Sunday, May 31, 2015

Euskal Herria: Historic pro-Basque coalition forms government in Navarre

Uxue Barkos, leader of Geroa Bai
Regional elections held in Spain on May 24 have installed an historic pro-Basque state government in the autonomous community of Navarre for the first time,  bringing to an end 16 years of rule by the pro-Spanish, centre-right Navarrese People's Union (UPN).

The UPN won only 15 seats, down four from 2011, while their allies the right-wing Spanish People’s Party (of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy) won 2, half of their quota in 2011.   

Instead, Uzue Barkos, leader of the pro-Basque coalition Geroa Bai (“Yes to the Future”) – itself a coalition of centre-left Basque nationalist association Zabaltzen and the centre-right Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) – approached other pro-Basque parties to negotiate a coalition government after her party won 9 seats.      

In order to form government, Geroa Bai needed to secure 26 seats in the 50-seat Navarrese parliament – 17 more than their direct mandate.      

Geroa Bai immediately entered into discussions with the Basque leftist pro-independence coalition Euskal Herria Bildu ("Basque Country Unite", EH Bildu), which won 8 seats, the new Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos (7 seats) and the left-federalist Izquierda-Ezkerra ("Left-Left", I-E) – the Navarra affiliate of Spain's Izquierda Unida ("United Left") – with 2 seats.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trade Union Royal Commission signals new attacks on workers’ rights

On May 19 the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption released a 116-page discussion paper (PDF) of potential law reforms, recommending a swathe of new attacks on union rights.

The proposals in the paper give the clearest indication so far of the likely outcome of the expensive inquisition into the union movement when the Commission releases its findings in December.

The document presents little more than a sweeping wish list of restrictions on the rights of union officials and the ability of unions to carry out their work to benefit members.

Among the ideas presented for “discussion” is further restricting right of entry provisions, making it harder for unions to enter worksites to investigate safety and other breaches by employers.

In this, as well as other proposals, the pro-employer bias of the commission is clear. Rather than the importance of union right of entry in preventing workplace deaths and protecting work conditions, the paper is concerned with union right of entry powers as a “serious encroachment upon liberty” to be curtailed.

Directly targeting union militancy, the paper also suggests new police “move on” powers to break up picket lines and protests at construction sites.

Under the proposed new laws, anyone who failed to leave an area within 15 minutes of a police direction would be guilty of an offence, and conviction would be grounds to automatically ban a person from holding any union office.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Germany: SPD wins Bremen election amid record low voter turnout

The German city-state of Bremen went to the polls on May 10
Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has narrowly held on to power in the city of Bremen, Germany’s smallest state, after elections on May 10 saw the governing coalition returned with a diminished majority amidst a record low voter turnout.

While the SPD still topped the poll with 32.9 percent, its vote share was down 5.7 percent on the 2011 election, and marks its worst ever result in Bremen.

The SPD has governed the city-state – one of Germany’s main industrial centres – continuously since the end of World War Two. Bremen, with a population of only 655,000, has been hard hit by a gradual decline in the local shipbuilding industry and by weakened public finances.

It now suffers from Germany’s highest unemployment rate, at 11 percent, as well as high levels of debt. According to a recent report by German charity Der Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband, nearly a quarter of people in Bremen live in poverty, more than any other German state.

The level of political engagement has suffered as a result, with barely fifty percent of the electorate turning out to vote in this election – the lowest turnout in any poll in modern Germany history. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ireland: Attacks on leading Sinn Féin members a threat to peace

Arson attack on a Sinn Féin billboard in Derry
A series of violent attacks and bomb threats against leading members of Sinn Féin, as well as a fatal shooting, threaten to overshadow May 7 elections in the six counties in the north of Ireland.

In recent weeks leading up to the May 7 British General Election there have been a series of arson attacks on Sinn Féin electoral billboards across the six counties.

Since the start of May, however, these attacks have escalated dramatically into a campaign of intimidation and violence, including arson, death threats, and bomb alerts targeting leading republicans.

On May 2, a number of cars were set alight in Derry, including one belonging to well-known local community worker and Sinn Féin activist Sean McMonagle.

Early in the morning of May 5, high profile Sinn Féin member Gerard “Jock” Davison was gunned down near his home in the Markets area of south Belfast on his way to work at the local community centre.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Germany: Record rail strike brings country to a halt

Striking GDL workers
On May 5, thousands of German train drivers and railway workers embarked on a week-long strike, the longest rail strike in the country’s post-war history, after fraught industrial negotiations broke down again.

Approximately two thirds of Germany’s long distance trains and a third of regional trains have been cancelled, with trains in the eastern region around Halle, Leipzig, and Dresden reduced to around 15 percent of services.

Some subway systems were also affected, including those in Hamburg and Berlin.

Deutsche Bahn accounts for about a fifth of Germany's freight transport – around 1 million tonnes per day – as well as moving 5.5 million passengers daily.

During earlier railway strikes, economists from the Federation of German Industries estimated that extended train strikes could cost Germany's economy "up to 100 million euros per day", and German industry has, predictably, condemned the strike.

In November last year, train drivers announced an until-then-unprecedented four-day strike, but then shortened it to three days, the longest since a GDL-led national strike in 2007.