Answering a Partner’s Call
Our partner MEC has been dealing with an extraordinary situation.
Eleven maquila workers were jailed recently for being involved in peaceful protests for
improved working conditions, including access to potable water, realistic production targets and the rehiring of two laid off union workers. While MEC has a solid team of labour lawyers, this particular situation required criminal expertise given the nature of the charges. MEC came to CoDev seeking financial assistance to hire a criminal lawyer to defend these workers.
The workers were employed by a factory owned by one of the largest Korean-based garment manufacturing multinationals, SAE-A Trading. At the time of the peaceful protest, factory management called in the military police to arrest these workers, including several from other factories who happened to be there as well. Among the arrested was a pregnant woman and one with a serious heart condition.
Families of the arrested called MEC for support. MEC was successful in having all of the charges dropped except for one: “obstruction of official duties.” The Public Prosecutors Office refused to drop the charges in spite of the fact that the factory owners had dropped all their initial charges, hence the need for a criminal lawyer to argue the case on behalf of the workers.
The insistence of the Public Prosecutor’s office in proceeding with charges against the workers, as well as the use of national military police to violently quell a peaceful protest are examples of a private-public alliance where industry and the jobs it creates are defended at the cost of workers’ rights. This is particularly troubling given that Nicaragua has a government that professes to defend the rights of the working class. MEC requested USD$2100 to cover the expenses. In addition to contributing CoDev funds, we also sought assistance from our Canadian Partners to help defray the costs. The BC Government and Employees’ Service Union, CUPE National, CUPE BC, the Hospital Employees’ Union and the United Nurses of Alberta answered the call without hesitation. In the end, we were able to send a total of USD$2650. MEC is using the extra funds to conduct media outreach and ensure coverage of the trial. This kind of joint effort is just another example of solidarity in action.
UPDATE: The workers charged in the case were released on bail and are currently awaiting trial. Originally set for September 21, the Public Prosecutors Office delayed the trial to October 20, and then again to November 1. MEC has told us that the workers are extremely anxious, with the delays compounding their stress. CoDev will be on the phone with MEC to find out the results of the trial, and look forward to sharing what we hope will be good news for workers’ rights in Nicaragua.