In Guatemala, the Solidarity Center works to end discrimination on the job, help women, indigenous workers and those working in the informal economy become strong union leaders, end impunity for violence against union activists and push for strong labor laws.

Guatemala is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, with more than 70 trade unionists murdered since 2007. A 36-year civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996 has left a legacy of violence, corruption and lawlessness that still permeates every level of society and governance. Although Guatemala, as a member of the International Labor Organization, is committed to upholding and respecting freedom of association, union activists are illegally fired, threatened, attacked and murdered, while the perpetrators of the crimes go unpunished.

In addition, unions are weakened by labor laws that restrict union membership and the right to strike and a judicial system that systematically refuses to hold employers accountable for violations. The situation has not improved since Guatemala in 2013 signed a Labor Enforcement Action Plan with the United States as part of a settlement over worker rights violations under the Central American Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).

At work, women are paid less than their male counterparts and often are harassed and sexually assaulted. At home, the violence continues. Guatemala has the third highest femicide rate in the world, and only 2 percent of femicides are ever investigated.

Guatemala also is a source, transit zone and destination for human trafficking. Manufacturing and processing plants generally are sweatshops, where workers’ demands for decent wages and working conditions are ignored. Indigenous, rural, migrant and domestic workers also are mistreated, and the government ignores widespread violations of child labor laws.

Nearly 60 percent of Guatemalans are impoverished. Enabled by global and regional trade agreements, employers routinely move their production across borders to minimize costs and prevent workers from forming unions. With few jobs available in the formal sector, workers have turned to the informal economy, and Guatemala has one of the world’s highest rates of informal employment. Supporting themselves and their families as street vendors or in other precarious jobs, informal economy workers make low wages and have no job safety.

The Solidarity Center works with national labor confederations, national and local unions and worker activists to educate workers on their basic rights and organize new unions and new members. Our union allies in the agriculture, apparel, construction, transportation and telecommunications sectors are developing the leadership capacity of traditionally marginalized workers, including women, youth, indigenous and informal economy workers.

The Solidarity Center provides training on core union functions like collective bargaining, organizing, democratic leadership and election structures and transparent dues administration to strengthen accountability and sustainability. The Solidarity Center also works to develop public policy platforms that bring together all segments of Guatemala’s union movement to advocate reforms that benefit all workers.