 percent. Charges were also dropped against 11 workers arrested during the strike.

Meanwhile, the Bahrain Free Labour Union Federation announced plans in mid-June to form a union to represent Bahraini and some 120,000 migrant construction workers.

In the Sultanate of Oman, some 1,300 workers struck LuLu hypermarkets, a giant supermarket and department store chain, June 26-28. The workers presented 16 demands, including a wage raise, cost-of-living allowance and a bonus.

According to a statement from Oman’s Ministry of Manpower that was quoted in the June 29 Times of Oman, “A solution was reached to provide health insurance coverage to all Omani workers at LuLu, regardless of their service status.” Striking workers will be paid for the days they went on strike and will not be penalized. A panel of management and workers was established to discuss wage rates.

Oman legalized labor unions in 2006. Bahrain did so four years earlier.

— Brian Williams

Related articles:
220,000 Metalworkers strike in South Africa
Launch fight on heels of platinum miners’ victory
Farmers, miners in western Turkey discuss challenges facing rural toilers  
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