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Cablegate: The Nicaraugan Labor Movement: Fragmented and Politicized

VZCZCXRO8650
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0828/01 2332130
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 212130Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4471
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0411
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J2/J3/J5// PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAGUA 000828

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN KRAAIMOORE
DEPT FOR DRL MAGGIO, MITTLEHAUSER
DEPT FOR INL/IAA ARCHUBTA
STATE PASS USAID
STATE FOR USOAS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/15/2019
TAGS: ELAB ECON PHUM NU
SUBJECT: THE NICARAUGAN LABOR MOVEMENT: FRAGMENTED AND POLITICIZED

REF: 2008 MANAGUA 1213 (MINIMUM SALARY AGREEMENT)

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4 (b & d)

1 (C) SUMMARY: The Nicaraguan Labor movement is fractured and
generally ineffective, by design. Since the 1996 labor code
reform, organized labor's power to protect workers, rights
has diminished substantially. Labor unions are primarily
organized around political affiliation, rather than worker's
issues. Unions are increasingly used for political purposes
rather than to defend workers, basic rights. Some labor
leaders fear that new calls to reform the labor code could,
in fact, further erode workers rights. END SUMMARY

----------------------------------------
1996 LABOR REFORM DIMINISHED UNION POWER
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Labor code reforms passed in 1996, during the final
year of President Violeta Chamorro's term with support from
the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), were heralded as
making it easier for workers to form unions. The reforms
have, in fact, severely diminished the collective bargaining
power of organized labor. Prior to the reforms, at least 50
percent of the workers in an organization had to agree to
union membership before it could be formally registered with
the Ministry of Labor (MITRAB). While this requirement made
it difficult to establish a new union, it guaranteed that
once formed, collective bargaining agreements represented the
majority of workers within the organization. The reformed
labor code only requires that 20 people agree to form a new
union. The result has been that multiple unions exist within
the same business or organization, which makes negotiating
collective agreements challenging if not impossible for both
workers and employers. Many labor leaders now believe that
the 1996 reforms were designed to fracture organized labor
and diminish its power.

3. (SBU) The 1996 reforms lowered the number of workers
required to form a new union and established new rules for
how local unions can constitute national organizations.
Under the law two unions ("syndicales") of at least 20 people
each can join together to form a federation ("federacion") of
at least 40 members. Similarly, two federations of at least
40 members each can unite to form a confederation
("confederacion") of at least 80 members. Following the
pattern, two confederations of at least 80 members each can
join together as a central ("central") of at least 160
members. Multiple centrals can form a Workers, Congress
("congreso"). The 1996 reforms allow the creation a
Workers, Congress with as few as 320 members; whereas,
before the 1996 reforms, a Central or Workers, Congress
would represent literally tens of thousands of union members.


-----------------------------------------
NICARAGUAN LABOR UNIVERSE - 4 BLACK HOLES
-----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Nicaraguan labor unions are primarily based on their
members, political affiliation, rather than workers,
issues. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and
the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) are the primary
political parties in the polarized labor movement. Most
Nicaraguan labor unions are affiliated with one of three
primary Centrals: Frente National de Trabajadores (FNT) -
Coordinadora Sindical Nicaraguense (CSN) --both aligned with
the FSLN -- or the Congresso Permanente de Trabajadores (CPT)
aligned with the PLC. Other independent unions may be
aligned politically with either the FSLN or PLC, but remain
generally free from the big three centrals. Internationally,
organized labor in Nicaragua is affiliated with the
International Labor Union Confederation (CIS) and the Labor
Union Confederation of Central America (CSA), which are
considered Workers, Congresses.


--------------------------------------------- ----
FNT - Gustavo Porras' Kingdom & FSLN Shock-troops
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) The FSLN-controlled FNT labor federation is a central under the direct leadership of National Assembly Deputy Gustavo Porras. (NOTE: Porras also is the President of the National Assembly Labor Committee and the Secretary General of the Citizen Power Councils (CPC). END NOTE) In terms of influence, FNT members represent approximately 60 percent of all organized workers in Nicaragua. Under the FNT umbrella, there are six major labor confederations/federations, namely: CST-JBE, the Confederacion Sandinista de Trabajadores Jose Benito Escobar; FETSALUD, the federation for public hospital workers (NOTE: doctors and nurses are independent); UNE, the largest public employees' union; ANDEN, the public school teacher union; CSTPP, a union for informal workers; and FDTU/ATD, the university workers, and professors' unions. The largest FNT Confederation, CST-JBE, has affiliates in most of Nicaragua's apparel assembly operations and factories and is controlled by President/General Secretary Luis Barbosa and Legal Representative Miguel Ruiz. CST-JBE union members represent approximately 55 percent of the total FNT membership, or 35 percent of all organized Nicaraguan workers. With the exception of CST-JBE, the five remaining FNT labor federations are directly controlled by Porras himself.

6. (SBU) Porras, a favorite of First Lady Rosario Murillo,
uses his position as the head of FNT and its subordinate
federations to claim special privilege as the only authorized
labor spokesman in Nicaragua (see reftel). He also
frequently abuses his position over the largest public
workers, union by calling them out to be FSLN shock-troops
that "defend the streets" during public protests, such as
after the November 2008 elections. (COMMENT: During the melee
that followed the elections there were often more red and
black FNT flags waving at the Managua rotundas than red and
black FSLN flags. END COMMENT) On July 25, 2009, "La Prensa"
(national newspaper, 40,000 daily readership, center-right)
reported that during a union workshop to train a new
generation of FNT members, Porras called on them to
"implement the direct democracy model that the government's
party is pushing and to defend it and the (Sandinista)
revolution." Porras also called on young FNT members to
eradicate the neoliberal model in Nicaragua and "to transform
the system with social justice."

--------------------------------------------- -
CSN/CST - Roberto Gonzales' FSLN Minor Kingdom
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (SBU) The FSLN-aligned CSN represents less than 10 percent
of Nicaragua's organized workers. Its largest labor central,
the Central Sandinista de Trabajadores (CST) - not to be
confused with the FNT-affiliated CST-JBE - is controlled by
Roberto Gonzalez. The CSN/CST is one of the oldest
Sandinista unions in Nicaragua and has affiliated unions in
both private businesses and public institutions. Despite its
long history, the CST competes with the FNT for influence
within the FSLN party.

-------------------------------------------
CPT - Jose Espinoza Navas & Liberal Enclave
-------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The PLC/Liberal-aligned Congress of Permanent Workers (CPT) is the second largest labor central in Nicaragua and collectively represents approximately 30 percent of Nicaragua,s organized workers. There are several labor centrals that affiliate under the CPT umbrella, including the Confederacion Unidad Sindical (CUS), Central de Trabajadores Nicaraguense (CTNa), Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), and Central General de Trabajadores (CGT). The CPT is led by former National Assembly Deputy and long-time labor organizer Jose Espinoza Navas. CPT-affiliated unions have organized in apparel assembly operations as well as in public institutions. Since the return of the FSLN to power, CPT-affiliated union members are under increasing pressure to abandon their unions and join the FNT-affiliated labor unions.

----------------------------------
INDEPENDENT UNIONS - a dying breed
----------------------------------

9. (SBU) There are only a handful of Nicaraguan labor unions
that are truly independent. However, these independent
unions are still often aligned politically with the FSLN, PLC
or MRS political parties. Independent unions include:
Central de Trabajadores Nicaraguense (CTN) - not to be
confused with the CPT-affiliated CTNa; the Central de Accion
y Unidad Sindical (CAUS); the Confederacion Nacional de
Maestros de Nicaragua (CNMN); and the Associacion de
Trabajadores del Campo (ATC). The independent unions do not
form a common central and are therefore under increasing
pressure to affiliate with one of the three main centrals.

--------------------------------------------- -
LABOR LEADERS SUSPICIOUS OF LABOR COURT REFORM
--------------------------------------------- -

10 (U) Labor leaders complain that the 1996 reforms have
weakened and fractured the labor movement, and many have
called for reforms to the labor code or a national labor
forum to help strengthen the sector (see Septel). An
immediate target of reform is the labor courts system. Union
leaders agree that the current rules favor employers, who can
delay implementing for up to two years MITRAB resolutions
that call for restoration of illegally fired workers. The
tactic is used while waiting for a trial date in a labor
court. According to Supreme Court Judge Rafael Solis, there
are over 80,000 pending labor cases, of which only 20,000
have been heard. In 2008 alone, there were 3,632 new labor
cases added Managua,s two labor courts, dockets, and only
1,094 will be heard in 2009.

11. (U) On June 16, representatives from the International
Labor Organization (ILO) met with workers, judges and labor
experts to propose reforms to the labor code that deals
primarily with labor court cases. The meeting was the first
ILO-funded consultation in a process that aims to provide the
National Assembly with recommendations for reforms to the
labor code by January 2010. However, the ILO suggestions also
contemplate revisions to the labor code chapters governing
the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike.
Unfortunately, the proposed ILO-funded process will only
involve former Ministry of Labor (MITRAB) directors, many who
are perceived as "pro-business." Labor leaders fear that
without a tripartite reform process, labor laws will once
again be changed in a way that weakens basic labor rights,
such as the right to strike, organize or bargain collectively.

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. (C) Nicaragua's labor movement is divided almost universally along political fault lines, and the 1996 labor code reforms and the FSLN,s return to power have exacerbated this division. Union affiliation has increasingly become a political tool rather than a vehicle for defending the rights of all workers in Nicaragua. While the 1996 reforms made it easier for unions to form, the result is that the labor movement is splintered and unions are in a much weaker position when they negotiate with employers on collective agreements. In the current political climate the FSLN is clearly trying to eliminate competing worker allegiance, so that only FSLN, and in particular, FNT-affiliated unions have any "real" power. Organized labor was an important force that brought the Sandinistas to power in the 1970s and supported the return of democracy in the 1980s and early 1990s. Unfortunately, current laws and the increasing hegemony of the FSLN-controlled government have all but neutralized the power of labor to be an effective force for change in Nicaragua,s civil society.

-------------------------
NICARAGUA UNION DIRECTORY
-------------------------

International Labor Organizations:
----------------------------------

CIS - International Labor Union Confederation
CSA - Labor Union Confederation of Central America

Major Domestic Labor Organizations - Centrals (Political
Affiliation):
--------------------------------------------- -------------

FNT - Frente Nacional de Trabajadores (FSLN)
CSN - Coordinadora Sindical Nicaraguense (FSLN)
CPT - Congresso Permanente de Trabajadores (PLC/Liberal)

FNT Affiliated Unions:
---------------------

CST-JBE - Confederacion Sandinista de Trabajadores Jose
Benito Escobar
FETSALUD - Federacion de Trabajadores de la Salud
UNE - Union Nacional de Empleados
ANDEN - Associacion Nacional de Educadores de Nicaragua

CSN Affiliated Union:
---------------------

CST - Central Sandinista de Trabajadores

CPT Affiliated Unions:
----------------------

CUS - Confederacion Unidad Sindical
CTNa - Central de Trabajadores Nicaraguense
CUT - Central Unitaria de Trabajadores
CGT - Central General de Trabajadores

Independent Unions:
------------------

CTN - Central de Trabajadores Nicaraguense
CAUS - Central de Accion y Unidad Sindical
CNMN - Confederacion Nacional de Maestros de Nicaragua
ATC - Associacion de Trabajadores del Campo
CALLAHAN

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