Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Negligence of the Egyptian State Leads to Deaths, Crises & Catastrophes

Too Little Too Late: the Egyptian State’s Management of Crises

Egypt has recently witnessed three major incidents which attested to the fact that the state moves into action only after catastrophe has struck; as opposed to seeking to avert the catastrophe before it strikes.

The Shoura Council Fire

On August 19 a massive fire raged through the upper house of parliament, the Shoura (Consultative) Council. This fire was attributed to an electrical short circuit and led to the destruction of the parliamentary archive room along with several conference halls. Some opposition MPs have claimed that this fire was a premeditated act which aimed at destroying the parliamentary archives, yet the ruling authorities have refuted this claim and argued that all the archives were electronically backed-up.

Built in the 1860s, much of this historic building’s interiors were constructed from wood and thus the fire spread quickly throughout. The building lacked an automatic sprinkler-system or any other effective fire-control devices. Tens of fire trucks and ambulances were deployed around this inferno only after the flames were burning out of control. Sometime later two helicopters were sent in to douse the flames with huge buckets of water which they collected from the nearby Nile River.

According to eyewitness accounts tens of fire trucks had been deployed to extinguish this fire. However, according to these same eyewitnesses, and to live images being screened by the different satellite news channels – only three of these trucks were actively involved in fighting the fire. Apparently there were technical difficulties with the fire hydrants or the water supply. These three fire trucks were clearly struggling to put-out the flames for well over eight hours - from around 3 PM until around 12 AM. It is ironic that the state usually deploys a similar number of fire trucks and water canons (which are fully functional) around the streets of downtown Cairo in preparation for any peaceful street protests.

In any case, the massive fire in the Shoura Council led to the hospitalization of at least thirteen employees and firefighters who had suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns; fortunately no deaths were reported. Damages and reparations are estimated to cost the state several million pounds (over 150 million Egyptian Pounds according to some unverified reports.) The President of the Shoura Council, Safwat El Sherif, announced that the damaged building would be repaired and restored by November.

The Deadly Rockslide in El Doweiqa

Deadly and disastrous rockslides have occurred around southern Cairo’s Moqattam Cliffs since the Year 1968. Large chunks of these cliffs have collapsed on local slum dwellers - in December 1993, January 1994, and again in 2002 - claiming tens of lives, injuring a multitude of others, destroying numerous homes and workshops, and leaving hundreds more homeless. Geologists have been warning of further collapses and landslides around this same area ever since the Year 1993, yet these warnings have fallen on deaf ears. At the base of the El Moqattam Cliffs is a massive shantytown called Manshiyet Nasser; it is the impoverished residents of these informal housing quarters who have always faced the greatest risk of losing their lives and livelihoods as a result of rockslides.

Disaster struck Manshiyet Nasser once again, on September 6, 2008 – specifically in the area of El Doweiqa. Some rocks and boulders came crumbling down onto the homes of local residents at around eight in the morning. A few minutes later a huge chunk of the cliff, weighing an estimated 70 tons, crashed down upon the buildings and flimsy huts that lay beneath.

The official explanation for this collapse is that unregulated waste water/sewage seeped through the rocks of El Moqqatam and led to the expansion of cracks in the cliffs, which eventually crumbled and crashed down below. The state responded by dispatching hundreds, if not thousands, of troops from the Central Security Forces to cordon the site of the collapse. These black-clad riot police forces stood by idly, overlooking the scene of the disaster. It was as if they had been sent-in to twiddle their fingers and to work on their suntans. As for the rescue workers they came into action later in the day.

Desperate family members broke through the security cordon and starting digging with their bare hands in attempts to rescue survivors trapped underneath the rubble. Tens of local residents were pulled out alive, while hundreds of others remained trapped beneath tons of rock. Locals interviewed on September 7 said that the rescue effort was slow and “ineffective.” One local resident, Ali Mohammad Ibrahim, further criticized the rescue workers’ efforts, he said that it was “the residents who were manually doing most of the rescue work.” Ibrahim was extremely distressed and angry - for his wife and three daughters were trapped underneath the rubble. He blamed the local authorities and the Egyptian government for the disaster, and shouted: “I just want them to retrieve their corpses so that I could give them a proper burial.”

The number of corpses recovered from this rockslide is said to be 107. The real figure could be much higher, however – especially given the reports that over two hundred bodies remain unaccounted for beneath the rubble. Nearly three weeks later the stench of corpses still lingered in the air around the site of the disaster.

In light of this catastrophe the Egyptian state sought to remedy the situation by offering token monetary compensations to the family members of the deceased (LE 5,000 per dead body) and for the injured (LE 1,000.) Furthermore, according to the Governorate of Cairo, the state has relocated over 860 local families to the Suzanne Mubarak Housing Project in El Doweiqa. The authorities moved to evacuate and demolish all homes and huts in a perimeter of 100-150 meters from the base of the cliffs in El Doweiqa in an attempt to keep the residents from re-inhabiting these hazardous quarters. The state has also established a 500 million pound “Fund for the Development of Informal Housing Quarters.”

However, many of El Doweiqa’s residents who were living hazardously close to the cliffs were not given the opportunity to relocate to the Suzanne Mubarak Housing Project. Aida Abdel Fattah lives with five other family members in a one-room apartment whose walls were fractured during the last rockslide. She pointed to several large cracks running from the foundation of the room to its ceiling. She said that “this apartment is going to collapse under its own weight” adding that “we are afraid to sleep indoors; we fear that the roof and walls will cave-in on us. So we sleep outdoors, but the stench of corpses from the rubble beside us is very disturbing.” Aida’s immediate neighbors also had their homes damaged on September the 6th; they too displayed how their walls and ceilings were dangerously fractured. Aida went on to say that “we want to be relocated to the Suzanne Mubarak Project, as do my neighbors. We petitioned officials at the Cairo Governorate to have us relocated there, but they did nothing.”

On September the 23rd and the 25th further rockslides took place in El Doweiqa destroying several homes and injuring tens of residents. Following warnings of imminent rockslides in the nearby slums of Establ Antar and Ezbet Khairallah many of its inhabitants were forcibly ordered to evacuate their homes - prior to demolition. Tens of families were relocated to the distant satellite the Sixth of October, over twenty kilometers away from their old homes and their livelihoods.

Manal El Tibi, the Director of the (independent) Egyptian Center for Housing Rights believes that there was much the state could have done to avert the catastrophe in El Doweiqa. “Ever since the mid 1990s geologists have repeatedly warned the authorities as to the perilous situation of housing quarters around El Moqattam. Many measures should have been taken ahead of hand, including the construction of protective barriers around the edges and base of the cliff. More importantly, the residents of El Doweiqa should have been relocated to the Suzanne Mubarak Housing Project since last February – when 4,000 residential units were constructed and ready for use.”

El Tibi added that “it is necessary to clear away all those residential quarters and industries located around and on top of the cliffs. The entirety of El Doweiqa should be relocated – especially given that new rockslides and collapses are expected in the neighboring areas of Khalf El Khazzan and El Herafiyeen.”

Regarding the new housing units to which El Doweiqa’s residents have been relocated, El Tibi said that “there are plenty of problems associated with these replacement housing schemes. In the Suzanne Mubarak Housing Project the new residents have to pay a mortgage of LE 83/month; on average the monthly income of these locals is LE 150. It is very difficult for these residents to pay more than half of their monthly incomes on mortgage. In any case, those who cannot pay their mortgages are threatened with eviction from the Suzanne Mubarak Project.”

As for the state’s “Fund for the Development of Informal Housing Quarters” El Tibi commented: “It’s a joke. They’ve allocated 500 million pounds for the development of fifty different informal housing quarters. Foreign donors from Abu Dhabi and Germany have pledged US$ 200 million for the development and relocation of El Doweiqa. The Egyptian government’s 500 million pound fund is insufficient for the development of El Doweiqa, let alone for the development of fifty informal housing quarters.”

The Burning of the Egyptian National Theater

On September 27 an electrical fire burned through much of central Cairo’s National Theater – including its main hall. The Egyptian National Theater is a classic cultural landmark, and has been so ever since the 1930s. The fire was extinguished within approximately four hours and fortunately no casualties were reported, although damages and reparations are expected to cost the Ministry of Culture millions of pounds.

This fire brings back memories of the tragic Beni Suef Theater Fire of September 2005 - in which 46 people died. Both of these theaters were administered by the Ministry of Culture. Negligence and lack of safety measures were at the root of the Beni Suef Theater Fire, just as they are at the root of the Egyptian National Theater Fire, three years later.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The US Financial Crisis is a Crisis of Capitalism

Wall Street Bailout - A Swindle Against Working People

Sep 24, 2008
By Socialist Alternative

"If Wall Street gets away with this, it will represent an historic swindle of the American public - all sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims." This is how William Greider described the Wall Street bailout.

The whole capitalist system is in chaos as the financial implosion now threatens to become a depression. For working people, this comes on top of years of stagnant wages, the loss of millions of good jobs, a wave of foreclosures and price gouging for fuel and food.

The crisis was caused by the capitalists themselves. Their greed for profit has destabilized the entire system. All the arguments about the market "solving problems" are now exposed as Wall Street begs for more taxpayer bailouts.

The hypocrisy of the Washington political establishment is breathtaking. With elections looming, yesterday’s cheerleaders of financial deregulation and tax cuts have suddenly transformed into the defenders of “Main Street” against the criminals elites of Wall Street.

Every time working people, unions or community groups demand better wages, benefits or social services, these corporate politicians have told us: “We can’t afford it.” Now the government is authorizing up to a trillion (maybe much more) to buy up the bad debts of Wall Street “banksters.”

This money should instead be used to guarantee healthcare, housing, childcare, education, and living wage for everyone.

They claim bailing out the financial elite is necessary to prevent economic disaster for working people. However, even Congressional Democrats are demanding nothing more than token reforms on Wall Street in return for the largest corporate welfare handout in U.S. history. Wall Street and the big banks have been exposed as a den of speculation and corruption. They are the most powerful lobby in Washington, and have financed the careers of countless politicians, Obama and McCain among them.

In reality, this bailout plan has nothing to do with ensuring the economic security of working people, and everything to do with propping up their system of exploitation and profiteering at our expense. Even the cheerleaders for the bailout acknowledge that it won’t prevent millions of families losing their homes to foreclosures. They admit it won’t stop rising unemployment and inflation.

That is why big business and the politicians they fund refuse to spend taxpayer money where it would really benefit the economy; on canceling the debts of homeowners, students, and working people generally; on job creating public works programs to build schools, hospitals, clean energy infrastructure, and other social needs. We need to fight back. Working people have the power to stop this massive swindle.

Make Corporate Criminals Pay for their Corruption
If ordinary folks get caught breaking the law, they go to jail. CEOs and big shareholders in the collapsed banks should not be given multi-million dollar “golden parachutes.” They should be investigated and forced to repay ill-gotten profits. A commission made of trade unionists, community groups and the public should investigate their criminal activity. Drug lords have their wealth confiscated for their crimes, the same should happen to the Wall Street gamblers and speculators.

Stop Foreclosures!
For a National Housing Plan The government should declare an emergency moratorium on home foreclosures, and renegotiate the debts of homeowners victimized by loan sharks. For a nationally coordinated plan to ensure affordable housing for all, including rent control, housing subsidies, and a massive expansion of quality affordable housing. Relieving the huge debt burden on working class households would help revive consumer spending in the real economy of essential goods and services.

Jobs Programs, Not Layoffs - Tax the Rich and Big Business
The money is there to improve our lives and stop the economic downfall. Working people pay too much to the government, and corporations get bailouts while they evade taxes. A massive program of public works can improve jobs and living conditions while stimulating the economy.

Stop Inflation: Raise Wages and Cap Prices
These massive bailouts for the banks, on top of hundreds of billions for the war and tax cuts for the rich, are being paid for by huge deficit spending, which erodes the value of wages. This, combined with price gauging and speculation on commodities like food and energy is causing inflation. We demand a living wage for all workers and indexing wages to rise with inflation, so that working people are not forced to pay for this crisis. Gas prices should be subject to price controls and capped at $3 per gallon.

For a Real Democratic Plan for Housing, Banking, Healthcare and Energy
Freddie, Fannie, Bear Stearns, and AIG have been either nationalized or given huge injections of public funds. But instead of capitalist nationalization which acts to save the rich, we call for socialist nationalization, with compensation based on need, and under working people's democratic control, so that the wealth of these institutions is used in the interests of the vast majority and not to line the pockets of the ruling class.

Only Struggle Can Bring Real Change
We can win our demands, but we have to organize. We can't depend on corporate politicians, Democrats or Republicans. McCain has been a supporter of unregulated markets for decades. Obama's failure to put forward a concrete program shows that he too is tied to Wall Street and to the capitalist system rather than trying to deal with the problems of ordinary people. Many commentators have correctly called the Wall Street bailouts "socialism for the rich." But this has nothing to do with genuine democratic socialism which is the real alternative to the crisis-ridden capitalist system. Democratic socialism is a system that would put the interests of the majority of working people before the interests and obscene profits of the financial oligarchy.

Mass demonstrations should be organized across the country to oppose the bi-partisan Wall Street swindle and fight the corporate agenda. The union movement has a tremendous opportunity to organize working class resistance to the corporate attacks on our pensions, healthcare and living standards. Conferences should be urgently organized in every major city around the country bringing together the labor movement, antiwar and community activists, to build a mass movement to defend the interests of working people.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

For the Sake of International Peace!

In commemoration of the International Day of Peace the UN and other international agencies have organized campaigns to petition world leaders and statesmen to stop their wars, aggressions, and illegal occupations.

This is a joke. Petitioning power-hungry world leaders with blood on their hands to stop their wars is like petitioning AIDS to stop killing people!

The only way to attain genuine and sustainable world peace is to topple these war-mongers in non-violent revolutions across the earth. Bring down the blood-thirsty leaders, get rid of the state which represses and kills you!

Give Peace A Chance

September 21 - The International Day of Peace

Message from the United Nations' Information Centers

International Day of Peace

This year, to mark the International Day of Peace on 21 September, and create a greater awareness of the day, the United Nations is encouraging a global messaging called “text for peace”. From now and on 21 September 2008, people around the world are encouraged to send messages to world leaders to encourage their support for peace. Messages will be conveyed to world leaders at the annual opening of the General Assembly on 23 September 2008.
While people living in the United States can send messages to a dedicated number, those leaving outside the US can use an online form or send at a special website http://www.peaceday2008.org/ or

اليوم الدولي للسلام

إحياءا لليوم الدولي للسلام يوم 21 أيلول/سبتمبر ، ومن أجل تعزير الوعي بهذا اليوم تنظم الأمم المتحدة هذه السنة حملة عالمية تحت شعار " نص للسلام" . فبداية من الآن وحتى يوم 21 سبتمبر /أيلول 2008 تحث الأمم المتحدة الناس على إرسال رسائل إلكترونية لقادة العالم من أجل دعم السلام . . وسيتم عرض الرسائل التي ستجمعها الأمم المتحدة على زعماء العالم المجتمعين في نيويورك لحضور الدورة 63 للجمعية العامة بدءا من 23 أيلول/سبتمبر2008.ويمكن إرسال هذه الرسائل عبر موقع اليوم الدولي للسلام على شبكة الأنترنت http://www.peaceday2008.org/
وكذلك على الموقع التالي http://www0.un.org/works/DoP2008/sendMsg.html

Friday, September 19, 2008

Greyhound Workers Call-Off Planned Strike

Greyhound reaches deal with drivers poised to strike

Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, September 18

OTTAWA - Greyhound has reached a tentative deal with its drivers and mechanics on the eve of a planned strike in Ontario and Quebec.

Greyhound Canada said specific terms of the agreement will not be released until presented to union members. However, the company said business will operate as usual on Friday.

"We are pleased that the company and the union were able to resolve the main issues under the contract, and hope that our represented employees will embrace this agreement," said Greyhound spokesman Stuart Kendrick in a statement Thursday

On Wednesday, the union which represents the Greyhound workers said 420 mechanics and drivers had voted 85 per cent in favour of a strike after rejecting the company's latest contract.

The move would have affected any Greyhound bus travelling to and from the two provinces.
At issue for the workers were changes to their pension plan and the number of working hours in a day.
© Canwest News Service 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Play Anarcho-Syndicalism!

Greyhound Workers to Strike in Two Canandian Provinces

Greyhound workers vote to strike in Ontario and Quebec
Canwest News Service
Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

OTTAWA -- Canadians with plans to travel by Greyhound Bus through Ontario and Quebec this weekend may have to make other travel arrangements after drivers and mechanics voted to walk off the job Friday.

Ken Sundberg, a spokesman for the union which represents the Greyhound workers said Wednesday 420 mechanics and drivers had voted 85 per cent in favour of a strike after rejecting the company's latest contract.

The move would affect any Greyhound bus travelling to and from the two provinces.
At issue for the workers are changes to their pension plan and the number of working hours in a day.

"When you look at the hours we drive, it does become a safety concern. We can end up working and driving up to 16 hours a day because some drivers may have to wait to drive," said Sundberg.

Sundberg said however, that the main point of contention for the employees was the company changing their pension plan from a benefit plan to a contribution plan, which the drivers believe will seriously hurt their pocketbooks when they retire.

There is no word yet whether the company will meet with the union before Friday.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Memory of Pink Floyd's Richard Wright

28 July, 1943 - 15 September, 2008

In Memory of the Late & Great Keyboardist. Richard Wright Shall Live-On Through his Timeless Music.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Victory for Workers at Seven Different Suez Canal Companies

Following a wave of labor protests & strikes which took place over the past two weeks, around seven thousand workers from seven Suez Canal companies managed to win concessions from their administrations and from the Canal Authorities. Workers at two companies – namely the Port (Utilities) Company in Ismailiya, and the Rope Manufacturing Company in Port Sa’id – had conducted protests, sleep-ins, and a strike during which they demanded that their companies be merged with Suez Canal Authority, or at least that they be granted parity with their worker-counterparts in the Authority.

“While the seven companies have not (yet) been merged within the Suez Canal Authority, the workers at these companies have been granted many of their demands” said Mohammad Hassan Haggag, a Local Union Committee Member representing workers at the Ismailiya Port Company. Haggag went on to say that “the Administrative President of the Suez Canal Authority, Lieutenant General Ahmad Ali Fadel, announced that the merger of these companies could be examined as early as November 15th – at the beginning of the upcoming parliamentary session – so that MPs could discuss the issuing of new legislation which brings into effect the merger of these seven companies within the Authority.”

In the meantime, the seven canal company administrations have pledged to grant their workers the following benefits - as of September the 18th or, at the latest, the 21st :

1.) A 50% increase in the basic wage of each worker.
2.) Another 50% raise in the basic wage of each worker - as “incentive pay.”
3.) Doubling the monthly food allowance – from LE26/month to LE52/month.
4.) A special monetary endowment for Ramadan & Eid – unspecified.
5.) Increasing the rate of profit-sharing amongst the companies’ workers – unspecified.

Unionization Rates Increasing in the USA

San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. labor unions making gains - slowly
George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pushed by membership gains here in California, the percentage of U.S. union workers is increasing for the first time since 1979, a report from the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment shows.

But it's not exactly a rapid advance. The rate of union membership rose only one-tenth of a percentage point from 2006 to 2007. Before that, the last time U.S. unionization rates increased was in 1979, the UCLA report noted. From 2007 to 2008, union membership nationwide rose half a percentage point, to 12.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers, according to the report, which came out today.

"This is good news for organized labor," said Ruth Milkman, a professor of sociology who is the lead author of the report and outgoing director of the UCLA labor institute. "It shows that despite an extremely hostile environment, unions can grow."

Beginning this Labor Day weekend, Americans will be getting an earful not only about a gain in union numbers, albeit small, but also about union organizing and labor-friendly legislation in Congress that Sen. Barack Obama supports and co-sponsored and with which Sen. John McCain couldn't disagree more. It's one of the great divides in the presidential campaign.

It is called the Employee Free Choice Act, the unions' top legislative priority. It would result in sweeping changes in the National Labor Relations Act by making labor organizing substantially easier. Unions would be permitted to form if a majority of workers signs authorization cards designating the union as the bargaining representative. That means of organizing is available now, but employers almost always insist that employees - even if a majority signs cards - choose whether they want union representation in a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The legislation would keep the election as an option, but would permit unions to sidestep the process, and in reality, employers say, unions will do just that.

Difference of opinion

"The difference is that under this legislation the workers, not the employers, choose how workers vote for their union," said Lane Windham, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.
"The concern that employers have is that these authorization cards could be a very poor indicator of employees' true feelings," as workers may be coerced into favoring union representation, said John Skonberg, a San Francisco lawyer who represents employers at the Littler Mendelson law firm.

"Employers feel they should have the ability to talk to employees and employees should have the ability to hear both sides and then go into a booth and vote in private," Skonberg said.
"The much more dangerous part of this statute is the second part," said Skonberg, referring to language that requires a first contract be referred to a mediator if agreement can't be reached after 90 days of negotiations, and then to an arbitrator if mediation fails.

"It's a disfavored concept because neither is usually wild about giving up the ability to get what they want," Skonberg said. Proponents of the legislation say the status quo is a stacked deck.

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, said, "What is essential for union growth and rebirth is labor law reform. We have a situation now that makes it exceedingly difficult for workers to organize and bargain collectively if they face any strong employer opposition."

UCLA's Milkman added, "This would give unions a fair chance if workers want to belong to a union. It would help level what has become a very lopsided playing field."
The House passed the 2007 version of the act, but it did not survive a Republican filibuster and President Bush said he would veto it if it reached his desk. It is to be reintroduced in the new Congress.

Organized labor's numbers have fallen dramatically from the 1950s. The UCLA report says that only 7.7 percent of private sector jobs in the United States are held by union-represented workers, while a study also released today by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and

Education puts it at 8.6 percent. But the private sector numbers are slightly higher in California, at 10 percent or more, the two labor centers agree. With increasing numbers of workers represented by unions in health and human services and government sectors, California is helping to push up the needle on U.S. unionization, said Jacobs of UC Berkeley.
The UCLA report said that this year, 57.1 percent of jobs in the public sector in California are
held by union members, and the figure is 37.2 percent nationwide.

California has more than 2.6 million union-represented workers. The Los Angeles metro area, which includes Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, helped drive California's union growth. Nearly half of California's union workers - 1.2 million workers - live in the Los Angeles area, according to the UCLA study, released annually on the Labor Day weekend.

In San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, Marin, San Mateo, Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Solano and Santa Cruz counties, there were 576,500 union members in 2007, compared with 598,800 in the first half of 2008, according to the report prepared by Milkman and UCLA sociology graduate student Bongoh Kye.

The report shows that through June, the number of U.S. workers represented by unions increased by 583,300 over the 2007 average. Much of the growth was generated in California, which UCLA noted accounts for 16 percent of all the nation's union members, more than any other state. California's unionization rate in 2008 is 17.8 percent, up from 16.7 percent in 2007 and 15.7 percent in 2006.

Historically, the Bay Area was the most highly unionized part of the state, the report noted, while Los Angeles lagged far behind. In recent years, the gap has nearly closed. The union density in the Bay Area is 17.7 percent, including both private and public sectors. In Los Angeles, both private and public sector union jobs account for 17 percent. The percentage in Sacramento, where there are many state government jobs, is 23 percent. It's 13.4 percent in San Diego, 15.9 percent in Fresno and 17.8 percent statewide.

Milkman said one reason California's numbers have been relatively stable is that the state was not as affected by the collapse of the industrial union structure as were other states. "That was always a much smaller part of the scene on the West Coast and has insulated California from much of the national decline," she said. "The other factor is the very strong public sector here - that's a lot of what is driving this."

As important for organized labor, she said, is the steady increase in membership in Service Employees International Union, particularly in health care. "That's the growth machine of organized labor these days," Milkman said. The 2 million-member SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America, adding 114,158 members in 2007.

Union workers earn more

The UCLA study noted that the average hourly earnings of U.S. union workers are about $2.50 higher than those for nonunion workers. Union members are also far more likely to have benefits like retirement plans, medical insurance and paid leave than nonunion workers, the study said.
It said that in 2007, 90 percent of union members had access to retirement benefits, compared with 61 percent of nonunion workers; 91 percent of union members had access to medical coverage, compared with 70 percent of nonunion workers, and 57 percent of union members had employer-provided paid-leave benefits, compared with 38 percent of nonunion workers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Photos of Rope Company Workers' Strike in Port Sa'id

Photos of Ismailiya Port Workers' Protest

Photos of Protesting Canal Workers in Port Sa'id & Ismaililya

Suez Canal Workers Protest & Strike

Around 2,000 workers from El Ismailiya Port (Utilities) Company launched an eight day sleep-in protest outside their company; from September the 1st until the 9th. The primary demand of these workers was the merger of their company into the Suez Canal Authority - under which this company, and six other canal companies, had previously been affiliated (from 1968-74.)

Workers at the Canal Authority are said to be paid wages that are five times greater than their counterparts at the seven different canal companies, with a 7% annual increase in these wages, with more job security, better benefits, and significantly larger pensions. The local union committee for the Ismailiya Port Company called for a suspension of this protest pending further bargaining and discussions with their company's administration.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 workers from the Port Sa'id Rope Manufacturing Company conducted a protest/strike for three days - from September 7th to the 9th. These workers also demanded that their company be merged with the Suez Canal Authority - or at least that they be granted parity with the wages and benefits of the workers employed at the Authority. These workers suspended their protest/strike during the earliest hours of September the 1oth, pending their local union committee's discussions with the Rope Company Administration. The Local Union Treasurer, Ashraf Abdel Hadi, said that "If no progress is made in these discussions by Sunday (Sept. 14) then we shall launch a full-blown strike."

Workers' wages in both of these companies are unrealistically low. At the Ismailiya Port Company Sobhi Mohammad Ahmad exclaimed "I have been working at this company for sixteen years now, and my total monthly wage - including my basic wage, bonuses, and incentive pay - is only LE429.30!" While in Port Sa'id, outside the Suez Canal Rope Company, Abbass Moussa said "I have been working at this company for twenty years now and I only get LE 500 per month. I have three children to raise and a monthly rent of LE100. How am I to live and support my family on LE 500 in this day and age?"

Monday, September 8, 2008

California union to seek Schwarzenegger recall

By Jim Christie Mon Sep 8, 7:24 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's prison guard union said on Monday it will seek the recall of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after he ordered a pay cut for its members amid the state's protracted budget deadlock.

"We're going to move it as quickly as possible," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said of efforts to launch a referendum to remove the Republican governor, who entered office in 2003 after a recall election of then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

Corcoran said a recall measure would likely end up on a special-election ballot next year rather than on the upcoming November ballot. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association must collect the signatures of more than 1 million registered voters to qualify the measure, according to the California Secretary of State's office.

"This is a governor that has been a complete failure," Corcoran charged.

Schwarzenegger's term ends in 2010 and he can not run again.

The 30,000-plus-member union has long been at odds with Schwarzenegger, but his order in July to cut the pay of prison guards to the minimum wage sparked their latest confrontation.
Schwarzenegger also ordered job cuts for an estimated 22,000 temporary state employees and sharply reduced wages for 200,000 other workers after California began its fiscal year on July 1 without a budget.

Corcoran said prison guards should be exempt from the pay cuts in light of their public safety role. They manage the largest state prison network in the United States, overseeing about 170,000 inmates, a system plagued by overcrowding and frequent violence between rival gang and ethnic groups.

The pay cuts ordered by Schwarzenegger have yet to be implemented while state lawmakers continue to haggle over a compromise budget plan. They must close a shortfall that Schwarzenegger has estimated at $15.2 billion, not including a $2 billion reserve he wants to create.

Democrats who control the state legislature have urged raising taxes to balance the state's books. Republicans oppose tax increases, including Schwarzenegger's proposal for a temporary increase in California's sales tax to help fill state coffers, and they are pressing for deeper spending cuts than Democrats say they will accept.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn said the governor was not concerned about a recall initiative.

"This is the latest in intimidation tactic after intimidation tactic used by the prison guard union in their never-ending effort to extract a huge pay raise out of the legislature and the governor," Mendelsohn said in a statement. "The governor will not be intimidated by these selfish tactics
worthy of a schoolyard bully."

Political science professor Larry Gerston said a recall would be a "long shot" even if Schwarzenegger's standing with voters continues its recent downward trend in the polls as voters give lawmakers even lower marks on job performance.

"People are frustrated, that's for sure. But I'm not sure the frustration manifests itself enough with the governor," said Gerston, who teaches at San Jose State University.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)