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Amid Fuel Price Crisis, Nigeria Goes on Strike

9:49 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Photo: Alashock's Blog)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Nigeria is a giant on the African continent, a maturing democracy and a major hub for culture and trade. It also contains about one sixth of Africa’s population, many of whom live in abject poverty. So when the government decided to “save” funds by removing a critical fuel subsidy, it lit a tinderbox of populist outrage.

Uprisings have been rocking the country all week. Tens of thousands of protesters amassed to express anger at a jump in oil prices. Labor activists launched a general strike. Oil workers have also threatened to shut down production, jolting global oil markets. Tensions, and the public’s energy, run high as talks between labor and the government are pending.

At the start of the mass actions, the Nigeria Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress issued a joint statement to

congratulate the Nigerian masses for a second successful day of strikes, rallies and mass protests…. By their actions in the past few days, Nigerians have left the Presidency and the world in no doubt that sovereignty belongs to them and that they intend to reclaim their country.

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Oil Workers Rise Up in Kazakhstan, Face Brutal Crackdown

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Oil workers vote. (Image courtesy New Socialists of Kazakhstan)

Cross-posted from In These Times

Every protest movement has its slogan: Tax the rich, we are the 99%. The striking oil workers in Kazakhstan, though, put it a bit more bluntly: “Don’t Shoot the People.”

The statement of stark desperation and defiance was displayed by protesters in the western Kazakh city of Aktau on Monday. Hundreds of them gathered to defend their labor rights and confronted a hail of bullets.

The New York Times reported, “The authorities have put the death toll from those clashes at 14, though witnesses and human rights workers have said the number of dead could be many times higher. Scores more have reportedly been injured.”

The scene was replayed elsewhere in the region. The first major crackdown took place in the nearby city of Zhanaozen on Friday, where police reportedly opened fire on strikers who had been occupying a central square for months. Gunfire rang out later over demonstrators who had blocked local railroads in the neighboring city of Shepte.

The weekend of bloodshed was a stunning climax to a long-running struggle in the petrol-rich area known as Manghystau, between an elite protected by the ex-soviet state, and the state oil and gas workers left behind by the boom. It also suggests that labor conflicts are galvanizing a mass social movement. Read the rest of this entry →

Tar Sands Protest Shows Unity, Tension in Green-Labor Alliance

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

A protester at the Keystone XL Pipeline Protest outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2011. (Photo: Emma Cassidy at TarSandsAction on Flickr, Creative Commons license.)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Thousands gathered near the White House on Sunday to say no to the Keystone oil pipeline. The human chain the protesters formed symbolized unity among environmentalists, youth, indigenous groups and other communities, all calling for decisive political action against climate change and fossil fuels.

But the emergent coalition has encountered fissures between environmental and economic goals. Pipeline boosters have controversially claimed that some 20,000 jobs are at stake in the project, which would channel notoriously dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Activists have challenged and debunked the fuzzy math surrounding the projections of new jobs and “energy security,” and say environmental destruction shouldn’t trump narrow economic arguments, anyway. But tell that to struggling construction workers and others frustrated at Washington’s failure to alleviate the jobs crisis–some of the same folks you might find nearby at an Occupy DC rally.

Though environmentalists have united in broad opposition to Keystone XL, the project reveals tensions on labor issues, which illustrate the polarity between two visions of economic development. As we’ve reported before, several unions support Keystone XL as a possible source of jobs. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Laborers’ International Union of North America are already gunning for contracts to help build the pipeline, while other unions have remained neutral. (For the company behind the project, TransCanada, peddling the job-genie rhetoric helps paper over the profit motives driving its extensive lobbying efforts and apparent ties to the infamous Koch dynasty. The State Department is now planning an inquiry into how the pipeline permit process was handled.) Read the rest of this entry →

Labor Draws New Battle Lines on Iraq and Iran Oil Fields

3:29 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Image courtesy US Labor Against the War

Cross-posted from In These Times

The Middle East’s two key exports these days seem terribly at odds with each other: oil, the lifeblood of the global economic order, and political unrest, in the form of protest movements rolling across the region. Occasionally, though, oil and dissent can mix, and workers may be channeling a bit of the Arab Spring into the petrol empires of Iraq and Iran.

A few weeks ago, the Federation of Workers Councils Unions of Iraq reported on unrest in the Kurdistan region, involving 174 workers of the Taq Taq Oil Operation Company. The conflict, according to the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions site, centers on charges of “a complete lack of equality for Kurdish workers” as well as fundamental abuses at the heart of the oil economy: Read the rest of this entry →