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.

Representatives of two Honduran union federations, both Solidarity Center partners, traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to raise awareness among and gain support from U.S. lawmakers for justice and an end to the general climate of impunity in Honduras, where labor laws are violated regularly.

At a panel discussion hosted by the Solidarity Center and the AFL-CIO, Evangelina Argueta Chinchilla, representative of the General Workers Federation (CGT) and coordinator for the apparel and textile federation FESITRATEMASH, and Francisco López Mejía, deputy secretary general of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras (FITH), described the dismal human rights record in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’etat and the government’s failure to enforce its labor laws.

Crime, violence, and corruption are on the rise, and the rule of law is increasingly compromised, according to López Mejía. Unions—which actively protested the coup—are suffering repression, including police brutality and threats. Average people live in fear of violent gangs and the police. And workers barely make enough to pay for food and transportation.

“Our great problem, for years, is that our government has violated rights,” he said. In addition, the government issues decrees, done after consultation with businesses, which diminish benefits of workers, who are subjected to inhumane working conditions and denied their right to organize and bargain collectively.

“For many years, they have passed laws that undermine unions and reduce standards of living,” Argueta Chinchilla said. “We are hopeful that the Honduran government will rectify its action by complying with international labor law.”

Other panelists were Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California Santa Cruz; Stephan Wishart, Solidarity Center country program director for Central America; and Celeste Drake, policy specialist for trade and international economics at the AFL-CIO.

Frank elaborated on the repression of human rights activists in Honduras since the coup, and the role of activists in the United States in defending democracy. She applauded the AFL-CIO for being one of the first U.S. organizations to call the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya a coup. The organization passed a resolution against it at its 2009 convention.

The AFL-CIO recently filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor against the Honduran government for failing to enforce labor laws under the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), said Drake.

Wishart, who spoke about the Solidarity Center’s ongoing effort to support Honduran trade unions in their organizing work, said the labor movement “is a pillar of democracy. And that’s why they are suffering.” Unions took to the streets to demand democracy after the coup, and that activism made workers targets of violence. Workers continue to publicly protest government attempts to further disempower working people and unions—e.g., by privatizing education—and they continue to be targets of police repression.

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