By Harry Kelber | The World of Labor | November 3, 2012

With barely a week before the presidential elections, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States, causing horrifying damages in New York City and the surrounding region.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left without light, heat and safe drinking water, in some cases for days. Businesses shut down, because subways and buses were not running, and there was no way that workers could get to their jobs. Patients in hospitals, including new-born babies, had to be evacuated because backup generators were not working. The death toll reached 40 and was still rising. The damage to the economy was roughly estimated at $50 billion, but this hardly covers the disruption of people’s lives, a nightmarish experience they will never forget.

Efforts to recover from the hurricane began almost immediately. Within two days, buses were running and a few subway trains were made available between certain stations. There was an acute shortage of gas, resulting in stalled cars. School children were told to report to their classes the following Monday. Lighting began to be restored by Con Edison, and hundreds of generators could be purchased. Food stores restocked their shelves, profiting from the heavy purchases of consumers, who remembered those hungry nights. There was an optimistic feeling that New York would recover, and be all the better for the Hurricane Sandy experience.

European Unions Protest against Ford Plants’ Closures

Unions in Belgium and the U.K. reacted with angry protests to the Ford Motor Co. announcement on Oct. 24 that it planned to close its car assembly in Genk, Belgium, and transfer the production to Spain. One day later, the company also revealed that it would close the Transit cab chassis factory in Southampton and tooling and stamping units in Dagenham, its U.K. sites.

About 6,000 car workers in Belgium and the U.K. are to lose their jobs in the coming years as part of Ford’s restructuring of its European operations. The company says it is removing overcapacities in Europe in order to address losses due to the shrinking of the car market in Western Europe.

In order to address the issues of closure and restructuring in Europe in its full complexity, the European trade unions, representing autoworkers, appealed to the European governing institutions to seek a more equitable solution. Unite, Britain’s biggest global union, said the consequences of Ford’s plans would be devastating to many communities and affect the loss of 10,000 jobs through the supply chains.

Workers Triumph after Setting Up Cooperatives

For three years now, the cooperatives set up by workers who were dismissed by bra-maker Triumph, is not just thriving, but is also successful in supporting other workers’ rights. After losing their jobs, the 12 workers set up a small "social venture," to start producing undergarments for both sexes under the "Try Arm" brand in October 2008. Now, they allocate 10 percent of their income to support union rights and political activities.

Jitra Kotchadej, coordinator of the project, explained that the venture was not a factory, but a business investment, with a political dimension. She said all co-owners of the cooperative, which is located in a four-story shop-house, earn Bt20 more than the current Bt300 daily minimum wage.

Note: Bt (baht) is Thai currency, with about 38 bahts equal to one U.S. dollar.

Bahrein Doctors Jailed for Treating Injured Protesters

Twenty Bahraini medics who treated activists wounded during anti-government protests were jailed for between five and fifteen years in sentences that were immediately denounced by medical bodies and human rights groups around the world.

The sentences were handed down by a military court, set up to handle the trials, which stemmed from an Arab spring-inspired uprising in the country in February and March. It was crushed with the help of armies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states

All of the accused were charged with committing crimes against the state during an uprising they insist was peaceful and popularly inspired. The formal charges against the doctors was for stealing medicine, possessing weapons and occupying a government hospital.

Bosses Cave in to Kenya Dockers’ Job Demands

Jubilant Kenya dockers return to work Nov. 4 after two days of strikes forced employers to cave in to their demands. The dockers successful strike had brought east African trade hub Mombasa to a nearly complete standstill.

Dock workers union(DWU) general secretary Simon Sang said most of the "casual" employees had worked there between 7 and 15 years, and many had more than 20 years’ service on the docks. The KPA agreed to absorb more than 2,500 workers on the permanent roster, entitling them to full pension rights and greater job security.

Workers had been forced to strike when the KPA missed the September deadline for awarding the employment letters. The strike crippled the dock, which is the second largest on the East African coast and is a vital trade gateway to many central East African states.

Grenada Workers Take to the Streets to Protest Job Cuts

Workers, angry at the prospect of losing their jobs, say the Grenada government itself should be dismissed; their leader warns that the administration of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas could pay a price at the next general election in this Caribbean island.

"Stop the layoff of the workers; layoff the government," was among the messages of employees of Gravel, Concrete & Emulsion Production Corporation, as they protested through the streets of St. George last week.

The protests were sparked by company letters sent to the work force, advising of plans for the temporary retrenchment of employees, starting with 55 on November 5. The company said it is facing a "deepening financial and operating crisis" and is unable to meet its loan obligations.

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