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.