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Secret War Against the Trade Unions

By Luc DeMaret, ICFTU Online... 320/971211/LD, 11 December 1997

A confidential document written for a multinational specializing in security issues reveals a secret plan of operations against the trade unions.

Brussels, December 11 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): Founded in 1954 by a former FBI special agent, George R. Wackenhut, the Wackenhut Corporation is highly respected and presents itself proudly as an equal opportunity employer concerned about the dignity of its workers worldwide. Number one in security, the company has diversified over the years. From embassy surveillance to transporting funds and providing security for companies, it has also made a name for itself in the privatization of prisons in the United States and elsewhere, as well as in corporate consultancy. In 1996, it announced profits of $139 million, of which $30 million was generated from operations abroad. In short, its business is strong and its reputation is solid. The company is currently active in 50 countries.

In Guatemala, Wackenhut won the contract to provide security to the American Embassy in Guatemala City. Its staff transport funds for the McDonalds restaurants in that country and also provide security for several companies. More discretely, however, it reportedly obtains "tips" for its customers allowing them to prevent the creation of trade unions in their companies or helping them to eliminate those that already exist.

This is revealed in a "confidential" memo written in 1995 for Fernando Hegel, the multinational's local officer, by Samuel Cabrera Padilla, currently an "attorney specializing in labour issues." The 22-page document, whose authenticity has been confirmed by Guatemalan sources, does not spare the details. It could be entitled "A Guide to Union-Busting". How to recruit spies among workers to inform management of any protest movement; how to create bogus unions or so-called solidarist associations (associations controlled by the employer); how to fire trade union delegates, create satellite companies to divide the workers, discredit "agitators," etc. Mr Padilla leaves nothing to chance. Nothing surprising about that, he's an old hand at it. In the 1980s, Mr Padilla was minister of labour under the military dictatorship and in that office participated in the annual conferences of the International Labour Organization (ILO). However, he does not seem to have come away with a good memory of it. "The ILO is an organization controlled by socialist countries and the Third World," the attorney asserts in his confidential memo. He dislikes the ILO in particular for having criticised solidarist associations, which according to him now offer numerous advantages in Guatemala: "Managed and controlled by the employer, they make it possible to keep the workers from thinking about creating trade unions," the expert suggests to Wackenhut. He notes in passing that over 200 solidarist associations exist in Guatemala, and that where they go, unionism dies: "Once solidarism enters the company, the existing trade unions are neutralized."

Indeed, that is the goal of his study: "to neutralize and eliminate the trade unions." A study that exhibits signs of nostalgia for the dictatorship.

"The alleged democratic opening up of Vinicio Cerezo's government, continued by Serrano Elias and the current government, has led to the proliferation of trade unions, which has led to licentiousness, abuses and the politicization of the trade union movement," Mr Padilla notes, pointing later to the "unchecked voracity of their leaders." From that point on, our expert believes there should be no half-measures: "the velvet glove must conceal a fist of steel". From there he hands out one bit of advice after another.

Recruitment: beware of workers who have already worked in companies where trade unions exist. Mr Padilla reminds his sponsors that several groups of employers meet periodically to share information, and he offers his services in establishing contact with Wackenhut. Beware also of university students, Mr Padilla warns: "They are often indoctrinated and become the brains of trade union activity." Once a union delegation is formed, "create another one with which you sign an agreement." "Break up your enterprise into several distinct companies," "Put personnel to work in the different entities," and have no mercy for unionists: at the first sign, they must be fired. Mr Padilla's trump card? The use of employment agencies that take responsibility for recruitment and management of personnel. "These firms are keen to avoid creating problems in the companies for which they recruit, and in case of conflict these companies can extricate themselves, not being directly considered to be employers," reads the Guatemalan attorney's confidential document in substance.

In Guatemala City, the Wackenhut memorandum has confirmed what had already been observed: "an anti-union strategy" is at work. Last year, according to the ICFTU report, dismissals of trade unionists increased as did kidnappings and death threats against the leaders. In reality, a union official tells us, "Today, despite the peace agreement signed with the guerrillas, our trade union freedom is still limited." "And the Wackenhut document is just one piece of evidence that proves it. In fact, a similar document has even been written by the army," the unionist adds. Undoubtedly, it is disturbing that the government has not seen fit to reply to the union's demands for clarification after the Wackenhut memorandum was disclosed. However, it will have to answer the questions put by the International Labour Organization, where the ICFTU has lodged a complaint.