Costa Rica: Unions holding the line against CAFTA

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In July, Guatemala joined El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras in full compliance with the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Costa Rica is the lone holdout to the pact, which will quicken the pace of privatization and the lowering of labor standards in Central America and the Dominican Republic (which has ratified but not yet implemented the treaty).

The backbone of Costa Rica’s resistance is its powerful union movement, whose ranks come especially from a strong public sector. Vibrant public industries and wide-ranging social welfare programs provide Costa Rica with a high living standard. Through their privatization, U.S. multinationals stand to make immense profits.

Union leaders recognize CAFTA as one route to this goal, which is why they are so determined to stop it. Costa Rican president Óscar Arias Sánchez has made CAFTA’s passage a top priority, but huge protests have thwarted the pact’s passage so far.

On June 7, thousands of public-sector unionists held a one-day strike against CAFTA, with 15,000 workers marching on the Supreme Court building in downtown San José, the nation’s capital. Participants included workers from Costa Rica’s Social Security Institute, Electricity Institute, and National Insurance Institute.

The demonstrators were also protesting a new decision by Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court undermining public-employee benefits won through collective bargaining. This anti-labor ruling is part of an overall attack on the country’s unions. In May, union offices were ransacked and leaders received death threats.

In fighting for their own survival and resisting CAFTA, Costa Rica’s unions are standing up for labor throughout the Americas.

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