Warsaw and other Polish cities have seen mass protests since the country's Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that will virtually end legal abortion. Tens of thousands of protesters—the majority of them women—have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the country, in defiance of pandemic restrictions harshly limiting the size of gatherings. Their anger has been directed against the ruling conservative Law & Justice Party (PiS) and the Catholic church, which are seen as being behind the decision. Protesters have disrupted services and sprayed graffiti on the walls of Warsaw churches. On Oct. 27, clashes broke out in a number of cities between the demonstrators and far-right groups ostensibly organized to defend churches. Two women were also injured that day when a car drove through a group of protesters who were blocking a road in Warsaw.
Thousands of ethnic Mongolians in the remote north of the People's Republic of China have gathered outside schools to protest a new policy that would restrict the use of their language in the public education system—a rare display of mass discontent. The policy change in Inner Mongolia means all schools in the region will now be required to teach core subjects in Mandarin, mirroring similar moves in Tibet and Xinjiang to assimilate local indigenous peoples. Students have walked out of classes and assembled outside school buildings shouting, "Mongolian is our mother language!" The protests, which have mounted over the past week, have been centered on Tongliao and Ulaanhad municipalities, where hundreds of students and parents have faced off against police.
The Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, representing cities on every continent, has announced a proposal for a post-pandemic "new normal" that will de-emphasize cars and carve out more room on the streets for bicyclists. The C40 Mayors Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, issued July 15, seeks to create conditions that will proactively prepare cities for future pandemics, while addressing systemic injustices and keeping global warming below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. The Agenda calls for substantial investments in affordable housing and public transportation, the permanent banning of cars from many thoroughfares, an end to public investment in and subsidies for fossil fuels, and an embrace of the "15-Minute City" paradigm now being pioneered by Paris.
In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming "total" executive power and threatening to "adjourn" Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to "normality," it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state.
Following a bitter campaign dominated by "fake news" generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected in the Jan. 11 race, overwhelmingly defeating her main challenger, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received 8.17 million votes, or some 57% of the total, to Han's 5.52 million votes, or 39%. A third candidate, James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26%. Tsai's total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan.
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)
Bolivia's government issued a decree cancelling a massive joint lithium project with German multinational ACI Systems Alemania (ACISA)—just days before the ouster of President Evo Morales. The move came in response to protests by local residents in the southern department of Potosí, where the lithium-rich salt-flats are located. Potosí governor Juan Carlos Cejas reacted to the cancellation by blaming the protests on "agitators" seeking to undermine development in the region. (DW, Nov. 4)
Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co., Ltd. staged a demonstration on July 25 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. One day earlier, workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai's Pudong district 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. And on July 23, workers staged a protest demanding the payment of wages in arrears from a Cadillac dealership in Taizhou, Zhejiang, that had suddenly closed down without warning. 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.