The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Destruction of El Salvador's Dockworkers Union Gives a Grim Warning of CAFTA's Likely Impact

Story and photo by David Bacon

Dock workers who have recently tried to organize unions in El Salvador have lost their jobs and been blacklisted. This photo shows the poverty endured by their families.

ACAJUTLA, EL SALVADOR - Long before the current debate over the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), workers throughout the region have suffered from economic reforms that have broken unions, privatized workplaces, and lowered wages. They oppose the agreement because CAFTA cements those reforms into place, especially because it would require dismantling the public sector to encourage private, particularly foreign, investment, regardless of its social cost.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the model for CAFTA, Mexican unions lost tens of thousands of members in huge privatization scandals during the 1990s. Labor contracts were ripped up, wages plummeted, and some unions even disappeared.

Central American trade unionists view this experience as a warning of what may lie in store for them. But Central Americans also have their own bitter experiences with privatization. When they think about CAFTA, they look at what happened to the longshore workers of El Salvador.

That country's main port, Acajutla, employs approximately 1,200 dockworkers. Until September 2001, their employer was the state port authority, CEPA. Their union, the Sindicato de la Industria Portuaria de El Salvador (the Union of the Port Industry of El Salvador), had a 50-year history of fighting for a fair standard of living in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Longshoremen had a union contract with a set wage for every job. Working two shifts a day, four days a week, dockers could make $125 per day or $25,000 a year. "The sons and daughters of people who couldn't themselves read or write, humble people, were able to go to the university," says its secretary-treasurer, Carlos David Marroquin, who worked in the port's warehouses. "The government never complained about our willingness or ability to do the work."

Nevertheless, on September 11, 2001, within hours of the attack on the twin towers in New York, the Salvadoran government moved troops into the port and the airport. El Salvador's ruling conservative party cited the New York attacks as evidence of a terrorist threat. Both port and airport were placed under military authority for the first time in Salvadoran history.

Sending soldiers to assure the port's physical security was just the beginning, however. On the following January 23, the union was officially dissolved by government decree, and thrown out of its office in the port. Union members haven't been permitted back into their building since then. By the following May, all the port's workers had been terminated.

When the union sought to protect the jobs of port workers and their union contract, Francisco Flores, then-president of El Salvador, called members "terrorists" and "guerrilleros." That language may seem extreme in any country, but from 1978 to 1989, during El Salvador's civil war, people so labeled were often picked up on the street, imprisoned, or just "disappeared." These epithets produced an atmosphere of fear and terror.

The government told workers they could reapply for their old jobs, but with new private operators. "They told people they'd be liquidated, but they'd get jobs with the private operators," Marroquin says. "But they didn't say how much they'd be paid."

Dockworkers are now employed by seven private companies, who set the new wage at $12 per day -- cutting the daily income of longshoremen by more than 90 percent. Privatization was a gift from the Salvadoran government to at least one of the country's wealthiest families -- terminal operator OPSSA is owned by the family of Francisco Flores.

Following its gunpoint expulsion from the port, and its official dissolution, the longshore union made three attempts to reorganize. At first, they tried to call a meeting of all former members working in the port. But workers were told by government officials that if they went to the meeting, they would no longer be allowed to enter the port area, and would therefore lose their jobs. That's what had already happened to 25 union leaders, including Marroquin, fired and blacklisted for being an officer of the union.

The following election year, El Salvador's left-wing party, the FMLN, promised to demilitarize the port and recognize the union. In the National Assembly, however, their proposal was only supported by the party's own delegates -- not a majority.

Then workers decided to organize a new union. On December 6, 2004, 41 workers signed up as members, and asked the government for recognition. By December 13, 36 were out of work, and haven't been able to get a port job since. The Ministry of Labor denied legal status to the union, saying that the workers who signed the documents were not employed by the terminal operators.

Meanwhile, conditions have deteriorated, along with wages. Workers say they don't receive overtime pay, and they're told they can't eat during the workday. Payroll deductions for healthcare aren't turned over to the Social Security agency, so when workers go to the hospital, they find they have to cover doctor bills themselves.

Among the people pushing CAFTA in El Salvador, who want it the most, are the employers of Acajutla dockworkers, and the government that broke their union.

When unions in Central America consider their own possible fate, should CAFTA go into effect, they look to Acajutla as a signpost. And it's no wonder they don't like what they see.
The fate of the Salvadoran longshoremen practically guarantees that opposition to the agreement will grow angry and increasingly desperate.

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