Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farzad May Hang Today

This morning we received news that jailed Iranian teacher union activist Farzad Kamangar may be hanged within the next few hours.

According to the Education International, he has been taken from his cell in Tehran's Evin prison in preparation for execution. The guards have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him, calling him a martyr.

LabourStart's urgent action is now live, here:

UPDATE: we (LabourStart) have been having some technical problems as a result of the hight volume of traffic to our site in response to this appeal.

You can also send a message via the EI (the global union federation for education workers) website at:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

CUPE 3903 Strike Site Sideswiped

Chris Lawson at CUPE sent the following along. Lesson: grab all the domains you can that might be used against you, while you can.

Please help CUPE 3903. They're in week two of a strike and they've been sideswiped by someone who registered and pointed it at the university web site.

While they pursue their complaint with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, they're looking to improve their ranking on Google, so that people searching for information about the York University strike find their information, not the university's, or the anti-strike student groups'.

>> Additionally, another way to boost search engine ranking is from
>> inbound links. The more websites that link to the
>> better... and even more than quantity of links are quality. If we
>> can get a couple of very popular sites to link to us the more google
>> will like our new page! So get the word out!

Please put a link to the real CUPE 3903 site ( on your website, using "York University strike information" as the link text. Not sure how to do that? Take the following code:

York University strike information and get your web worker to put it on your page.

Thanks for your help!

York Strike Updates

For updates on the CUPE 3902 strike see the union's strike site at:

York University strike information

If you're a blogger or websteward, add the York Uni Strike newswire to your site by following the simple instructions at:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say "Bah, Humbug" to Exploitive Presents

This is about as christmasie as I can get...originally published at Straight Goods in 2007.

Make sure that what you buy was fairly made and fairly traded.

Surveys consistently suggest that Canadians are willing to pay higher prices for goods they know are produced fairly — a fair price being paid for goods produced in a sustainable fashion by workers paid a living wage in safe conditions. Except, maybe, at this time of year.

The holidays are supposed to make us all feel warm and fuzzy... about moving lots of money from our pockets into retailers' cash registers. Advertisers, retailers and major manufacturers count on sentimentality and peer pressure to override concerns about ethics and the human and environmental effects of our purchasing decisions.

Between Fair Trade Organizations and the No Sweat campaigns, you can find a lot of trendy clothes and shoes online.

Blizzards of ads cajole us to find the best deals on the most stuff, on the theory that a good deal on some stuff will allow us to get more stuff overall. People who would normally never darken the doors of a Wal-Mart feel the pressure to buy and give lots (especially to children, teaching them to consume lots as early as possible) within a limited budget. Somehow even with some really good deals on all the stuff we buy, we wind up spending more than we expected to.

Recent alarms about toxic toys have highlighted questions about working conditions as well as product safety. Many parents, especially, are seeking safe and perhaps less commercial alternatives for gifts this year. In response, unions and non-profit agencies are suggesting several ways for consumers to enjoy a guilt-free holiday season.

OXFAM Canada and other international development NGOs have been slowly building the Fair Trade market in this country for decades. But it is Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit Fair Trade Organization (FTO) founded by American Mennonites in 1946, that has come closest to making fair trade an issue in North America for 'non-ideological' consumers. Ten Thousand Villages has grown to include 160 stores in North America. It is riding a wave. Well, perhaps 'ripple' is a better word, given the size of the capitalist ocean.

Some estimates put the growth sales rate for Fair Trade products at 60 percent per year. Next step, perhaps: a fair trade purchasing policy for Parliament (as there is for the EU Parliament).
Part of their success comes from steady expansion of their product lines. Fair trade has come a long way from when all right-thinking folk would feel the need to buy Nicaraguan coffee in support of the Sandinistas, even when their tastes secretly ran more to tea and hot chocolate.

Browse your local or online Fair Trade retailer. There's no longer a need to choose between your conscience and the look on the recipient's face when they open your present. The clothing segment of the market has grown beyond peasant skirts and hemp caftans, to include items that would look at home in corporate boardrooms (if they ever got there).

Even the lucrative toy market is seeing some penetration by Fair Trade manufacturers. And no, before you ask: we're not talking about 'rustic' wooden trains and rag dolls, but products that compete with the more commercial stuff.

Chinese-made toys hold about 85 percent of the Canadian toy market. With the recent concerns about cheap toys from China (even if most of the decisions about what to put in and on them was made at corporate HQs in the US), toys alone may be on the verge of making a break-through for the Fair Trade movement.

Given that the worldwide 'traditional' toy market (excluding electronic games and such) is valued at $65 billion a year, even a small dent in the market would be a huge boost for FTOs.
Most FTOs deal with suppliers who are essentially self-employed. They produce local crafts from local materials. That doesn't help you much if the grandkids are demanding the latest in trendy gear and you suspect that a nice hand-made pair of sandals won't substitute for the latest running shoes.

Fortunately, the No-Sweat movement (think of it as a subset of the FTOs) has had more than enough of an impact on clothing producers in particular that you can find the right gear.
There's still some debate about the effects of the agreements Global Union Federations have negotiated with companies like Nike, but you and your favourite search engine won't have any trouble finding clothing for young adults that is union-made (a pretty reliable indicator).

Admittedly, stores that sell entirely Fair Trade stock are still few and far between right now. If you live outside a major city (or just want to avoid the crowds), you can find Fair Trade outlets online. See some suggestions below.

Bear in mind that, online or in person, caveat emptor still applies. Canada has no regulations governing company claims to be selling Fair Trade goods. The industry remains largely self-regulating. Buy from a reputable retailer and look for the logos of Transfair Canada and the Fairtrade Labelling Organization International.

Don't be completely turned off if the potential gift you're looking at doesn't bear one of those endorsements. Getting certified as Fair Trade can be expensive for small producers and can take some time. If the retailer is reputable and can explain the lack of approval, go ahead and buy. The (fair) profits from the sale may help bring approval a little closer.

The Canadian Labour Congress produces a handy guide to seat-free shopping, available online. OXFAM can help too. And the Brits, long-time leaders in the Fair Trade movement internationally, have lots of info online.

Give yourself a present this year. Instead of exhaustion and credit card overload, celebrate the season with a bit of smug self-congratulation.

After all, you deserve a little something from yourself for the holidays.

Derek Blackadder is a National Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario, and Senior Correspondent for, the international trade union news and campaigns website. He gets very anxious even thinking about Christmas. This year his family are all getting donations to Horizons, an international development NGO he approves of, as holiday presents.

For more information please use the following links and the ones below.

Related addresses:

eMail 1:
URL 1:
URL 2:
URL 3:

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Union is a Right, Not a Luxury

From Eric Lee at LabourStart:

I doubt if many of you regularly buy leather goods sold by Prada, LouisVuitton, Mulberry and Nicole Farhi. These are luxury brands, priced toohigh for ordinary working people like us.
But the people who make those products are often low-paid, non-unionworkers. When those workers stand up and fight for their rights, it'sour responsibility to stand with them.

Earlier this year, hundreds of workers at the Turkish leathermanufacturer DESA -- which produces for all the luxury brands mentionedabove -- joined a union. The reaction of the company was fierce: 44union members were sacked, and 50 more compelled to quit the union.
Nevertheless, the workers have stood firm, holding daily protestsoutside the factory. Local police have been called in to arrest them,and bribes offered to union leaders to call off the demonstrations.Families have been threatened.

Workers at DESA need a union urgently. They complain of poverty wages,long hours and terrible health and safety conditions.

Please take a moment to send off a message to DESA's customers -- theluxury fashion brands -- telling them that you support the DESA workersin their struggle:

Tell them that a union is right, not a luxury.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Labour board rules against Wal-Mart

Very few things in life are more satisfying (and surprising) than an adventurous labour board:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Propellerheads Unite!

LabourTech 2008 (see is great fun. Some wonderful workshops judging by the comments I'm hearing, as well as my own experience. And, almost better, lots of networking. In the halls, over coffee, over (inevitably) beer, and of course dinner.

Personally, I was expecting something like 60-75 folks. Instead we have about twice that. Lots of new faces, lots of faces that can now be summoned up to go with the e-mail addresses, and lots of young faces.

There are geezers like me here, but the median age of the participants must be 15 years less than that of your average union convention.

If you aren't here, you should be. Start planning for next year.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Set a New, New Record

In their last strike at York University these workers set a record for determination by wearing their employer down over 11 weeks - the longest uni strike in English Canadian history.

Help make this one the shortest by sending a message to the York U admin:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Labour Photo of the Year Winners Announced

Robert Day, a branch secretary with the British public sector PCS in Birmingham, is the winner of the first-ever Labour Photo of the Year competition organized by LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement.

Day’s photo — entitled ‘Trade Unions are Fun!’ — shows trade unionists marching through Birmingham, led by banners and drummers, on 24 April 2008. See his photo and those of the other finalists below.

Almost 3,000 LabourStart readers from around the world voted in the competition. Five finalists were chosen from 101 entries by a panel of three labour photographers.

The final five photos are being made available to union publications worldwide, and will also appear in the gallery on Union Island on Second Life and also as featured photographs on the LabourStart main page.

Runners up included Brooke Anderson, Organizing Director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) in Oakland, California (USA); Khaled Hasan from Bangladesh; Gerardo Raffa from UNIA, a union in Switzerland; and Hossam el-Hamalawy from Egypt.

The four runners-up will receive a one-year account, the winner a two-year account.

Visit the contest group on and see all the entries here.

And join the online labour photo pool on