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November in Review

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December 10, 2007

November in Review

Worker and Student Strikes, War Resistance, Climate Change Topples Howard

by Philip Neatby

58,000 University and CEGEP students participated in multi-day strike actions in Quebec, culminating in a November 15th march in Montreal Photo: ASSE

In France, an unprecedented strike of transport workers erupted throughout Paris, sparking waves of walkouts of public employees, students, teachers, and postal workers. The strike was the first major challenge for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected in May on a free-market platform. In line with this platform, Sarkozy has proposed a sweeping reform plan of France's public sector. The strikes began after rail workers took to the streets in protest of a bill that would increase their pension contribution period. The transport workers, whose strike shut down all but 90 of Paris' 700 fast train lines, were joined days later by public sector workers, who staged walk-outs in protest of plans to lay off 23,000. By late November, after weeks of class disruptions, several student unions struck as well in opposition to plans to privatize France's exclusively public post-secondary universities. At the peak of these strikes, a multi-sector 24-hour walk-out brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Paris on November 20th. Although the rail workers strike effectively ended on November 22nd, after 42 of the 45 committees representing the striking workers voted to suspend their work stoppage, some public sector unions have warned that new strikes could begin next month.

In Quebec, 38 Student Unions and students associations representing about 58,000 University and CEGEP students participated in multi-day strike actions in response to the de-freezing of tuition fees by the Charest government. The strikes were called by the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Etudiante (ASSÉ), a province-wide union of student associations. On November 15th, a one-day strike was called across the province and 2000 marched in Montreal against the Charest government's post-secondary education plans. This march came two days after 300 students staged an occupation of the CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal. Police responded with overwhelming brutality, arresting 150. Other students faced police attacks after staging a sit-in at the office of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) rector Claude Corbo. The demands of ASSE are wide-reaching, and include free and accessible post-secondary education for all students in Quebec. Organizers have hinted at further strike action in the winter term.

A striker troop transport vehicle in downtown Olympia, Washington. This vehicle was a focus of the anti-war blockades that ground movement of military vehicles into the Port of Olympia to a halt in early November. Photo: [CC 2.0] Photo: Dead Drift [Creative Commons]

In Olympia, Washington hundreds of anti-war demonstrators successfully blockaded the entry of military equipment returning from Iraq. This military port town is used to ship military equipment to and from Iraq, including armoured transport 'striker' vehicles. Blockades on November 9th shut down military traffic into and out of Olympia for 18 hours. Roving highway blockades throughout the town further impeded the entry of military equipment. Civilian shipments were allowed to enter and leave the port. Police responded with force, arresting 66 in total over the week and a half of actions and heavily pepper-spraying, tear gassing, and shooting demonstrators with rubber bullets. After several more days of protest actions, another sit-down blockade brought the military port to a halt for another 13 hours on November 13th. Said protest organizer Phan Nguyen: "We also encourage other communities to look around and just see what all the possibilities are and understand that they are capable of doing this."

The Canadian Supreme Court refused to even hear the case of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, the first two war resisters to have publicly travelled to Canada in order to refuse to fight the war in Iraq. They are expected to face deportation proceedings. The War Resisters support campaign held protests in eight Canadian cities and is appealing to supporters to bombard Canadian MP's with letters and faxes asking for a parliamentary provision allowing Hughey and Hinzman to remain in Canada.

In Pakistan following the imposition of marshal law by military dictator Pervez Musharraf, thousands of political opposition activists, lawyers, judges, human rights activists, and political workers were rounded up and arrested within days. Musharraf's crackdown occurred as the Pakistani Supreme Court was to rule on his eligibility to run for a second term in office. The Supreme Court had shown an unprecedented judicial independence on numerous occasions, perhaps most notably in its June ruling against the privatization of Pakistan's state steel mill due to its proposed sale to a Russian-lead consortium linked to the current Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Despite the military crackdown, protests, particularly by students and lawyers, have continued into December throughout the country demanding the re-instatement of the Supreme Court judges and the resignation of President Musharraf. Contrary to its own rhetoric, the US government has maintained steady political and economic support to Musharraf throughout the month, despite the brutal repression being meted out. US officials later applauded the President's announcement that he would name himself president of the country for another five-year term. Musharraf has stated that the marshal law will be lifted on December 16th.

A No Border Camp organized by immigrant rights activists along the US-Mexican border was attacked by approximately 100 border control guards, who used with pepper gas pellets, tazers, and batons against 30 peaceful demonstrators. The camp was set up to challenge neo-liberal capitalism, border militarization and migration controls. Demonstrators had conducted a number of non-violent actions, including a cross-border kissing booth where activists on both sides of the border kissed through holes in the border fence separating southern California from Mexico. Three were arrested in total. Another no border camp, was held in Montreal at the Laval Detention Centre, where refugees, immigrants, and non-status people are detained by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Anti-uranium mining activist and grandmother Donna Dillman has moved her hunger strike from Sharbot Lake to the Queen's Park legislature in Toronto. Dillman's hunger strike began in solidarity with two first nations communities, Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin, who had occupied a uranium mine on unceded land currently under the proprietorship of Frontenac Ventures. Like Dillman, the majority of non-native community members in the region were supportive of the occupation, which ended last month. Dillman's hunger strike enters its sixtieth day as of this writing, and she has pledged to remain camped out in her car in front of the legislature until a moratorium on uranium mining is enacted.

Environmentalists in Nova Scotia have won a major victory after a government-appointed panel deemed that a proposed gravel quarry near the rural town of Digby would cause irreversible environmental impacts upon the coastal eco-system. A US-based company had planned a 150-hectare basalt quarry and a marine terminal along the Digby neck peninsula. The quarry would produce gravel exclusively for export to the United States. The proposal was killed this month after the Nova Scotia government upheld the ruling of the independent panel.

In Tanzania, Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold was hit by a strike of over 1,000 of its workers, bringing the company's operations within the country to a halt. The workers were striking over a number of grievances with Barrick, including salaries, meagre healthcare allowances and non-payment of risk allowances. In response Barrick fired hundreds of workers who participated in the walk-out. The Tanzania Mines and Construction Workers Union responded by taking Barrick to court, to seek an injunction on replacing the fired workers until the company had addressed the union's grievances. The legal decision on the injunction is pending as of this writing. Meanwhile, days before the miners strike began, over one thousand marched against Barrick's proposed Pascua Lama project in the streets of Santiago, Chile

In Venezuala, Hugo Chavez has been handed the first loss of his term in office after a national referendum on constitutional reform yielded a rejection by a margin of less than a percentage point. The proposed changes to the constitution included the expansion of state cooperatives and participatory community councils, the reduction of the work-day to six hours, the creation of a new class of 'social' property, the expansion of social security benefits to workers in the informal sector, and, most controversial of all, the lengthening of the presidential term from six to seven years and a removal of term limits for President. Although Chavez still maintains overwhelming popularity within the country, the vote yielded a high abstention rate, indicating that even among supporters of Chavez's social project there were some widely-felt reservations with the proposed reforms. The opposition campaign against the amendments was heavily financed by the CIA and the US government, who continue to work to destabilize the Chavez-led government.

The British Columbian Supreme Court gave a boost to aboriginal land claims in Canada after ruling that the Tsilhqot'in First Nation be granted ownership rights of the Chilcotin region, a two thousand square kilometre region of the province. But the outcome of this legal case, which took a decade to complete, has much wider reaching implications. In his 458-page ruling, BC Supreme Court judge David Vickers deemed decisions about forestry and mining upon unceded territory to be illegitimate without consultation and agreement with First Nations communities. He also ruled that traditional hunting and trapping areas be admissible as jurisdiction of land claims. The ruling stopped short of a binding legal decision, but the provincial government has been ordered to pick up the full legal tab of the case, which amounts to $30 million in legal fees.

In Australia the government of conservative prime minister John Howard, one of the closest allies of the Bush administration, was soundly defeated in this month's elections. Climate change and Iraq were the dominant issues of the campaign. National demonstrations against the Howard government's refusal to adopt the Kyoto Protocol drew 115,000 two weeks prior to the election. In-coming Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged to adopt the Kyoto treaty and withdraw Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq by 2008, although hundreds of troops will remain in the country in 'supportive' roles. There are also no plans to withdraw Australia's 1,000 troops in Afghanistan.

In the lead-up to the international conference on global warming in Bali, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organizing body behind the conference, released a new report revealing that greenhouse gas Emissions from the world's richest countries were "at an all-time high." The two countries with the most drastic increases in GHG emissions were also the sole two hold-outs to the Kyoto process amongst the developed nations of the world: the United States and Australia. Meanwhile, Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, has called Canadian PM Stephen Harper's unwillingness to support binding GHG emissions-reduction targets, unless they apply equally to developing countries, an "opportunistic" action. Said Pachauri: "This particular government has been a government of skeptics. They do not want to do anything on climate change."

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