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.
Hundreds of bicyclists staged a "die-in" in New York's Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city's streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn. (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25)
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
Bangladesh has seen huge demonstrations over the past week, as tens of thousands of university students and schoolchildren protest lax traffic enforcement after two young students were killed by a speeding bus July 29. The driver was apparently racing another bus to pick up passengers. The protests have for days paralyzed Dhaka, with roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares. In one case, protesters stopped a police SUV carrying a deputy inspector general, only to find that the vehicle had no registration, and its driver didn’t have a license. Rubber bullets and tear-gas have failed to break the roadblocks. (GlobalNews, BBC)