North America

Kentucky: unpaid miners block rail line

For over a week now, some 100 laid-off miners and their families have occupied a railroad track in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking a train loaded with coal that the workers dug out of the earth but never got paid for. The miners want their jobs back, if possible—but first of all, they want their wages for the work they already did. Blackjewel LLC abruptly shut down all its mines and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Partway through a shift, workers were told the bad news and sent home. The miners never got their last paycheck. And their second-to-last paycheck, already deposited, disappeared from their bank accounts. The miners also never received any paper notice of their layoff, which proved a bureaucratic obstacle when they filed for unemployment. Another major Kentucky coal producer, Cambrian Coal LLC, also plans to sell off its assets in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case that could impact hundreds of coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. (Photo: Megan Roark-Halcomb via Labor Notes)

East Asia

Worker protests in China’s automotive sector

Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co staged a demonstration to protest “illegal dismissals, wage arrears and compensation payments.” Meiyang Auto, a “new energy” start-up based in the central city of Xiangyang, had been in production for less than two years before halting operations. Workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai’s Pudong district also staged a protest claiming they were owed around 40 million yuan in wages in arrears stretching back to the beginning of the year. Employees claimed they were being forced to leave without any compensation, and appealed to the local government for help. So far this year, China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year. The protests, mostly related to layoffs and wage arrears, have occurred in car plants, components factories, dealerships and service centers, and even car rental agencies. (Photo via China Labor Bulletin)

Africa

Land defender slain in Democratic Republic of Congo

A Congolese environmental and human rights activist was killed by a security guard of the Canadian palm-oil company Feronia Inc, near the company’s Boteka plantation in Eqauteur province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The killing follows months of intimidation directed at local communities that have filed a grievance against the company for its occupation of their lands. Joël Imbangola Lunea operated a motor-boat to transport people and goods between local villages. He was also a community leader and member of the NGO Information & Support Network of the DRC (RIAO-RDC), and was involved in mediating land disputes. He was killed when his boat, filled with passengers and luggage, was approached by a security guard who accused him of transporting stolen palm oil from the plantation. He was beaten and finally strangled to death, his body thrown into the Moboyo River. (Photo of Lunea at mediation session via RIAO-RDC)

Central Asia

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

The Amazon

Peru: more indigenous protests over oil spills

A new rupture on the disaster-plagued North Peruvian Pipeline fouled local water sources that several indigenous communities depend on in Peru’s rainforest region of Loreto. The communities of Nuevo Progreso and Saramiriza are demanding emergency potable water deliveries. The rupture came days after indigenous protesters occupied the Bloc 192 oil-field, halting operations by Canadian company Frontera Energy. Protesters seized four tank batteries at the installation to press their demands for clean-up and reparations following the numerous spills in the area. (Photo: PetroPeru via Gestión)

Mexico

Mexico: double assassination of indigenous leaders

The Emiliano Zapata Popular and Indigenous Council of Guerrero (CIPOG-EZ) is calling upon the United Nations to investigate following the assassination of two leaders of the organization. The bodies of José Lucio Bartolo Faustino and Modesto Verales Sebastián were found in the town of Chilapa de Alvarez, where they had days earlier been abducted on a road by unknown gunmen. Both were leaders of the Nahua indigenous community in Chilapa municipality, had served as representatives to the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), and had promoted the 2017 presidential candidacy of María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, known as “Marichuy,” a Nahua woman who won the support of both the CNI and Mexico’s Zapatista rebels. Both were abducted when they were returning to their communities in outlying villages of Chilapa municipality from a meeting of indigenous leaders in the Guerrero state capital, Chilpancingo. (Image: Somos el Medio)

Central America

Honduras: riots, repression amid neoliberal ‘reform’

In the wake of angry protests that swept through Tegucigalpa, Amnesty International is denouncing attacks against human rights defenders by Honduran security forces during the unrest. Amnesty charged that riot police used tear-gas outside the headquarters of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), where demonstrators tried to take shelter. Members of the group were also detained. The protests, which saw the city’s municipal palace set on fire, were called to oppose a package of bills that aim to restructure the ministries of education and health. Doctors and teachers have gone on strike in protest of the proposed reform, which they say will lead to mass firings in the public sector, and represents a step toward privatization of education and health services. (Photo: Amnesty International)

Iran

White House exploits Iran democracy struggle

As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure." Now, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump. Alas, Masih Alinejad, the Iranian-American feminist who last week met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seems not to get how she is endangering opposition activists in Iran, allowing the regime to paint them as pawns of imperialism. (Image via @realDonaldTrump)

Mexico

Oil and unrest in Zimbabwe, Mexico

World oil prices remain depressed despite an uptick this month, driven by the Venezuela crisis and fear of US-China trade war. Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled prices, in an effort to crack down on “rampant” illegal trading. Simultaneously, long lines at gas stations are reported across Mexico—again due to a crackdown on illegal petrol trafficking. Despite all the talk in recent years about how low oil prices are now permanent (mirrored, of course, in the similar talk 10 years ago about how high prices were permanent), the crises in Zimbabwe and Mexico may be harbingers of a coming global shock. (Photo via Amnesty International)

Central Asia

US companies profit from Uighur forced labor?

A top US sportswear company announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina. After long denying that the camps exist, Chinese authorities now say they are "vocational training centers" aimed at reducing "extremism." (Photo via Bitter Winter)

The Amazon

US accuses Peru of violating FTA forestry provisions

The White House is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rainforest, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement . Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's top trade negotiator, announced that he is seeking consultations with Lima to address concerns about its recent move to curtail the authority of Peru's auditor for timber exports, the Organism for the Supervision of Forestry Resources (OSINFOR), established as a provision of the trade agreement. The move move had been demanded by Peru's logging industry following an OSINFOR seizure of illegal timber. The White House needs support from congressional Democrats to pass the pending US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump's replacement for NAFTA, which is supposed to have tougher labor protections. The forestry annex in the Peru agreement was conceived as a model for a new inspection system that could include confiscation at the border of goods found to violate treaty provisions, and the prosecution of companies that import noncompliant products. (Image via Sierra Club)

Africa

Economic protests across Sudan turn violent

Protests have been mounting across Sudan in response to the nation’s acute economic crisis. Inflation reached 70% in November and many have been forced to spend significant portions of their income on bread, leading to local media designating the demonstrations as "bread protests." Protesters have repeatedly called for President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1993, to step down. The protests have been organized by professional organizations and trade unions as well as Sudan's principal opposition group, the Umma Party. Sudan's government has shut off internet access to prevent the protesters from organizing via social media. According to Amnesty International, at least 37 protesters have been killed so far as Sudanese authorities attempt to quell the demonstrations by releasing tear-gas and firing live ammunition. (Photo via Middle East Eye)