By Stephen Marks
Workers at a maquiladora (foreign-owned assembly plant) in Nicaragua's Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone have defeated an attempt to break their union after a year-long struggle.
On May 10, as the result of a court order, the Taiwanese-owned Chentex clothing plant signed an agreement recognising the union which is affiliated to the Sandinista Workers Confederation (CST).
Twenty-one unionists sacked last year were reinstated with back pay. While another seven union leaders did not win their jobs back, they will receive their full entitlements, back pay, vacations, a bonus and double severance pay.
The accord included a promise that the international campaign against Chentex will be called off. In the US, activists targeted a major outlet of Chentex's jeans, the Kohl's Department Store chain. The Taiwanese Solidarity with Nicaraguan Workers Committee campaigned against the factory's owners in Taiwan. Support also came from workers in Lesotho in Southern Africa.
According to Charles Kernaghan of the New York-based National Labour Committee: "This is the first time a court in Nicaragua or anywhere in Central America has ruled against a foreign multinational like this." The NLC will now broaden its campaign to improve conditions in the maquiladoras. The CST is preparing to help other workers in Central America.
Nicaraguan clothing workers have won legal recognition for their unions at three other plants. Several more workplace-based unions are now applying for recognition.
In the US, however, in scenes reminiscent of the recent Nike protests in Melbourne, police have targeted a social justice group in Colorado which leafleted a Kohl's store in solidarity with the Nicaraguan workers. Activist Doug Bohm was jailed on May 17 for refusing to testify in relation to an incident that arose out of the campaign. This has caused concern that it may herald the start of a police offensive to repress the movement against neoliberal globalisation.
[Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas.]