Honduras: unions start open-ended strike

On Aug. 6 the three main Honduran labor federations held a march in Tegucigalpa marking the start of an open-ended general strike against the de facto government formed when a June 28 coup removed president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office. The strike was timed to coincide with eight coordinated marches by grassroots organizations that began on Aug. 5 with the goal of bringing tens of thousands of coup opponents from around the country to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the second largest city, on Aug. 11. A delegation from the Organization of American States (OAS) is scheduled to visit Honduras that day for discussions with de facto officials and others.

The three union groups—the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the General Workers Central (CGT) and the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH)—issued a joint communiqué on Aug. 6 with the strike’s four demands: “the reestablishment of the democratic institutional order,” Zelaya’s return to office, the formation of a Constituent National Assembly to write a new constitution, and an “end to the repression against the Honduran people.” The strikers also demanded that “all the governments of the world, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and USAID [the US Agency for International Development] withdraw all official support and freeze loans and projects for this coup government.” The unions specifically called on the US government to “cancel the bank accounts and visas of all those persons involved in the coup, to freeze planned aid, and to withdraw diplomatic representation.”

The unions ended the Aug. 6 march with a rally outside the US embassy. “Forty days after the coup d’état, no one’s surrendering here,” chanted the crowd, estimated at 2,000 by the Spanish wire service EFE and at 10,000 by the Brazilian activist news service Adital.

The march included the 19 members of a solidarity delegation visiting Honduras from Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. The delegation, with unionists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Spain, was organized by international labor federations and the Union Confederation of Workers of the Americas (CSA), a year-old Brazil-based organization that says it has 65 national affiliates in 29 countries, representing more than 50 million workers in the hemisphere.

A number of US unions have also expressed solidarity with the Honduran labor movement. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE, the United Steelworkers (USW) and the two electrical workers unions sent a joint letter on Aug. 5 urging US Congress members to support House Resolution 630, which calls on the administration of US president
Barack Obama to maintain pressure on the coup leaders.

As of Aug. 7 the de facto government was dismissing the general strike as only partial. In fact, teachers, healthcare workers, employees of the National Electrical Energy Enterprise and two unions of university students were on all on strike. Strike supporters said few businesses were open and schools were closed around the country. In Francisco Morazán department, which includes Tegucigalpa, the de facto government itself suspended classes, claiming fears that a swine flu epidemic would spread—although the Health Ministry didn’t consider the epidemic serious enough to suspend an upcoming soccer match. Soldiers guarded some hospitals in the capital to keep striking medical workers from occupying them. The Mexican daily La Jornada reported that restaurants were empty in Tegucigalpa in the evenings, even though the authorities ended a curfew they maintained for much of the previous month. All four of the country’s airports were closed, because 95 technicians had joined the strike.

On Aug. 7 the taxi drivers unions decided to side with the strikers. Drivers said that in any case they’d had so little business since the coup that they couldn’t make enough in fares to pay the rent for the cabs. The majority of the country’s 19,000 drivers don’t own the vehicles they use. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Aug. 6 from Comunicaciones Vía Campesina en Honduras; Adital, Aug. 6; MRZine, Aug. 8; Univision, Aug. 7 from EFE; Honduras Laboral, Aug. 7 from Comunicaciones Vía Campesina en Honduras; LJ, Aug. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 9

See our last post on Honduras.