At the end of October the TUC hosted a visit to London by Noé Ramirez Portela, General Secretary of the Izabal Banana Workers' Union of Guatemala (SITRABI) - the oldest private sector union in the country, organising workers in Del Monte-owned banana plantations on the Caribbean coast.
Commenting on the visit TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
"Tragically Guatemala is now the second most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade unionist and last year SITRABI was the union hardest hit by violence.
"Noé was elected General Secretary of SITRABI in 2000 shortly after the union's executive was forced at gun point to resign their posts and call off strike action over contract violations. Following the murder of Noé's brother in 2007, the union has been devastated by a series of assassinations - nine of its members have been murdered and none of these crimes has been properly investigated by the authorities.
"Despite these attacks, SITRABI refuses to be beaten and has been able to improve the working conditions of many people in Guatemala. It is now turning its attention to the south of the country where workers on banana plantations face the harshest conditions including non-payment of the country's minimum wage.
"Internationally unions and governments must keep up the pressure to end the terrible violence faced by trade unionists in Guatemala and the assassinations and culture of impunity that surrounds them."
Noé Ramirez Portela was in London for three days of meetings with British unions, government officials and other stakeholders as part of the TUC's work to 'End the Violence and Impunity in Guatemala'.
Guatemala is one of the former 'banana republics' where the giant United Fruit Company once owned huge tracts of land and called the political tune. The industry has expanded rapidly over the last decade and now one in every three bananas eaten in the USA comes from Guatemala. Most production takes place in the Pacific South with the remainder being grown in the Caribbean coastal plain of Izabal. In Izabal nearly all 5-6,000 workers - employed by Del Monte (Bandegua), Chiquita and a handful of nationally owned plantations - are unionised. By contrast, the Pacific South represents the single biggest 'black hole' in the world as far as union and other labour rights are concerned. Some seven per cent of the world's trade bananas are produced by 20-25,000 workers, most of whom suffer very harsh conditions.
See www.bananalink.org.uk/guatemala for more information about Banana Link’s campaign to end the violence and impunity in Guatemala.