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Trade unions protest at Fiji's coup

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Trade unions in Fiji staged a one day strike and demonstration on 22 May against the coup attempt by Fijian nationalist George Speight.

The international union federation ICFTU has issued an urgent appeal for solidarity with Fiji unions - which stand to be repressed if the 1997 Constitution is ripped up as threatened in response to the coup.

In Sydney, Australia, 600 migrant Fijian workers together with trade union and ALP activists blocked traffic in protest at the coup. Australian unions have threatened a boycott of Fijian goods and services if the Fiji president suspends the elected Labour government and installs an "interim" government to defuse the coup crisis.

Coup plotters burst into the Fiji parliament on 19 May and continue to hold ministers at gunpoint. The Great Council of Chiefs (an ethnic Fijian group of community leaders led by former coup-leader Sitiveni Rambuka) called for a deal whereby key government posts will be reserved for ethnic Fijians only (as against the Island's 44% Asian population). The 1997 Constitution will be altered and Speight's coup plotters will be pardoned if the GCC gets its way.

So far Speight has rejected the plan and today there were clashes between pro-Speight and pro-presidency sections of the army. The world's press depicts this as an ethnic conflict but there are underlying class issues: Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour government - which now faces dismissal as Fiji's president Ratu Mara tries to broker a deal to end the crisis - had embarked on a programme of social reform. This included price controls on 17 key commodities, (including electricity and gasoline) the reduction of VAT, slashed interest payments on housing loans and introduced subsidies for tertiary education.

The coup is reported by local media to be backed by ethnic Fijian landowners who have let land lie fallow while making fortunes out of importing food. Chaudhry bailed out a domestic rice producing company last year and has a strategy of self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs - which angered the landowners.

Despite the reform programme, the Labour government will not take on either the global capitalists or their domestic counterparts - Fijian or Indo-Fijian. His Budget 2000 programme was hailed as pro-business because it promised labour market dereulation, financial deregulation and privatisations.

While Chaudhry faced both ways - to the poor and the capitalists - poverty increased. For all Chaudhry's calls for a multi-ethnic society, this gave ammunition that has allowed the right wing Fijian nationalists to whip up the urban and rural poor (largely ethnic Fijian) to see the Asian population as the enemy (as it did in the 1987 coup).

The Fiji TUC should launch a general strike to stop the new presidential coup. It should form armed workers' militias to defend people of all ethnicities in Fiji. It should nationalise the land and distribute landholdings to those who work on them, while replacing Chaudhry's piecemeal reforms with a workers' democratic plan of production.
Workers in the Pacific/SE Asian regions must rally to support their brothers and sisters in Fiji.