In the Americas, the Solidarity Center works with trade union partners throughout the region to build strong unions that can help workers fight corruption, promote the rule of law, and create democratic and just governance, ensuring that economic opportunity extends to all members of society.
|A woman weeps over the coffin of a slain labor leader. Photo by Marcelo Salinas
A legacy of political instability, armed conflicts, and flagrant human rights violations has impoverished workers in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. While the rich get richer, the poor fall deeper and deeper into debt. Large segments of the population lack the jobs, healthcare, education, and safety needed to improve their lives. A series of natural disasters, coupled with the global economic downturn, has exacerbated the crisis. In some countries, large portions of the population have begun to question their governments’ ability to deliver essential services and respond to basic human needs. Meanwhile, the murders of hundreds of union leaders remain unsolved as companies all over the region continue their illegal union-busting activities.
Mexican Mine Workers Mark Anniversary of Two Killed in Strike. April 24, 2013—Thousands of workers, their families and supporters gathered in Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico, in recent days to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the deaths of two steelworkers killed during a strike for union recognition and an ensuing confrontation with security forces. Mario Alberto Castillo and Hector Alvarez G?mez were among 500 members of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers, known as Los Mineros, who had been on strike for 18 days when 800 police moved in to forcibly remove the strikers. Two men were shot dead and 41 injured, two of them seriously, during the break-up of the strike. No arrests were ever made for the murders.
Mexico: Auto Workers End Strike with Pay Victory. April 19, 2013—More than 2,000 auto workers ended a three-day strike at a major plant in Mexico April 19 after management agreed to increase the amount of employee profit-sharing payments, as required by law. The company also said it would not to retaliate against any worker who went on strike.
Los Mineros Leader Details Mine Tragedy, Exile in New Book. April 19, 2013—Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of Mexico's National Union of Mine and Metal Workers, known as Los Mineros, spoke at a press conference April 17 to discuss his new book, Collapse of Dignity: The Story of A Mining Tragedy and the Fight Against Greed and Corruption in Mexico. The book describes the February 2006 Pasta de Conchos mine disaster that killed 65 miners and the subsequent attacks on him and Los Mineros.
Colombia: Afro-Descendant Domestic Workers Form Union. April 8, 2013—Afro-Colombian women recently launched the Union of Domestic Service Workers (Unión de Trabajadoras del Servicio Domestíco, UTRASD), the first-ever union in Colombia created entirely by Afro-descendent women.
Colombia: Sugar Cane Workers Fired After Forming Union. April 1, 2013—Sugarcane workers at the La Cabaña plantation in Valle De Cauca, Colombia, are taking part in a peaceful protest to seek recognition of their rights as workers. More than 100 workers at the La Cabaña plantation have been fired since forming a union in November, and another 500 have been forced to disaffiliate to retain their jobs, according to the union.
Peru: Six Global Apparel Brands Reject Short-term Work Contracts. March 18, 2013—Short-term work contracts are one way employers around the world deny workers job security, seniority rights and health benefits, often while paying them low wages. So it’s noteworthy that six international apparel companies now support repeal of a law in Peru that allows employers in the garment and textile export industries to hire workers on consecutive short-term employment contracts.
Peru: Judge Orders Fired Union Leader Reinstated to His Job. March 13, 2013—Fidel Polo Sanchez, a union leader fired for speaking publicly about the egregious conditions of farm workers in Peru, should be reinstated to his job, a judge ruled this week. Sociedad Agrícola Viru, one of Peru’s largest agricultural export plantations, fired Polo July 12, 2012, for “defamation.”
Afro-Colombians Fighting against Discrimination at Work. March 12, 2013—Afro-Colombians are far likelier than other Colombian workers to earn less than the minimum wage and to be employed in jobs where they cannot form unions to improve their working conditions. And all of this exclusion “has a strong current of racial discrimination under it,” said Agripina Hurtado, the newly elected president of the Afro- Colombian Labor Council (Consejo Labor Afrocolombiano). A quarter of Colombia’s population is Afro-descendant, yet Afro-Colombians comprise more than three-quarters of the country’s poor.
Working Women Empowered: Honduran Women Build Leadership. March 6, 2013—In Honduras, a country where women laboring in fruit packing plants and textile factories endure especially difficult conditions, two union leaders are empowering women to take on important roles in their unions and their communities.
Haitian Workers Speak out for Good Jobs. February 26, 2013—Three years after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haitian workers are organizing to ensure that foreign investment and infrastructure-targeted aid provide not just subsistence-level jobs, but decent work and a living wage for Haitians.
Dominican Unions Say Government Fails to Support Migrant Rights. February 15, 2013—The National Confederation of Labor Unity (CNUS) and its member unions and federations called on the Dominican Republic government to respect the human and labor rights of Haitian migrant workers in the country and to put an end to human trafficking.
Colombian Sugarcane Worker, Trade Unionist, Murdered. February 5, 2013—Juan Carlos Pérez Muñoz, a trade union member in Colombia, was gunned down last week on his way to board a bus to the Cauca River Valley where he worked in the sugarcane fields.
Guatemala: Global Action Needed to End Murders of Union Members. February 1, 2013—Since 2007, 64 trade unionists have been murdered in Guatemala, and hundreds more union leaders and members have been kidnapped, tortured and threatened with death—all part of an ongoing pattern of violations against worker rights, according to Britain’s Trade Union Congress (TUC). Only a small fraction of these incidents have been investigated, and 98 percent of these crimes have not been punished.
REPORT, January 16: Solidarity Center Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. Following the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti, the Solidarity Center established a relief fund to route donations from U.S. unions and workers to Haitian workers and their families in need. The final report on these efforts, released on the third anniversary of the earthquake, describes how the Solidarity Center and its partners have made a significant impact in the lives of Haitian workers and their families.
Three Years After Haiti Earthquake, Workers Still Need Decent Jobs. January 11, 2012—Three years after the disastrous earthquake struck Haiti, workers and their families continue to struggle as the cost-of-living keeps rising while wages—for those who have jobs—remain the same. Informal discussions by Solidarity Center staff with Haitian export-processing workers this month indicate that in the past year, the cost of food and education has increased between 20 percent and 25 percent, while rent and transportation have risen between 15 percent and 20 percent.
El Salvador Airline Servicer Fires 96 Workers for Forming a Union. January 10, 2013—The promotional website for AERODESPACHOS in El Salvador features workers loading airplanes, transporting baggage and servicing engines. Yet while the airline ground services company wants to showcase its workforce, it is unwilling to provide safe working conditions and decent wages, its employees say. And when the ground servicing crew sought to address safety and health issues by forming a union, AERODESPACHOS fired 96 employees—nearly its entire staff—to reduce the number of workers seeking to join a union and so legally disqualify their efforts.
Mass Firing of Mexican Union Leaders Leads to Hunger Strike. January 9, 2013—Eleven workers from PKC wire harness plants in Mexico launched a hunger strike yesterday. They were among 122 workers fired by the Finnish autoparts company in mid-December for what they say is retaliation for seeking to form a union. They plan to continue the hunger strike until they are reinstated and their right to trade union freedom is recognized.
ILO Report: 52 Million Domestic Workers Worldwide. January 9, 2013—Some 52 million people over age 15—primarily women—labor as domestic workers around the world, according to a report released today by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Of those, 83 percent are women. The vast number of domestic workers, 21.4 million, are in Asia and the Pacific region, with 19.6 million in Latin America, 5.2 million in Africa and 2.1 million in the Middle East.
Human Rights Day 2012: Marking Worker Rights Worldwide. December 10, 2012—Nearly 3,000 trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia over the past 20 years and the killing continues, with at least 15 unionists murdered so far this year. Yet behind each statistic is an individual, says Colombian lawyer and human rights activist, Yessica Hoyos Morales. Someone much like her father, Jorge Darío Hoyos Franco, a Colombian labor leader, who was assassinated in 2001 by two hired hitmen.
Unions Worldwide Condemn Ouster of Mexican Mineworkers Leader. November 9, 2012--This is a crosspost from the global union, IndustriAll, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in mining, energy and manufacturing. Under a joint banner of IndustriALL, LabourStart, Amnesty International, and Mexican NGO PRODESC, an online petition was launched decrying the forceful demolition of a workers’ protest camp at Excellon’s La Platosa mine, Mexico.
Nicaragua the Third Nation to Adopt Domestic Work Standard. October 18, 2012—Nicaragua this week became the third country to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on domestic workers. An ILO “convention” sets international labor standards, and the “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” convention addresses issues such as working conditions, wages, benefits and child labor while requiring nations to take measures to making decent work a reality for domestic workers.
Peruvian Union Leader Fired after Speaking out against Poor Working Conditions. July 20, 2012—An agro-industrial company in Peru has fired a union leader in an attempt to silence one of the strongest voices against unfair and precarious working conditions, says the Peruvian labor federation CGTP. Join the LabourStart campaign for his reinstatement.
Peru: Support Women Workers, Grow Economy. October 16, 2012--Women--and the work they do—are central to productivity and economic growth, to breaking the cycle of poverty and to ensuing more inclusive and just societies. Yet too often they face unnecessary barriers and terrible choices when it comes to work. Far from being economically empowered, millions of women around the world, including here Peru, find themselves vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, below-poverty wages and unsafe working conditions. The legal environment either enables their condition or fails to protect them.
Huge Win for Fired Mexican Electricity Workers. October 16, 2012—Electricity workers in Mexico won a big victory when a court last week upheld an earlier ruling finding the termination of their collective bargaining contract was invalid. In October 2009, the Mexican government liquidated the state-owned electricity supply company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, and transferred its functions to the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). The action left 44,000 workers, members of the Mexican Union of Electricity Workers (Sindicato de Electricistas de México, SME), without jobs.
INTERVIEW: Guatemalan Aluminum Workers Describe Abuse. October 11, 2012—When Emeterio Nach suffered a shoulder injury at his job, he asked his supervisor at the Ternium aluminum processing plant in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, for time off to see his doctor. After the supervisor denied his request, Nach asked again. The supervisor continued to refuse, finally telling Nach he would be fired if he kept asking—and would be fired if he were sick because the factory needed healthy workers.
New Afro-Colombian Labor Council Advances Struggle for Racial Equality. July 16, 2012—The first national organization dedicated to the working conditions of Afro-descendants in Colombia was formed on July 14 in Cali. The new Afro-Colombian Labor Council will advance racial inclusion in the labor movement and in Colombian society.
Solidarity Center Expands Fight for Worker Justice in Colombia. July 12, 2012—The Solidarity Center has expanded its program work in Colombia, with the goal of consolidating and implementing labor reforms and formalizing labor relations for hundreds of thousands of precarious, subcontracted workers who currently toil without many of the protections of the labor law or the right to join a union.
New Laws Would Grant Social Protections to 300,000 Dominican Domestic Workers. July 9, 2012—Two groundbreaking pieces of legislation are poised to bring 300,000 domestic workers in the Dominican Republic into the national social security system, providing them for the first time with a minimum wage, health care, pension, and other social protections to which formally employed Dominican workers are entitled.
Mexico: Union Election Results Marred by Irregularities. July 9, 2012—Attorneys are challenging the results of a July 5 union election at a Canadian-owned silver mine in Durango, Mexico, that a team of international observers says was marred by “serious irregularities.” The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos, Siderúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (SNTMMSSRM, known as Los Mineros) lost by a single vote amid a climate of intimidation and ballot discrepancies.
Workers from around the World File Complaint with the ILO Urging Guatemala to Respect the Right of Freedom of Association. June 18, 2012—Guatemala is among the worst violators of worker rights in the world today, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Workers are routinely fired for asserting their rights at work, and increasingly, they are threatened, tortured, or murdered.
Unions Debate Way Forward on Rights in Mexico. June 15, 2012—A panel discussion on protection contracts and freedom of association in Mexico packed a full house two days ago at the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Union representatives called for union building, solidarity, and direct action against the government and employers. An estimated 90 percent of collective bargaining agreements in Mexico are protection contracts signed without the workers' consent or knowledge.
"12 by 12" Campaign: Uruguay First Country to Ratify C189. April 26, 2012—Trade union activists, as well as domestic workers, are thrilled to see a breakthrough in the "12 by 12" campaign: Uruguay made history by being the first country to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189 (C189), Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
Unions Call on Honduran Government to Uphold Its Labor Laws, Support Human Rights. April 10, 2012—As ongoing violations of international labor standards and human rights become further entrenched in Honduras, unions representing increasingly vulnerable workers in three export-related sectors—manufacturing, agriculture, and port operations—are fighting for their rights and livelihoods.
Journalists under Constant Threat in Honduras. January 27, 2012—Gilda Silvestrucci, a member of the Journalists for Life and Freedom of Expression group, received death threats by telephone on January 24. The International Trade Union Confederation firmly condemns the constant threats against journalists who dare to exercise their profession.
El Salvador: Union Members on Strike in Solidarity with Fired Airport Workers. November 28, 2011—Union workers at El Salvador International Airport have been on strike since November 4 in solidarity with 17 fired ramp and baggage handlers who work for private airport contractor AERODESPACHOS.
Union Rights under Attack in El Salvador. Working people, trade unionists, and pro-democracy activists are under attack around the world. In El Salvador, workers at the AVX electronics manufacturing plant and at CTE-América Móvil, owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, are facing harassment and illegal firings for the simple act of having dared to join a union.
Paraguayan Industrial Refrigeration Firm IPFSA Seriously Violates ILO Core Conventions. September 26, 2011—The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has joined with its affiliated organizations in Paraguay, the CNT and CUT-A, in strongly condemning Industria Paraguaya Frigorífica S.A (IPFSA) and the industrial refrigeration firm’s president, Alba Pettengil Vacca, for violating the national constitution, the core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the national labor law, and its accompanying legislation.
Civil Construction Workers Mobilize Across Peru in Defense of Their Right to Collective Bargaining. April 14, 2011—Tens of thousands of members of Peru’s Civil Construction Workers Union—la Federación de Trabajadores en Construcción Civil del Perú—rallied across the country on April 6 in defense of their right to sector-wide bargaining and to formally present their initial list of bargaining demands for 2011–2012.
Letters of Solidarity from Peruvian unions to U.S. Public Workers. See what workers around the world are doing to support their union brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.
Letter from National Confederation of State Employees of Peru (CTE) to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, March 16, 2011
Statement of support from Sindicato Nacional de Unidad de Trabajadores de SUNAT (Peruvian Public Employees Union/Tax Sector) to Wisconsin state public employees, March 15, 2011.
International Solidarity Key to Russell Athletic Victory. The New York Times called it the “biggest victory by far” for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and its collegiate anti-sweatshop campaign. In November 2009, Russell Athletic agreed to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs when the company closed their factory in an attempt to bust the union. Read a report by the Solidarity Center's Gladys Cisneros in Stepping Up, Stepping Back: Women Activists "Talk Union" Across Generations.
Solidarity Center Opens Office in Peru. On May 12, 2010, the Solidarity Center and the U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Peru signed an agreement on a three-year program for enhancing enforcement and understanding of labor rights in Peru, strengthening unions, and enabling the Peruvian labor movement to build strong democratic institutions. Learn more about worker rights and labor law in Peru in the Solidarity Center’s 2009 Global Policy Brief, Peruvian Society, Workers, and Labor Law
"We Have to Work Together If We Want to Protect Our Rights." Seventy percent of the 60,000 workers in Peru's $300 million per year asparagus export industry are women. Santos Cruz, who works for the Talsa company in Trujillo, La Libertad, is the only female general secretary of an asparagus workers union. At a recent Solidarity Center sponsored training program for union activists in Trujillo, Cruz talked about their struggle.
Support Striking Mineworkers and Their Families in Cananea, Mexico. More than 1,000 members of Mexico´s National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers have been on strike at the Cananea copper mine in Northern Mexico since July 30, 2007, protesting health and safety and other contract violations.
Executive Council Supports Aid to Chile, Haiti and Backs Mexican Workers. The AFL-CIO Executive Council called on the world community to provide quick, no strings attached aid to Chile after the massive earthquake February 27. The union leaders also reaffirmed strong support for the relief efforts in Haiti and condemned the Mexican government’s attempts to break the union at Grupo Mexico mines.
Honduran Garment Workers Sign Landmark Agreement. Solidarity Center partners SITRAJERZEESH and the Honduran General Confederation of Workers signed a landmark agreement with Russell Athletic/Fruit of the Loom, Inc., the largest private employer in Honduras. The signing ended a year-long campaign protesting the controversial closure of the company’s Jerzees de Honduras apparel factory.
In Honduras, a Cry for Democracy. The Solidarity Center’s Gladys Cisneros and Stephen Wishart were caught in Honduras when ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned, raising and dashing the hopes of the Honduran people for a restoration to democracy and constitutional order.
From Earthquake Rubble Rise Strong Peruvian Unions. While reconstruction in quake-devastated Pisco lags nearly two years later, local unions are building a movement.
AFL-CIO, in Solidarity with Honduran Unions, Condemns Military Coup. "The AFL-CIO denounces this unconscionable attack on the fundamental rights and liberties of the Honduran people," says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a June 30, 2009, press statement.
Lack of Respect for Worker Safety Cost Colombian Miner His Life. In a unified response to safety shortfalls that killed an inexperienced and untrained contract worker at Colombia’s second largest coal mine, 9,000 union miners and contract workers staged a four-day strike late in March that shut down production.
Brazil’s Unions Reach out to Young Workers. On April 15, 2009, Martinho da Conceição, national coordinator of the Trade Union Training Secretariat of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), spoke at the Solidarity Center about the CUT’s efforts to reach out to young workers and the formation of a new Youth Secretariat.
U.S. Union Leaders Meet Champions of the Colombian Labor Movement. On a Solidarity Center sponsored exchange visit, Florida State AFL-CIO Vice President Mike Williams learned about Colombian workers’ constant struggle for social and economic justice—and why U.S workers need to hear their story.
Survey Finds Human Trafficking, Debt Bondage Common in Dominican Republic. Haitian migrants who cross the border into the Dominican Republic for jobs in the construction industry are among the country’s most exploited workers, and many feel that union membership is the key path to decent work, according to a new survey developed by workers for workers with Solidarity Center support.
Working with GUFs and IFIs in Latin America. In Latin America, the Solidarity Center is working with Global Union Federations and international financial institutions to make sure workers have a voice in their own economic future.
Solidarity Center Publications
- ITUC 2011 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights in the Americas (English / Spanish).
- The Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that union membership improves pay and benefits for Latino workers in the United States (English / Spanish).