Honduras: unions plan for general strike
Thousands of Honduran workers marched in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula on Aug. 18 to demand an increase in the minimum wage and to show solidarity with teachers who were in the 14th day of an open-ended strike. The protest—initiated by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), Honduras' main coalition of labor and grassroots organizations—was part of a strategy to build gradually for a national general strike against the government of President Porfirio ("Pepe") Lobo Sosa, according to Juan Barahona, an FNRP leader.
Police agents dispersed the San Pedro Sula demonstration when the protesters blocked the highway leading to Puerto Cortés, the country's main commercial port.
The minimum wage, currently 5,500 lempiras a month (about $290), was supposed to be raised in April, but the business sector blocked the pay hike. The unions are calling for a 30% increase but have indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the government. The Aug. 18 demonstration was also intended to press the government to rehire workers at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) who were laid off earlier in the year by university rector Julieta Castellanos.
The teachers' strike, supported by four of the six unions in the Federation of Teachers Organizations of Honduras (FOMH), is over money the government owes the teachers' pension fund going back to 2007 under then-president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales. The government holds that it owes $94 million and offered to pay by the end of the year, while the unions claim the amount may be as high as 4.6 billion lempiras (about $242 million). The government has also rejected the teachers' demand for the firing of Education Minister Alejando Ventura.
On Aug. 20 thousands of teachers escalated their job action by blocking Fuerzas Armadas and Miraflores boulevards in Tegucigalpa. Hundreds of police agents violently dispersed them with tear gas and nightsticks. According to the police, about 20 teachers were detained and a number were treated for minor injuries. (Univision. Aug. 18, from EFE; El Universal, Venezuela, Aug. 20; TeleSUR, Venezuela, Aug. 21, from PL, AFP, EPA)
Also on Aug. 20, the FNRP and the three main labor confederations—the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the General Workers Central (CGT) and the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH)—set up a national strike committee and regional committees to prepare for a national general strike around a seven-point program. CUTH general secretary Israel Salinas didn't set a date but said the strike was imminent. Campesino organizations are planning to hold mobilizations at the same time around land issues.
For now "we're going to the bases for consciousness raising," CGT general secretary Daniel Durón said, "because a general strike isn't just a declaration by three men, four, 10 people." He added that the external factors for the strike were there and that now the unions were going to deal with the internal ones. (Red Morazánica de Información, Aug. 20, via FNRP website)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 22.
See our last post on Honduras.