Peter Hogness


[Excerpt] The Coke workers' victory was all the more remarkable given the killings that had decimated the Guatemalan labor movement. Between 1978 and 1984, tens of thousands of Guatemalan civilians were murdered by the Army and its death squads, including hundreds of trade unionists. The Coca-Cola workers' bold action helped break through the curtain of fear left by the massacres, and helped inspire a cautious renewal of union activity.

Now the Lunafil workers were following the example of the Coke workers, and no one was quite sure what would happen. "Only" five unionists had been murdered since the Army allowed a civilian to take office as President in 1986. But the Army was still the real power in the country, and the danger to trade unionists was still very real. A sit-in strike was pushing the boundaries of what would be allowed. So like the Coca-Cola workers, the union at Lunafil was appealing for international support.

The events that followed illustrate how crucial support actions by U.S. unionists can be for the heroic struggles of Third World workers. That phone call from Guatemala to New York City ended up helping keep open a hole in the wall that Lunafil's owners built to isolate the strikers. And the Lunafil workers' fight shows the importance of penetrating the walls of distance, language and culture that separate workers and unionists around the world.