Hondurans Call for National General Strike

Kari Lydersen September 3, 2010

The Resistance Movement, which marched on the anniversary of the coup June 28, is calling for a national general strike in Honduras.

Hon­duran trade union­ists and oth­er sec­tors of the resis­tance move­ment have called for a nation­al gen­er­al strike to oppose a pro­posed law that would gut labor rights, a push for pri­va­ti­za­tion and an ille­gal­ly low min­i­mum wage, along with oth­er crises that have devel­oped since the June 2009 coup and cur­rent pres­i­dent Por­firio Lobo Sosa’s Jan­u­ary inauguration.

The gen­er­al strike has a proud his­to­ry in Hon­duras, with the labor rights and union pow­ers that Hon­durans do enjoy large­ly stem­ming from an his­toric 1954 gen­er­al strike involv­ing tens of thou­sands of work­ers in the banana, min­ing, tex­tile, brew­ery, tobac­co, ship­ping and oth­er sec­tors. Last sum­mer, sev­er­al weeks after the coup, the resis­tance move­ment launched a two-day gen­er­al strike that large­ly par­a­lyzed the country.

On August 18, thou­sands marched in the cap­i­tal Tegu­ci­gal­pa demand­ing the gov­ern­ment raise the min­i­mum wage – at least to a rate that was sup­posed to take effect last spring – rehire fired union teach­ers and oth­er­wise reduce repres­sion against unions and the resis­tance movement.

On August 20, teach­ers blocked two major boule­vards, spark­ing a clash with police that left some wound­ed and 20 detained. That day the major­i­ty of the nation’s major labor con­fed­er­a­tions and unions formed a com­mit­tee call­ing for a nation­al gen­er­al strike.

An August 29 com­mu­niqué from the strike com­mit­tee out­lined pro­posed laws and ini­tia­tives and ongo­ing abus­es that have cre­at­ed a tight­en­ing vise of eco­nom­ic des­per­a­tion and polit­i­cal repres­sion in recent months.

Union mem­bers have been major tar­gets of vio­lence – includ­ing mur­ders, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, along with dai­ly intim­i­da­tion and threats – since the coup. The impe­tus for the gen­er­al strike includes the administration’s pro­pos­al of a Nation­al Sol­i­dar­i­ty Plan for Anti-Cri­sis Employ­ment” which oppo­nents say would remove near­ly all labor rights and protections. 

Under the guise of pro­vid­ing jobs in the eco­nom­ic cri­sis that has wors­ened since the coup, the plan would cre­ate tem­po­rary and part time jobs with­out the right to union­ize and oth­er pro­tec­tions. The com­mu­niqué says it:

Will result in labor insta­bil­i­ty and elim­i­nate the right to union­ize and to oth­er forms of orga­ni­za­tion that tru­ly strug­gle for the rights of the work­ing class. It will do away with paid vaca­tions, 13th month salary, mater­ni­ty leave, paid hol­i­days among oth­er rights which the work­ing class has won through 56 years of strug­gle and the Gen­er­al Strike of 1954.

The com­mu­niqué continues:

We are aware that the unem­ploy­ment prob­lem that exists in our coun­try, is not the fault of work­ers but of pri­vate enter­prise with no inter­est in devel­op­ment and gov­ern­ments ded­i­cat­ed to exploit­ing the work­ing class in order to extract fab­u­lous prof­its at the expense of drown­ing the peo­ple in such mis­ery that they accept any job no mat­ter how pre­car­i­ous in order to survive.

The min­i­mum wage was set to be increased ear­li­er this year, but busi­ness inter­ests who have held much sway with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment com­plained and it has remained at about $6 USD per day. Unions are call­ing for a retroac­tive raise of as much as 30 per­cent, but say they are will­ing to nego­ti­ate with the government. 

The com­mu­niqué says:

The high cost of the basic food bas­ket, ris­ing costs for health care, edu­ca­tion and oth­er needs basic to sur­vival are well known by all and are out of bal­ance with work­ing pop­u­la­tions income, plac­ing the health and lives of poor fam­i­lies at risk in this coun­try: this sit­u­a­tion is even more severe in the maquila sec­tor where work­ers sur­vive on 121.31 Lem­pi­ras per day (US$6) and where wages have not been adjust­ed for three years.

Uni­ver­si­ty and sec­ondary school teach­ers unions have played a major role in lead­ing the resis­tance, and they have also suf­fered intense repres­sion in the form of phys­i­cal attacks and threats, polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed fir­ings, cuts and pri­va­ti­za­tion of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and crim­i­nal charges.

A law cur­rent­ly before Con­gress would take away guar­an­tees for free pub­lic edu­ca­tion, a trav­es­ty in one of Latin America’s poor­est coun­tries where few fam­i­lies have the resources to pay for pri­vate school. Teach­ers unions also charge the gov­ern­ment has raid­ed their retire­ment sav­ings, to the tune of more than $200 mil­lion USD, while also refus­ing to pay them past-due wages.

The Gen­er­al Strike Region­al Com­mit­tee is com­posed of labor and oth­er mem­bers of the Nation­al Front for Pop­u­lar Resis­tance, includ­ing the Uni­fied Work­ers Con­fed­er­a­tion of Hon­duras (CUTH), the Gen­er­al Work­ers Cen­tral (CGT), the Hon­duran Women’s Col­lec­tive CODE­MUH, the polit­i­cal par­ty Bloque Pop­u­lar, the Banana Work­ers Union Coor­di­na­tor (COSI­BA) and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions. There are region­al strike com­mit­tees push­ing for the action and plan­ning how to car­ry it out. The com­mu­niqué says:

We call on ALL ORGA­NI­ZA­TIONS of the pop­u­lar move­ment and THE PEO­PLE IN GEN­ER­AL to join the GEN­ER­AL STRIKE in defense of our sacred rights that have been won through his­toric struggles.

Kari Lyder­sen is a Chica­go-based reporter, author and jour­nal­ism instruc­tor, lead­ing the Social Jus­tice & Inves­tiga­tive spe­cial­iza­tion in the grad­u­ate pro­gram at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the author of May­or 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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