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The Coca-Cola Campaigns 1980-1985
7. Epilogue, 1987

Relative peace has prevailed at the Coca-Cola plant since March 1985. The IUF reported in May 1987 that the agreement was still holding. An American journalist who visited the plant found the spirit of activity and organisation very much alive. Chorus groups, union education classes and english courses were all in progress, while the union front office was 'usuaIly crowded with Coke workers, their friends and children, and organisers from other unions arriving to exchange ideas'.

The attempts to form the new trade union grouping called CONUS did not bear fruit, but in February 1985 a new independent union grouping, UNSITRAG U A, was founded with the strong support of the Coca-Cola workers. UNSITRAGUA has become firmly established with some 30 member unions, representing about 35,000 workers. ln 1986 it succeeded in calling the first May Day rally in Guatemala since 1980, and in early 1987 it joined other unions in publicly demanding an increase in the minimum wage, an agrarian reform and an investigation into human rights violations.

Five more Guatemalan unions have affiliated to the IUF: the union at the Chiclés Adams chewing gum factory, the Cerveceria Nacional brewery workers' union, and the unions at the Finca Mirandilla sugar mill, the Licoria Quezalteca, and the Tabacalera Centroamericana. The IUF has established an office in Guatemala City and appointed Rodolfo Robles, the former general secretary of STEGAC, as their representative.

During the time of the occupation, other social sectors were beginning to organise. In mid-1984 the relatives of the disappeared prisoners of Guatemala formed the Mutual Support Group (the GAM). One of their leaders, Nineth de Garcia, is the wife of Fernando Garcia, the minutes secretary at the CA VISA glass factory kidnapped in February 1984. Nineth is one of many women in the GAM whose relatives had been active trade unionists. The GA}Yl has initiated a series of protests, hunger-strikes and demonstrations which, despite the brutal murder of two of their leaders, continue to this day and have won widespread support from church and human rights groups throughout the world. ln 1986 the GAM were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by 56 British MPs including Neil Kinnock.

ln January 1986 an elected government under Christian Democrat President Vinicio Cerezo replaced the military dictatorship of Mejía Victores. The new government has introduced few, if any, measures that would help the poor majority. More than half of the work force do not have a permanent job, and this seriously hinders union organisation. Many workers are desperate for work and fear any contact with a union would cost them a job.

Although the violence is less than before, killings and disappearances continue, and the' military structures responsible for them remain fully operational. No military officer has been brought to trial for human rights offences nor dismissed from ms post. A number of trade unionists have been killed under the new regime, and as a British Parliamentary delegation reported in 1987, 'rank-and-file and potential activists simply do not believe it is safe to engage in open trade union activity'. Many Guatemalans believe that the security forces are simply biding their time until the trade union movement recovers its strength. As Dan Gallin, general secretary-of the IUF, warns:

'No battle is ever permanently won, just as there are no permanent defeats. In Guatemala, and elsewhere in the world, we can take nothing for granted. There will be other, more difficult battles. Let us therefore always keep in mind what it takes to win.

It takes unity, courage and staying power on the front line: if the Guatemalan workers had not stood fast, international support would have been to no avail. It takes coalition-building: church groups, human rights organisations, public interest and solidarity groups as well as other unions were our most valuable allies. It takes money, lots of it, and the ability to raise it quickly. It takes organisation: without a permanent, established, tried and proven network of solidarity and action, local struggles will be crushed and wasted. Finally, it takes internationalism: the clear understanding that the battle of one union, however small and remote from one's own country, makes a difference to ail workers wherever they are.'

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