Historic Victory of Guatemala Coca-Cola Workers

from the Coca-Cola Workers Alliance

IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide)

Guatemala workers have proudly featured in the history of struggle between IUF members and The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) going back to the 1980’s. Until recently of the three Coca-Cola bottling plants in the country, only one had built solid recognition from FEMSA, the Coca-Cola Latin American bottler. The other two plants were owned and operated by the Schutt family and workers there faced hostility and repression when exercising their basic rights. One of these two plants was unionised but under constant pressure and the other was non-union with all efforts to offer union membership to workers there met with forceful hostility from management.

In 2008 within the ongoing international negotiating forum (the “Atlanta process”) that the IUF secured in 2005 when finally recognized by TCCC, the IUF made clear to TCCC that operating in this environment workers at the two Schutt’s owned plants would be faced with a constant struggle to defend their rights at one plant and secure union membership rights at the other. Following protracted discussions, TCCC purchased the two plants in 2012. With support of the team engaged with TCCC in the “Atlanta process” workers employed at what both became TCCC owned facilities were finally able to exercise their rights to form and join a union.

In the most recently unionised plant, the IUF-affiliated SITRAABASA signed a first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with FEMSA on January 10, 2015. In the second Coca-Cola acquired plant a new CBA will shortly follow. This will mean that all Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala have union rights and will be protected by a negotiated collective agreement.

IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commented, “This is testament to the determination and the courage of our members in Guatemala to fully secure and exercise their rights. The IUF is proud of our members and of their struggle as well as the role played by both FESTRAS and FELATRAC the Latin American Federation of Coca-Cola Workers.” Oswald went on to explain, “Built on the determination of our members in Guatemala, the framework within which this success was achieved was largely negotiated through the “Atlanta process”, a direct and permanent international union and company engagement. This process included a late August 2014 meeting in Guatemala involving TCCC local and international leadership, our Guatemala affiliates and the IUF international and regional leaderships. Just as in Pakistan previously, the Atlanta process has helped us secure 100% union membership in Coca-Cola bottling operations in Guatemala and a guarantee that all Coca-Cola bottling workers in Guatemala can now exercise their internationally recognized human right to be a union member.”

[Ed. note – Paul Garver – The victory of the Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala is truly a historic one.  In the late 1970s several union leaders at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City were assassinated during the struggle to organize a union.  It required two international solidarity campaigns coordinated by the IUF before Coca-Cola intervened to replace successive murderous and/or corrupt owners of their franchised plant with one who recognized and negotiated with the union in the early 1980s.  It has taken thirty more years to extend effective union recognition to the other two Coke bottling plants in Guatemala outside the capital city.  The struggles of Coke workers not only in Guatemala but in many other countries around the globe forced the Coca-Cola Company to formalize its engagement with the global union IUF in the “Atlanta process” cited by IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald cited above.  This permanent engagement has facilitated union organization and collective bargaining at Coke facilities in scores of countries around the world.  I was very fortunate to have been able to personally participate in this process between 2000 and 2005 as an IUF staffer, and congratulate the Guatemalan workers and the IUF for this latest breakthrough advance for the global working class struggle.]

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