Guatemala: Coke Union STECSA and Coke Bottler FEMSA sign new collective bargaining agreement

from the Coca-Cola Workers Alliance

IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide)


[Ed. note – Paul Garver:  This may sound like a routine story abut a contract settlement between a local union and management.  Except for one thing.  The initial creation of the STECSA union in Guatemala City in the 1970s cost the lives of several assassinated Guatemalan union leaders, plus a large-scale protracted global labor solidarity campaign.  Nearly forty years later Coke unions around the world remain engaged in a global coordination through the IUF that has resulted in a flexible and evolving framework of contention and dialogue with the giant corporate Coca-Cola empire.  The Guatemala Coke union has always remained on the IUFs global labor solidarity agenda.  In this case therefore what seems on the surface to be a routine event is actually a further manifestation of a heroic history of workers’ struggle.]

On the night of March 3, after 14 months of difficult negotiations and a suspension of nearly five months of negotiations, the Union of Workers of Embotelladora Central SA (STECSA) and Coca Cola FEMSA reached an agreement and signed the new collective bargaining agreement that will be valid for two years.

On March 2, the two negotiating committees signed an agreement that actually gave way to the completion of this difficult negotiation.

“Solving the conflict and finalizing the negotiation were the most important targets for the new Board of STECSA” Carlos Luch, the General Secretary of STECSA told the IUF Latin America region.

The agreement allowed us to ensure a retroactive wage increase of 4 percent from 1 March 2015 and provided a wage increase of 4 percent from 1 March 2016.

This percentage applies to all items that have economic impact, in that case also with retroactive effect from 1 March 2015.

“While we are not entirely satisfied with the salary adjustment reached, we believe that the agreement consolidates job stability in Central Bottling Company S.A. (Coca Cola FEMSA) and maintains the structure of our collective agreement unchanged guaranteeing the acquired rights” Luch added.

STECSA General Secretary thanked the members for their unconditional support given throughout the duration of the negotiations, and called on them “to continue with that commitment and conviction of struggle.”

He also urged all members to remain alerted “to defend the gains that were achieved through the struggle”.

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.]

Colombian Unionists Targeted: Can Three Assassins Get a Government to do Their Dirty Deeds?

By Fred Hirsch  (

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their ki...

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their killing of unionists in Colombia, Fête de l’Humanité 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Colombian government is preparing to throw two union leaders to the mercy of paramilitary terrorists on the testimony of three murderers.

William Mendoza is President of the Food and Beverage Workers Union (Sinaltrainal) in Barrancabermeja, Santander in north central Colombia.  Juan Carlos Galvis is on the union’s

National Executive Board and President of the Santander branch of the CUT, the nation’s’ main labor federation.  I met them both when I was sent to Colombia by my local Union, Plumbers and Fitters Union, Local 393, on a labor delegation inquiring into the violence against trade unionists in 2002.

Colombia is internationally recognized as the most lethal nation in the world for trade unionists. More unionists are killed there than anywhere else in the world. William and Juan Carlos both live and work in Barrancabermeja, the location of the largest oil refinery in Colombia, on the shore of the Magdalena River.  Barranca, as the city is commonly called, is visibly under the authority of the Army, Navy and local police.  The locals, however recognize that the paramiltary death squads have firm political control.  Juan Carlos has stated, “The Paras do whatever they want here in Barranca…They have the political power. They have the economic power.”  It is essentially, he says, “a totalitarian agenda.”  William defines the totalitarian agenda as “A regime in which the common denominator will be terror, hunger and misery for the people so that the rich can become even richer.”

Both Juan Carlos and William  represent the workers in Barranca’s Coca Cola plant.  They have been targeted with death threats since 2001.  They, and others like them are labeled “subversives” by the paramilitaries, linked falsely to the guerilla movement, and are labeled  “military targets.”

William told me that the violence against Sinaltrainal is based in Coke’s determination to force the union out of its bottling plants:  “They want to impose casual labor, part-time labor, and drive down our wages and working conditions.” Continue reading

Coke Tunisia: Struggle for Democracy Leads to Union Victory

by Paul Garver

Trade unions played a crucial coordination and organizing role in the mass revolt in Tunisia. Communities in revolt turned to the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) for coordination and organization as the social movement gathered force. The social upheaval in turn strengthened the unions in their power struggles with transnational companies like Coca-Cola.

At Coca-Cola’s Tunisian bottler SFBT, the union Fédération générale de l’alimentation et du tourisme (FGAT-UGTT) seized the opportunity to negotiate an end to agency work and roll back the abusive use of precarious employment contracts. After a series of mobilizations and strikes in the 10 bottling plants, the Coke bottler had to concede the creation of 1000 new permanent positions for workers who had been employed “temporarily” for over four years, and the direct employment of another 1000 agency workers in positions covered by the union contract. These employees would also be made permanent after they had been employed for four years.

Within Coke’s global empire, from India and Pakistan through China and Colombia (to name just a few of the most egregious cases), the abusive practice of sub-contracting workers (sometimes called agency or dispatch labor) is rampant. Often a small core of unionized permanent workers is surrounded by a vast penumbra of workers without secure employment status or the right to benefits under the collective bargaining agreement. The Global Coke Workers Alliance has made combating this systematic abuse by Coke bottlers as its highest priority, but progress has been painfully slow and difficult in most countries.

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Pakistan Coke Workers Win Union Recognition and Permanent Jobs

Coke Union Presidents Ghulam Rasool, Khalid Pervez, Khaista Rehman

by Paul Garver

After a long and bittler struggle 187 workers at the Coke bottling plant in Multan, Pakistan, have won recognition of their People’s Employees’ Union.   Their precarious jobs have been converted into permanent ones, directly employed by Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Ltd (a joint venture of the Coca-Cola Company and its Turkish-based bottling partner Coca-Cola Icecek).

The agreement was reached after 19 hours of negotiations at the Geneva office of the IUF (International Union of Foodworkers), and was formally signed by the IUF, the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Icecek following endorsement by the three IUF-affiliated Coca-Cola Workers Unions in Pakistan.

The Global Alliance of Coca-Cola Workers coordinated by the IUF has made the struggle for union rights and for secure permanent employment its global priorities.


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Organizing Workers in China: What I learned at the Left Forum

by Paul Garver

China and the USA are two strategic poles of the emerging global social and economic order, and their futures are inextricably interlinked. China has become the “workshop of the world,” exporting not only mass-produced consumer goods to North America and Europe, but also sophisticated industrial products to all markets. China’s rapid economic growth rate has barely been dented by the global financial crisis. Its 700 million-member labor force includes skillled workers and a vast reservoir of “floating workers” (internal migrants from rural areas). The fate of Chinese workers greatly influences the future of the global working class and of society a whole. (Background Analysis)

Two panels at the Left Forum dealt explicitly with current labor issues in China. Thanks to fellow panelists Dongping Han, Li Qiang (China Watch), Marc Blecher (Oberlin College), and Manfred Elfstrom (International Labor Rights Fund), I was able to make a few inroads into my vast sea of unknowing.
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Partial Strike Victory for South African Coke Workers

by Paul Garver

After a seven week strike, Food and Allied Workers Union workers at SABMiller’s ABI, the largest Coke bottler in South Africa, have won a partial victory. Settlement terms include a 7.8% wage increase, improvements in education and housing allowances, and overtime pay for all hours worked on weekends. An independent mediator will oversee any disciplinary actions related to company accusations of strike violence, and casual workers will not lose employment because of participation in the strike.

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Coke Workers Strike to Preserve Jobs

Coke Workers Strike in South Africa

by Paul Garver

A strike by three thousand workers launched by the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU) on December 22 at SAB Miller’s ABI Soft Drinks Division has now entered its second month.  ABI is a major bottler and distributor of Coca-Cola products in South Africa

The union is demanding an end to the further use of labor brokers and the “Driver-Owner Schemes” which convert truck drivers into “independent” owner operators and their crews into casual workers deprived of decent working conditions and job security. FAWU stresses that these schemes, presented as “black empowerment,” are in fact a means of dividing the workforce and creating inferior conditions in delivery services.

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American and Chinese Students Fight for Rights of Workers

by Paul Garver

American student anti-sweatshop activists have won their first major victory in a decade-long campaign against sweatshop conditions and repression of labor unions in Central America. Russell Athletic, largest supplier of campus team uniforms and logo-wear, fired 145 union supporters and shut down a factory in Honduras after its 1200 workers tried to organize a union. Under pressure from mobilizations by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), nearly one hundred college and university campuses ended their contracts with Russell. Now Russell Athletic has agreed to open a new unionized factory, hire the fired workers, and maintain neutrality towards union organizing at the seven other facilities owned by Russell Athletics and its parent company Fruit of the Loom in Honduras.

In the first weeks of November Chinese university students escalated their campaign to end abuses against contract labor at mainland Coca-Cola bottling plants. The students leafleted workers at Coke bottling factory gates with detailed explanations of the legal rights of contract workers (called “dispatch labor” in China). They also posted large banners on university campuses with slogans, images and details of abuses against contract laborers that they had documented in two major reports released in December 2008 and May 2009. Under pressure from the students, the Coca-Cola Company and its Swire Bottler partner have agreed to meet with the mainland student group to “enter into dialogue” about the issues they have raised.

Both of these stories deserve a fuller treatment, which follows. Continue reading