UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 3, 2009

CRISIS: COUNTRY BY COUNTRY

Guardian - In Athens, it was students and young people who suddenly mobilized to turn parts of the city into no-go areas. They were sick of the lack of jobs and prospects, the failings of the education system and seized with pessimism over their future. This week it was the farmers' turn, rolling their tractors out to block the motorways, main road and border crossings across the Balkans to try to obtain better procurement prices for their produce."

International Herald Tribune - A French minister flew to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe for talks aimed at ending a 13-day general strike over pay and prices that has paralyzed the French territory and threatens to fuel dissent at home. Business leaders have warned of economic ruin if the dispute is not resolved soon and officials are anxious to prevent any contagion to the French mainland, where unions are demanding more government action to tackle the economic crisis. . . An alliance of 47 unions and local bodies known as the Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon - whose name in Creole means "Let's stand up to fight against all sorts of abuses" - began their protest on Jan. 20 over the cost of living. They have drawn up a list of 146 demands including an increase in the minimum salary of E200, or $257, a freeze on rents and a cut in taxes and food prices. They also want an immediate 50-cent reduction in the price of a liter of petrol.

Foreign Policy - The financial crisis has gotten so severe in Britain that it has earned London a new nickname in the international media: Reykjavik-on-Thames. The question in Britain is no longer when the economy will enter a recession, but when it will enter a depression, with many bracing for a slump that could rival the 1930s in severity. . .

Guardian - More than 10,000 people converged on the 13th century cathedral to show the Latvian government what they thought of its efforts at containing the economic crisis. The peaceful protest morphed into a late-night rampage as a minority headed for the parliament, battled with riot police and trashed parts of the old city. The following day, there were similar scenes in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital next door"

Foreign Policy - Latvia is arguably the one country that most resembles Iceland, and not just because of the cold climate. The small, developing country's lofty growth rates in recent years were fueled by heavy investment from elsewhere in Europe, massive foreign debt, booming consumption, and minimal savings. After growing at an extraordinary 12.2 percent rate in 2006, Latvia's economy is now the weakest of the 27 EU member states. . . . The International Monetary Fund has approved a $7.3 billion bailout package for Latvia, but a long road to recovery remains.

Foreign Policy -The Greek economy, burdened by a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 90 percent, is one of the shakiest in the European Union. . .

Foreign Policy - Economic damage: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an old U.S. enemy from the Cold War, explained the financial crisis by stating, "God is punishing the United States." But the ripple effects from the crisis will likely reach all the way to his own country. Nicaragua's economy is heavily dependent on remittances, with the central bank estimating that Nicaraguans abroad send back between $800 million and $1 billion every year. The U.S. economic downturn means that fewer Nicaraguans will have money to send home. The financial crisis has also pushed down the price of coffee, Nicaragua's main export, as investors have abandoned the commodity market.

Guardian, UK - Gordon Brown condemned wildcat strikes as "indefensible" amid efforts to prevent the row over foreign labor escalating into mass industrial action. The prime minister said he recognized that people were worried about jobs being taken by workers from other countries, but stressed that the UK was part of a single European market. . . The protests were prompted by a decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on a new plant at the Lindsey oil refinery, in North Lincolnshire. Unions claim Britons were not given any opportunity to apply for the posts.

Reuters - - Peru's largest federation of mining unions said over the weekend it has agreed to call a nationwide strike starting on March 15, to protest mounting job cuts and to pressure Congress to lift caps on profit sharing.. . . Mine workers are upset by job cuts spurred by the global economic crisis, which has slammed prices for most of Peru's metal exports, the government's largest revenue source. According to the mining federation, more than 5,500 workers have lost their jobs since December, while the Labor Ministry puts the figure at 4,000.

Times, UK - The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability. . . China's new year of the ox portends calm but there is little sign of it as workers in Shezhen protest over unpaid wages as factories shut. Bankruptcies, unemployment and social unrest are spreading more widely in China than officially reported, according to independent research that paints an ominous picture for the world economy. The research was conducted for The Sunday Times over the last two months in three provinces vital to Chinese trade - Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. It found that the global economic crisis has scythed through exports and set off dozens of protests that are never mentioned by the state media.

Ana, Greece - Farmers from Iraklio and Lasithi on Crete embarked on ferry boats bound for the port of Piraeus, along with their tractors and pick-up trucks, determined to take their protest to the capital. . . Amid government appeals that they leave their tractors behind, farmers on Crete had earlier disbanded their five-day road block at Linoperamata and Platani and arranged to meet at the island's port the same evening.

Reuters - Hundreds of nuclear workers joined nationwide protests against the use of foreign-contracted labor, saying Britons were losing out at a time of rising unemployment and economic recession. About 900 contractors at the Sellafield nuclear processing plant in northern England walked off the job, joining more than 1,000 others in the fuel and energy industries who have carried out impromptu strikes over foreign labor in recent days.

Guardian - Burned-out cars, masked youths, smashed shop windows and more than a million striking workers. The scenes from France are familiar, but not so familiar to President Nicolas Sarkozy, confronting the first big wave of industrial unrest of his time in the Elysee Palace. . . The latest jobless figures were to have been released yesterday, but were held back, apparently for fear of inflaming the protests."

Times, UK - Wildcat strikes flared at more than 19 sites across [Britain] in response to claims that British tradesmen were being barred from construction jobs by contractors using cheaper foreign workers."

Daily Mail, UK - Russia was rocked by some of its strongest protests yet as thousands rallied across the vast country to attack the Kremlin's response to the global economic crisis. The marches, complete with Soviet-style red flags and banners, pose a challenge to a government which has faced little threat from the fragmented opposition and politically apathetic population during the boom years fuelled by oil. Pro-government thugs beat up some of the protesters. . . About 2,500 people marched across the far eastern port of Vladivostok to denounce the Cabinet's decision to increase car import tariffs, shouting slogans urging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resign. . . . Meanwhile in Moscow arrests were made as about 1,000 diehard Communists rallied in a central square hemmed in by heavy police cordons.

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