Filipino Workers In Greece Protest Deportations

Militant, Vol.59 no.29, 14 August 1995

This column is devoted to reporting the resistance by working people to the employers' assault on their living standards, working conditions, and unions.

We invite you to contribute short items to this column as a way for other fighting workers around the world to read about and learn from these important struggles. Jot down a few lines about what is happening in your union, at your workplace, or other workplaces in your area, including interesting political discussions.

Some 100 Filipino workers and their supporters protested July 23 outside the Philippine embassy in Athens. The event marked the fifth day that 55 terminated Filipino garment workers had camped outside the embassy to demand an extension of their August 20 deportation order. They had been working for Alexander Fashions on the Island of Kos for nearly five years under an agreement between the company and the Philippine government.

“We are here and we will stay here until we win our rights as human beings,” said Roland McCarthy, president of the union at Alexander Fashions. Immigrant rights organizations throughout Europe, including the Panafrican Association, have backed the fight, as have unions in Greece and the Philippines.

The garment shop closed its doors last October, giving the 240 employees three days' notice. The workforce included 88 Filipinos as well as some Albanian, Turkish, Polish, and Russian workers.

Under Greek law, immigrant workers must leave the country within 15 days of vacating a job. But the Garment Workers Federation and the workers fought back. They filed suit in court against their illegal termination, and eventually won the right to receive unemployment benefits.

“We have been paying taxes in Greece and in the Philippines and they want to deny us the right to receive something in return,” one worker said. At the end of July, the workers were told they must leave the country by August 20—well before their benefits expire or their case has been heard.

One-day strike shuts down British Rail Some 10,000 train drivers in England joined a national strike July 14. The strikers, members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), shut down almost all of British Rail's network. The action was the first in a series of one-day strikes called by the union's executive committee after workers voted 2 to 1 for strike action.

The drivers are demanding more than the 3 percent raise offered by the company. Workers point out that British Rail cut 7.2 percent of the jobs and imposed more demanding work schedules through restructuring.

“Drivers are under increasing pressure to work when sick,” ASLEF branch secretary Karen Harrison said on the picket line at London's Marylebone Station. “One driver here, who was off work with a back injury, was called in and sacked.”

The unionists have set four more one-day actions. Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union working for London Underground have voted to strike July 27 over their pay claim, and ASLEF members on London Underground are being balloted on joining the action. This would bring all rail services in the capital to a standstill.

Philadelphia hotel workers protest Carrying signs stating, “It's no Holiday at Jaworskís Inn,” hundreds of unionists rallied and marched July 18 at the Holiday Inn Philadelphia Stadium. They were protesting the physical assault of a union business agent, Edward Kirlin. Two private security guards from the hotel have been charged with assaulting Kirlin while he filmed a small picket line by fired hotel workers.

The hotel has been the target of ongoing picketing since a group including former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and former linebacker Bill Bergey purchased the facility in 1993. The new owners replaced 70 union employees with nonunion workers.

Rally speakers called for letter writing, creating a pro- labor city council, and for a union buyout of the hotel.

1,500 supporters rally for Irving Oil strikers Fifteen hundred workers attended a rally July 17 to support striking workers at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. It was the largest solidarity action since 264 workers walked out of the refinery, the largest in Canada, on May 12, 1994.

“The meeting shows the deep support which we have from working people in New Brunswick,” said Larry Washburn, president of the striking union, in a telephone interview.

Irving Oil is part of the Irving family empire, which employs tens of thousands of workers in New Brunswick in forestry, papermaking, shipbuilding, construction, food processing, and petroleum refining and retailing. The strike was sparked by the company's demand to lengthen the average workweek from 37.5 hours to 42.

Strikers are members of Local 691 of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP).

The rally was sponsored by the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. Workers from more than 70 union locals in the Saint John area attended.

“Since the meeting,” reports striking worker Cathy Dube, “we have more unions joining us on the picket line and on the boycott campaign leafleting.”

Strikers organize daily leafleting in the Saint John area, explaining the goals of the strike and urging residents to boycott Irving Oil products. They have taken the campaign to workers across New Brunswick and the other provinces of Atlantic Canada.

The strikers have strong support from unionists in the state of Maine, an important market for Irving Oil. They regularly visit cities and towns at the invitation of unions there.

“It's hard to be on strike for one year,” commented one striker while attending the recent New Brunswick Federation of Labour convention. “But we made the right decision. The company wanted the union out of the refinery. If we hadn’t stood up and gone on strike, we would be in a much weaker position today.”

Detroit nursing home workers stage walkout One thousand nursing home workers staged a one-day strike July 25 in their fight for a new contract. The strikers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 79, have been working without a contract since May 1.

The strike targeted nine facilities, seven of which are owned by GranCare, one of the largest nursing home chains in the United States.

“We’re only striking for one day this time to get their attention,” said Latonna Jarrett, a worker at Belle Woods home. “But we’re ready to go out on a full strike if we don’t get a contract. We had 14 negotiating sessions and they offered nothing.”

The key demands of the workers are for a substantial wage hike and increased staffing levels to improve care and decrease health risks. The workers are also demanding a health care and pension plan.

One striker's T-shirt summed up the workers' sentiments, “We demand dignity, rights, and respect.”

Contributors to this column include: Babel Munawar and Natasha Terlexis in Athens, Greece; Martin Hill, a member of the Transport and General Workers Union in London; Bob Stanton in Philadelphia; Roger Annis, a member of the CEP in Montreal; and John Sarge, a member of United Autoworkers Local 900 in Detroit.