Honduras ACORN Leadership Gets Organized

Siguatepeque, Honduras         The process of legally registering ACORN Honduras has been endless, but earlier this year all of the money was paid, all of the rocks moved out of the road that were full of bad lawyers, miscommunications, and false starts.  Leaders from the San Pedro Sula area, Tegucigalpa, and Marcala were all scheduled to meet to begin formally organizing the governance structure of the organization.  A middle ground location was chosen in Siguatepeque at a large restaurant there.

The old saying about not watching democracy made might have applied to this first stab at real governance by the organization.  The election plans agreed beforehand would have split the officers and board members between the San Pedro Sula area leaders and those from Tegucigalpa with Marcala having one seat.  The board registering the organization legally had been ad hoc and elected solely with San Pedro Sula participation and included one name from Tegucigalpa as a placeholder who was not known to the capital city membership or leaders.  A problem arose in the early discussions once the leaders convened.  It was unclear whether or not new leaders could be elected unless some of the named members on the board resigned, including the Tegucigalpa placeholder.  Despite all of the preparation and prior discussions, suddenly these members of the incorporating board were not willing to step down.  The lawyer was called and she worried that an election without their resignations might not be valid.  In classic ACORN fashion a compromise was agreed where the nominated Tegucigalpa leaders would be formally allowed to meet with the board over the next eighteen months – or until there were resignations that needed to be filled.  They would be able to participate fully in representing their members, but they would not be able to vote.

There was extensive discussion about the ACORN principles of membership and local group accountability.  Any board member had to be a dues paying member, and it was unclear if that was true, until the membership records are produced.  Any board member would need to be active in a local group, and that was also unclear.  The discussion itself though helped clarify bedrock ACORN fundamentals, helping the leaders find their footholds for the future.

There was discussion on whether a group worried about title to their land had made progress in La Lima, outside of San Pedro Sula.  There was a long discussion about the problem of Honduran migrants as part of the march through Mexico towards the US where Trump and troops await them.

More immediately the board was required to formally decide on whether to support a campaign in Honduras around the problem of Temporary Protected Status Hondurans being expelled from the US.  How would this affect Honduras and jobs?  What provisions were being made by the Honduran government and what steps were being taken?  How could a campaign impact the US as well?  The board in this first meeting stumbled on the issue of how to make a motion, record the activity in the minutes, and vote.  There’s no Robert’s Rules in ACORN, but there is an order of business by the boards, and ACORN Honduras was stumbling forward into the future.  Another motion needed to put ACORN Honduras on record in support a campaign with the Gildan workers.  In both cases there was no way for help and support to be requested from ACORN affiliates in the US or Canada, if ACORN Honduras was not campaigning and on record making the request.  The board also approved a national recruitment effort for ACORN, introducing the organization on the radio and television stations of allies.

Nothing about the meeting was easy, but typical of ACORN being rooted in its principles for almost fifty years, the organization is also committed to the future.  The leaders all shared phone numbers and established a WhatsApp group to communicate and make decisions together in the future.

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Gildan T-Shirts are a Tight Fit for Workers in Honduras

Protest outside a Gildan plant in Honduras after a worker gets fired.

San Pedro Sula     ACORN in Honduras has almost one-hundred members in the town of El Progresso, one of the many maquila centers for out-of-country manufacturing companies on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula and this area which is the industrial heart of Honduras.  Since the biggest employer is Gildan, the Montreal-based t-shirt and textile company with a 1300-worker factory in town, not surprisingly some of our members work there.

After some chaos with directions, I found the union offices of FUSEP Sindicato SITRASTAR that represents workers at the El Progresso Gildan plant.  Of the fifteen Gildan plants in Honduras, I learned that the El Progresso plant was the only one with an independent workers’ union.  There are three others that were described as having company unions, leaving eleven with no representation.  Gildan has 24,000 workers in Honduras of its 42,000 globally, so this is a huge center of their production.

Wikipedia makes the comment – without sourcing – that Gildan’s practice of fast lines and low pay allows them to undercut Chinese factories.  Maybe so, maybe no.  Gildan’s global footprint seems to map the textile industries race to the bottom for wages with plants elsewhere in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Haiti.  Abuses at the factory in Haiti has attracted the attention of the Workers Rights’ Consortium (WRC) in several reports.

Union officials told me that they had recently signed a new four-year agreement.  Their situation was better than what they understood from talking to workers in other plants in Honduras, but there was no bragging about the contract.  They clearly had felt like they had signed the contract with a gun to their heads and the threat of the plant closing if they didn’t accept the terms.  Unless I misunderstood, they had ended up with a reduced and conflated piece rate, mandatory overtime, and a line speedup, much of which was imposed unilaterally. Heads were shaking without smiles over these developments.  Carpal tunnel and repetitive motion problems were rampant from everyone’s reports.

And, these were the workers that had it best in Gildan Honduras!  We spent a long time in the meeting hearing about reports from other plants in the north, partially around Rio Nance, where Gildan had an even larger concentration of factories and workers.  There were rumors that WRC was in contact with the company about these conditions and waiting for a response concerning various abuses.  It almost goes without saying that I heard numerous reports of plant activists being fired for beginning to organize in the factories.

This is the devil and the deep blue sea in lower wage worker exploitation.  24,000 jobs is huge in a country like Honduras.  A threat to pack up and move to even lower wage countries is impossible to ignore, because that has been the sordid tale for most of the textile industry, not just Gildan.

For our own members and these workers, ACORN and our allies will have to see how we can stand in solidarity here.  In a month when ACORN Canada is meeting in Montreal, this will be on the agenda.  Nonetheless, it’s a stacked deck with few good cards to play in our hands.

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