Award winning union leader speaks of life and work

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On 6 March 2012 Iris Munguia received the prestigious SOLIDAR* Silver Rose award for her struggle to support banana workers in Honduras. The award ceremony took place in the European Parliament in Brussels and brought together representatives of European institutions, SOLIDAR’s partners and allies, and other stakeholders to celebrate the outstanding work of the winners. 

At the ceremony, Iris spoke movingly of her life and work. She described her journey as a mother of four children and a worker on a Chiquita plantation in Honduras, where she has served for the last 32 years as a trade union activist.

“For everyone, beginning to be empowered as a leader is difficult, especially in the case of a woman working with male leaders”, she reflected. In a presentation to makr her achievement Iris described how, despite the difficulties, she progressed through various processes of formation and training, serving for twelve years as coordinator of the COLSIBA women’s programme (the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agroindustrial Workers Unions) until finally being elected as Coordinator of COLSIBA in August 2011. Her appointment was a major breakthrough within the Latin American trade union movement and a move that no women banana worker would have dreamed possible in previous decades.

“As a woman, I feel committed to the women’s movement; with the claim of our history, our trade union work and in the defence of our rights, with our formation and education. That is what leads to the empowerment of women,” says Iris. She also talks about her role in opposing the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009, for which she was arrested for taking part in a historic pro-democracy protest.

Iris concluds her presentation with a call to solidarity and unity: “We have to recognize that there are men who are aware and committed to social justice and to the defence of our rights. Only by men and women working together can we carry out the necessary transformation to bring about a fairer and worthy world for everyone.”

Click here to read a translation of Iris’ presentation to mark her Award in full.

In a recent interview with Iris Munguia filmed in Honduras, Iris describes how lack of respect for workers' labour rights is widespread in Latin America, especially where there are no unions. She talks about her work in strengthening women's participation in the unions through training and awareness raising, and how she is working now to see this experience replicated throughout Latin America. Click here to view the video.

Banana Link and War on Want are calling on the British government to ensure that a bill is included in the next Queen’s Speech to create a watchdog in the UK to stop supermarkets bullying their suppliers. They say the regulation of supermarket buyer power is vital to the continuing international struggle of Iris and the plantation workers she represents for decent work and an end to poverty.

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* SOLIDAR is a network of 56 nongovernmental organisations in over 90 countries that promote social justice in Europe and worldwide.