Rel-UITA interview with trade union leader Porfirio Ponce Valle
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 20 (Rel-UITA) – The civilian-military coup that took place in Honduras this past June 28 brought with it not only a breakdown in the constitutional order, palpable political, economic and social regression, and constant and flagrant violations of the human rights of the Honduran people, but also a worrisome setback in the labor and social situation.
With less than two weeks before the holding of elections that seek to legalize the coup d’état, though the immense majority of countries around the world appear unwilling to recognize it as legitimate, it’s necessary to analyze the “work” done by the de facto government to manipulate and undo the advances achieved by the Honduran people over the last several years.
To analyze this situation in detail, Rel-UITA spoke with Porfirio Ponce Valle, the vice-president of the Union of Workers of the Beverage and Affiliated Industries (STIBYS) and a member of the Bloque Popular, an organization that is a constituent member of the National Front Against the Coup d’état.
There are only a few days left before the elections, and it’s now clear that they will unfold in a situation of the breakdown of constitutional order. How do you see this situation?
Porfirio Ponce Valle: Everything that’s happened has made a mockery of the Honduran people – a mockery orchestrated by the Honduran oligarchy in collusion with sectors from the United States. Faced with this situation, as a trade union we intend to continue rallying within the National Front Against the Coup d’état, organizing ourselves as a people and defending our union conquests, because the situation is becoming very difficult.
In what sense is it becoming difficult?
The acting minister of Labor within the de facto government is in all practical terms serving in the role of advisor to the business owners and is maintaining a hard line that will create many difficulties for us in resolving the problems of the workers. That’s why it becomes even more important at this conjuncture to continue organizing as a union and as a people to defend the gains won in the past.
What changes have you seen in terms of labor since the June 28 coup d’état?
In the concrete case of STIBYS, we have two mediation processes underway with two transnationals: the Honduran SABMiller brewery, which distributes Coca Cola and several brands of beer; and La Reyna Bottlers, which is owned by CAB Corp (Pepsi Co). We have filed a grievance against these companies around several job positions they’re trying to trim back and other grievances for non-compliance with the collective bargaining agreement. Up to now the new de facto authorities have not provided us with responses as to who will be the mediators of the conflict, and this precisely related to the involvement they have with the big business owners. The authorities permit practically nothing done against these transnationals.
When he assumed his post as the new de facto minister of Labor, he immediately called the directors of the Honduran brewery to talk with them, while ignoring the union. This caught our attention, since we considered it tremendously offensive to the workers. Without a doubt there has been a determined change, and we are seeing a difference with respect to the past relationship between the unions and the governmental labor authority.
In addition, over these last few months we have verified the refusal of the Ministry of Labor to carry out inspections that we were demanding. They simply told us that they were unable to conduct these and looked for any excuse to not honor that right. This is a clear demonstration of the new policies of the minister in collusion with the business owners.
How are people reacting to this situation?
An unexpected positive element caused by the coup d’état has been the involvement of many social sectors in the resistance struggle, especially the participation of formerly non-organized sectors. People have committed themselves personally, involving themselves in discussions and making demands.
With regard to STIBYS, we are organized in eleven of the country’s departments and in the main cities. Despite the difficulties just mentioned, I believe we have strengthened and become even more united. As a union we have many expectations, and in our reflections we are clear that the road ahead is that of a new constitution so that the workers can defend their gains of the past and so that what has been taken away from the people through the privatization process can be returned.
What would be the objective of the Constitutional Assembly?
We have to recover the public services that have been privatized. Almost 60 percent of the energy industry is in hands of large companies. The de facto government favored the approval by Congress of the General Water Law, which will allow this resource to be privatized through concessions; in the past we -with the support of President Manuel Zelaya- had been able to block its approval. The telephone and the telecommunications industries are now almost totally privatized, while investments in education and public health are null and are following along the process of being privatized.
The only way for all of these public services to be returned to the people is through a constitutional assembly and the reform of the Constitution with the direct participation of social and union constituencies. That’s why it’s necessary to first restore the democratic and constitutional order so that the coup-backing sectors do not legitimize the coup through an illegitimate electoral process and block us from transforming the country.
In this sense, as a union we are firmly convinced that it’s necessary to boycott the November 29 elections, just as the Popular Independent Candidacy has already clearly done by withdrawing its candidacy.
How are the organizations that make up the National Front Against the Coup d’état preparing for this constitutional initiative?
We’re already working on a constitutional initiative; we’re going to neighborhoods and communities speaking with people to strengthen this movement.
A Havana Times translation