Date: Wed, 28 Jan 98 14:56:02 CST
From: Campaign for Labor Rights <>
Subject: Nicaraguan workers gain victory!
Article: 26477

Nicaraguan maquila workers strike and gain victory

Labor Alerts, 27 January 1998

Approximately 1,800 workers at the Chentex Garment factory in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone in Managua, Nicaragua, staged a total work stoppage for six hours on January 26 protesting the firing of 21 of the 90 workers who had signed papers in support of a union in the factory. The papers had been presented to the Ministry of Labor on Friday, January 23. The firings began the next day. The sit-down strike started in the early morning of the 26th and lasted through several hours of negotiations until management committed itself to rehire the workers who had been let go on Saturday. The workers promised to go back to work immediately and, in the future, to exhaust all legal avenues before going on strike.

Both sides agreed that, with regard to the union that has been organized in the factory by the Federation of Garment, Textile, Leather and Shoe Workers (CST), it is up to the Office of Union Associations at the Labor Ministry to decide if the standards set by law are met for its legal registration.

Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), mediated during the negotiations after first encountering difficulty gaining entry to the factory. Free Trade Zone administrators told her that, since a representative of the Labor Ministry was talking with the workers and management, her presence was not necessary. While the Labor Ministry representative was not happy with her mediation, factory manager Lucas Ming Wei accepted CENIDH'e. Nunez accused the Labor Ministry representative of taking the side of management and arguing over every detail of the accord during the negotiations.

[Note: There currently is considerable debate among segments of the anti-sweatshop movement as to what form—if any—independent monitoring might best take so as to support the emergence of viable labor unions in the global south. One form for independent monitoring is that illustrated by the role of CENIDH and its president, Vilma Nunez, in the Chentex crisis. On an as-needed basis and at the invitation of the union, CENIDH interceded to break a deadlock. Then CENIDH withdrew so as not to supplant the functions best served by the union. CENIDH helped the union to survive so that the workers could defend their own interests through their own organization, a free trade union. In the next several issues of our newsletter, Campaign for Labor Rights will be providing a forum for people on various sides of the independent monitoring question to state their views—see top of alert for subscription information. Meanwhile, in addition to such theoretical discussion, it is useful to examine what does and does not work in real-life struggles such as the one at Chentex.]

The Ministry of Labor now has two weeks to rule on the legalization of the Chentex Garment factory union. This would be the third union with legal recognition in the Free Trade Zone. The others are at Fortex, a Taiwanese-owned factory where a collective bargaining agreement is in force, and Jem III, a U.S.-owned factory.

At Chentex, workers have protested a change-over to pay stubs which do not indicate how many pieces have been sewn each week and thus make claims difficult if salaries are not correct, as well as restrictions on permission to go to the doctor when sick, and to use the bathrooms and drink water when necessary.

Workers expressed concern that the Ministry of Labor had leaked to factory management the list of workers who had signed a document in support of the union. The Labor Ministry betrayed us; it has sold out! said Gladys Manzanares Tercero, one of the leaders among the workers who was fired on Saturday. A Labor Ministry inspector said that the charge would be investigated.

International solidarity in the form of faxes went to the Minister of Labor from the LABOR DEFENSE NETWORK/Latin America Emergency Response Network and members of the Campaign for Labor Rights. Faxes urged that the workers who had been fired be reinstated immediately. If you saw the alert that was posted on January 26 and have not yet sent a fax, you do not now need to send it. Congratulations to all who sent faxes on the 26th!