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Adalah-NY: Support striking Namibian workers at Lev Leviev Diamonds!

Support Striking Namibian Workers at Lev Leviev Diamonds! Protest Firing Threats, Abusive Managers

By: Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign National Committee (BNC)

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July 5, 2008

Management at Lev Leviev Diamond Polishing Company (LLD) in Windhoek, Namibia is threatening to fire 153 diamond polishers who have been on strike since June 19th protesting abusive managers as well as overdue job appraisals, promotions, wages and outstanding overtime pay. The company, owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, whose companies are already a target of global condemnation for building Israeli settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law, has suspended the 153 strikers and is threatening to begin disciplinary hearings to fire them, claiming the strike is illegal.

Growing global solidarity reaches from Palestine to Southern Africa and the US targeting Lev Leviev’s human rights abuses and war crimes.

Adalah-NY, COSATU and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) urge unions, supporters of human rights, and all other social justice groups to send messages of protest to LLD management, demanding that the strikers not be fired and that their demands be met (addresses and phone numbers to send messages to are below).

Namibia:

In Namibia, the workers started their labor action on June 19, setting up a round-the-clock protest camp a few hundred yards from the factory gates. Among the workers’ demands is the removal of LLD Namibia’s general manager Mike Nesongano. Workers have documented a range of hostile actions by Nesongano, including use of abusive language, disregard of labor law, threatening workers, unfair dismissals, unequal treatment and having a demoralizing attitude towards his workforce. The employees also accuse Nesongano of poor administration and favoring European administrators brought in by Leviev. They also point to intimidation by the company’s lawyer at meetings between workers and management.

Diamond polishers at LLD earn Namibian $450 (US$56) a month, after deductions. This corresponds to less than two U.S. dollars a day, the figure most commonly used by international agencies to define the global poverty line.

LLD has a history of exploiting its workers. In 2006 the company, which only offered its workers temporary status, tried to force workers to sign contracts stating that they would not be paid until they reached certain production quotas. Only the workers’ struggle forced them to nullify the contracts.

LLD’s Managing Director, K. Kapwanga, refuses engagement with the workers on fair terms. He has publicly threatened that “[t]he relevant employees will be issued with notices to appear before a disciplinary hearing committee, upon which if found guilty they may face severe penalties and possible dismissal.” Enraged by the threat, workers have announced that they will boycott the disciplinary hearings, and have threatened to disrupt the operations of the company should the company fail to heed their demands.

Palestine:

Lev Leviev got his start by supporting Apartheid in South Africa, and reaping profits from that regime’s diamond industry. Today his support is directed at Israeli apartheid where the profits are no less handsome. His construction companies build settlements that steal water and key agricultural areas from Palestinians, carve up Palestinian areas of the West Bank into isolated enclaves, and cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank. His most recent settlement construction projects – Mattityahu East in Modi’in Illit, Zufim, Maale Adumim and Har Homa – are central to Israel’s efforts to seize control of and annex strategic areas of the West Bank.

The people of Jayyous, the Palestinian town on whose lands the Zufim settlement is built, have addressed the world calling for a boycott of Lev Leviev because his settlement activities on the properties annexed by Israel’s Apartheid Wall destroy their land and livelihoods. As one Jayyous farmer has put it: “85% of our people were farmers working in their fields or tending cattle. Today only 45 out of 3800 people can reach their lands and provide for the livelihoods of their families. Out of the 8,050 people from Jayyous, 3,250 already live abroad. Those of us who have stayed must struggle daily to defend our lands and rights.”

Adalah-NY, the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East (www.adalahny.org), in cooperation with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign National Committee (BNC), a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organizations, trade unions, networks and organizations, has been campaigning against Lev Leviev’s companies for their building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law, as well as his abuses of workers and communities from Angola to New York City. The BNC is the body set up by Palestinian civil society to coordinate the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign launched in July 2005 with the initial endorsement of over 170 Palestinian organizations. One fruit of the campaign initiated by Adalah-NY has been UNICEF’s announcement on June 20th it would no longer accept donations from Leviev, which followed a similar decision by Oxfam International.

Angola:

In Angola, New York Magazine reported in 2007 that “A security company contracted by Leviev was accused this year by a local human-rights monitor of participating in practices of ‘humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.’”

New York:

At the Apthorp building in Manhattan, 50% owned by Leviev’s company Africa-Israel, 88 tenants protected by rent-regulation laws are threatened with losing their apartments as Leviev and the smaller shareholders convert it into an expensive condominium building.

Adalah-NY, the BNC and COSATU urge unions, supporters of human rights for Palestinians, and all other social justice groups to send messages of protest to LLD management, demanding that the strikers not be fired and that their demands be met (addresses and phone numbers to send messages to are below).

Send messages of support for the strikers at LLD Polishing Company in Namibia to:
K. Kapwanga, Managing Director, LLD
Tel.: +26 461 386 150
Fax: +26461 249 253
Cell: +264811 247 249

Send copies of your messages to:
Mineworkers Union of Namibia at [email protected]
and to Adalah-NY at: [email protected]
For more information, contact Adalah-NY at: [email protected]

Notes:

1. Statement of the Mine Workers Union of Namibia:

Secretary General Joseph Hengari of the strikers’ union, the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN), told the press: “We propose that before discussing the appraisals, promotions and basic salary issues, the company respond to all allegations levelled against Nesongano.”

Mathew Mtembi, Chairman of the NUM local at the plant, told the New Era: “’We are here because these people did not solve our problems. We want feedback on our demands,’ referring to the 16-point agenda they gave to management a day before the commencement of the strike.” Mtembi added that if the suspensions are withdrawn they will return to work, “but will not go anywhere near their duty stations if the company does not solve their problems, amongst others better labour conditions, allowances and better salaries.”

2. Statement by COSATU on July 4 says in its initial paragraph

“The Congress of South African Trade Unions pledges its support for the 153 diamond polishers employed by the Lev Leviev Diamond (LLD) Polishing Company in Windhoek, Namibia, who have been on strike since June 19th to protest abusive managers as well as job appraisals and promotions, wages and outstanding overtime.” (The Congress of South African Trade Unions was founded in 1985. Since then COSATU has been in the forefront of the struggle for democracy and workers’ rights. Today it represents over two million workers.)

3. The BNC:

The BNC is a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organizations, trade unions, networks and organizations, including:

* Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine
* General Union of Palestinian Workers
* Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions
* Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
* Federation of Independent Trade Unions
* Union of Arab Community Based Associations (ITTIJAH)
* Palestine Right of Return Coalition
* Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Initiative
* General Union of Palestinian Women
* Union of Palestinian Farmers
* Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW)
* Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
* National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba
* Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ)