Fwd (GLW): FIJI: Workers lead growing opposition to coup

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Sun Jun 25 19:55:50 MDT 2000


The following article appears in the latest issue of Green Left Weekly
(http://www.greenleft.org.au):

FIJI: Workers lead growing opposition to coup
BY MARK ABBERTON

Opposition to the George Speight's terrorist coup in Fiji is coming mainly
from the Pacific island country's trade union movement. As it becomes clear
that the military and the elite have done more to help rather than hinder
Speight, wider sections of Fiji society are openly condemning the loss of
democratic rule.

Farmers and workers in Fiji's vital sugar cane industry have been the most
persistent in demanding that the elected Fiji Labour Party (FLP) government
be reinstated. On June 14, Associated Press reported that most cane farmers
had refused to harvest while Speight and his thugs hold Prime Minister
Mahendra Chaudhry and 30 members of parliament hostage.

The month-long boycott organised by the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC)
has closed three of the four sugar mills. The unions estimate that the
boycott has cost Fiji up to $100 million. The media, business and the
military have attacked the boycott. Unionists have been threatened with
jail if they continue the strike. The military has announced that trade
union activities are banned under martial law.

Two union leaders were detained briefly. On June 16, Felix Anthony,
national secretary of the FTUC and general secretary of the Fiji Sugar and
General Workers Union, was held for three hours.

Farmers and workers have been harassed by the military and pro-Speight
thugs, particularly in the western part of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
Thugs attempted to burn down the house of the assistant secretary of the
FTUC Diwan Shankar on June 11. Two hundred workers at Rarawai sugar mill,
Fiji's largest mill, walked off the job on June 21 to protest against
intimidation.

The Melbourne Age reported on June 22 that more than 400 Indian-Fijians
have been forced to shelter in a school in Lautoka, following violence that
has swept through some districts. Some farmers are being blocked from
working their leases.

Public sector unions have rejected the 20% pay cut, beginning August 1,
that has been imposed by the military administration. The military claims
the cuts are necessary because of the economic turmoil caused by the
political crisis. The military has threatened redundancies if the pay cut
is not implemented.

The Confederation of Public Sector Unions, which includes the Fiji Nurses
Association, Fiji Teachers Association, Viti National Workers Union, Fiji
Public Service Association and Fiji Public Employees Union, is organising a
protest against the pay cut.

The Methodist church, which is supported by most Melanesian Fijians, has
made belated appeals to parishioners not to support Speight's coup and
called for the hostages to be released. David Robie reported on USP
Journalism Online <http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au> on June 14 that 12
churches said in a statement: “The evils of May 19 are illegal and a
violation of God's Word”.

On June 11, a “people's petition” calling for more than 500,000 signatures
opposing the coup was launched and received 2500 responses in the first few
hours. The petition reads: “We do not recognise the abrogation of the
Constitution of the Fiji Islands or the removal of our President, Ratu Sir
Kamisese Mara, and the elected government of Mr Mahendra Chaudhry”.

The Fiji Youth and Students League (FYSL) has also backed the FTUC bans.
The FYSL called on governments which had not already imposed bans on Fiji
to consider doing so.

The Fiji Women's Rights Movement has organised a “Blue Ribbon Release
Campaign” in which opponents of the coup wear ribbons as way to call for
the immediate release of the hostages and for a return to democracy.

As Speight and the military continue to negotiate a deal, Chaudhry managed
to have a message smuggled out of the parliamentary complex urging
unionists and workers in Fiji to continue the struggle and calling for bans
to be extended.

FTUC assistant national secretary Diwan Shankar, in Australia to pressure
the Australian government to take a stronger stand against Speight and the
military, told Workers Online that once Chaudhry and the members of the FLP
government are released they are likely to establish an alternative
government-in-exile. “I think generally people will support him because he
has got the largest numbers, freely elected, in a constitutional
parliament.”

Shankar said that Fiji's employing class supported the anti-FLP protests
which led up to the coup because they opposed new labour laws, which were
only days away from being passed, that would have reinstated trade union
rights taken away by the anti-Labour coups in 1987. “Our unions' organising
strengths would have increased, especially in the manufacturing area and
the tax-free zone areas, where the large masses of workers are now
employed.”






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