Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 3, 2010 - Teachers and Students Tie Up Tegucigalpa

Honduran Unions and Resistance Protest New Wage Laws
On November 3, thousands of teachers, students and other supporters of the teachers tied up traffic for hours in Tegucigalpa in the first mobilization against new actions by the Lobo regime targeting organized workers and educators. The students shut down the center of the capital for four hours with a march to the national congress building. Teachers from other parts of the country had begun arriving in Tegucigalpa and joined the ranks of the Tegucigalpa teachers’ unions marching from the national university to the presidential palace. This will likely be only the first of many actions as teachers and other workers’ organizations, joined by the resistance movement, respond to the latest attacks on labor by the regime of Pepe Lobo.

In the last days of October the Lobo government launched a new offensive against the Honduran unions and working people. The Congress approved repeal of statutes governing wages for some sectors of organized labor. At the same time Lobo issued an executive order setting the increase for the minimum wages as low as 3 percent a year and creating different wage scales for different regions, industries and categories of workers.

The special articles which Lobo repealed (including Article 49 of the Teachers’ Law) guaranteed annual wage increases indexed by set percentages to the yearly increases in the minimum wage. These articles applied to teachers, government workers, public health employees, and public education professionals. The regime wants to eliminate the regular increases and the percentages and force the affected unions to accept whatever increases the government says are affordable each year. This is aimed especially at the teachers, whose militant and organized struggles over many years won for them many benefits and a somewhat higher wage index than other professions. The teachers movement – with more than 60,000 members in six different unions -- is also among the largest organized forces in the resistance movement, which sprung up to oppose last summer’s coup d’etat and has continued to reject Lobo’s government and call for a constitutional assembly.

The teachers anticipated the Lobo government’s latest assault on labor, and began mobilizing in mid-October in preparation, declaring a strike at the end of October. Teachers held a four-month strike over the summer, ended with an agreement with the government Aug. 30. But the government has since violated that agreement, stoking the teachers’ current wave of resistance.
According to that agreement the Ministry of Education was to pay back wages owed to some 5, 500 teachers, but by October it had only paid about 1,500 of them. The regime was also supposed to repay 4 billion lempira (200 million dollars) taken from the teachers’ benefit and pension institute, but still has not done so.

The violations of the August agreement are just the latest maneuvers in an ongoing campaign of intimidation, retaliation and violent repression against teachers since the military coup in June 2009. A dozen teachers have been murdered in overtly political assassinations since the coup and many teachers have been beaten or detained. Some union leaders still face charges from their strike earlier this year.

The current strike includes about 65,000 teachers organized in five unions belonging to the FOMH (Federation of Teaching Organizations of Honduras). Their demands include that the government fulfill the earlier agreement, fire the Minister of Education, comply with the entire Teachers’ Law and end the repression.

Now the teachers are being joined by other unions and organizations in response to the minimum wage crises.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas with a poverty rate of 60%. The minimum amount of monthly income necessary to meet the most basic needs (the “basic basket”) is more than 8 thousand lempira ($430). A 3% increase in the minimum wage is an increase of 165 Lempira ($8.70) a month. Under the Lobo regime’s program, workers in the special enterprise zones and industries will receive the lowest increase for a total monthly salary of about 3, 894.60 lempiras ($210). This is $100 less a month than the minimum salary of the other sectors. The highest increase included in the new decree is 7 percent.

The trade union confederations and other urban and rural workers’ groups were demanding a 15% increase in the minimum wage. Meanwhile union leaders and social justice organization noted that even the minimum wage increase of nearly 60% decreed by President Manuel Zelaya in January 2009 was not enough to pull the poorest workers out of subsistence. The wage increase ordered by President Zelaya in 2009 was never fully applied due to the intransigence of the business class and the coup.

Honduran law required that the minimum wage increase be implemented in January 2010, and the law mandated any delays in implementation must be compensated with back pay. . But Lobo did not act to raise the wage until last week, and then ordered back pay only from June 2010 rather than from January. Of course, given the regimes’ record with the teachers and the power and impunity of the oligarchy, it is far from certain that any back pay will be paid out.

But not everyone is suffering. In October, high-ranking functionaries of the Lobo regime (the Council of Ministers) did receive a salary increase of 10,000 lempira a month ($540). Their monthly total salary is now almost $5000 a month - about 25 times the minimum salary.

November 4, 2010 – Victoria Cervantes, La Voz de los de Abajo
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