The Trade Union Movement In Nicaragua
In the last three envíos, we have written about Nicaragua’s agricultural sector. We now turn our attention to the workers movement, their trade union organizations and their role in Nicaragua’s economy today. This presentation will be divided into two parts, the second of which will appear in the next envío.
In this article we will present:
Labor and union organization in Nicaragua
Brief description of the union confederations
Workers view of the mixed economy in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has a population of 2,732,520 inhabitants of which 863,925 are economically active, according to the most recent statistics (June 30, 1980). Nicaragua has an unemployment rate of 17.5%.
I- Labor and Union Organization in Nicaragua Today.
The following table analyzes the distribution of employment according to different sectors of the economy.
These figures demonstrate the fundamental importance of the agricultural sector. This sector comprises more than three times the number of workers in the industrial sector and 66% of all the other sectors combined.
The industrial and construction sectors are the smallest of all sectors.
The following chart shows levels of union organizing since July 1979.
Note: The 138 unions in the July 1979 column are unions which have been reactivated since the triumph. These existed before the revolution, and they continue to function. During the insurrection, some unions ceased to exist and others combined. There are no exact figures on this.
Note: In terms of the total, the figures include only those with legal status. In the Ministry of Labor it is estimated that there are 130 other unions, mostly small, many of them in rural areas, but they do not appear in the statistics because they have no legal status.
Analysis of the preceding table: There is a great increase in the numbers of unions and members after July 1979. This increase has been fairly regular. Between August 1979 and December 1980, there was an average monthly increase of 26 new unions. From January to June 1981, the average was 63 and from July to December 1981, the monthly average was 31 new unions.
It is also important to analyze the distribution of unions and members according to the economic sector in which they function. For this we have data only from August 1979 through March 1982.
Interpretation: Again we find the majority of unions and of unionized workers in the agricultural sector. (see Table I).
The comparison between Table I and III does not allow us to take a percentage of union workers in each sector because:
1) In Table I we have all the people employed in the economic sector (workers, owners, technicians, professionals, etc.).
2) Table I refers to employment in 1980, while in Table III mention is made only of the new unions as of August 1979.
Comparing Table I and III, we can see that though the industrial sector in terms of employment is among the smallest, in terms of unionization it is the second most important, ahead of other larger economic sectors such as services and businesses.
We can surmise from the preceding table that most of the unions in Nicaragua are small.
In Nicaragua unions are organized predominantly by workplace rather than trade. This type of union comprises 80% of all unions and their members.
II- Brief Presentation of the Labor Confederations in Nicaragua.
A- General Confederation of Workers – Independent (CGT-I)
Information based on an interview with the General Secretary, Carlos Salgrado Membreño.
Founding date: 1963.
Political relations: Founded by the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN). Forms a part of the Nicaraguan Labor Coordinating Body.
Affiliations: Regional: CUSCA (Committee of Unified Trade Unions of Central America and Panama). Hemispheric: CEPUSTAL (Permanent Congress of Unified Trade Unions of Workers of Latin America). International: WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions).
Their own description: “Class-based confederation oriented by Marxist-Leninist principles. The priority task is the monolithic unity of the workers’ movement in the context of unconditional support of the Sandinista Popular Revolution which is a democratic, popular, anti-imperialist and agrarian revolution.”
Observations: Within the CGT-I is the SCAAS, the major construction union, one of the largest and historically most militant unions in Nicaragua.
B- Action and Labor Union Federation (CAUS)
Data taken from an interview with Mario Betanco, member of the Executive Committee and representative of GAUS in the Council of State.
Founding date: Began in 1973 as the Action and Labor Union Committee. Became a confederation in 1976 upon beginning to organize unions.
Political relations: Founded by the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN), to which some of its leaders and members belong. Forms part of the Nicaraguan Labor Coordinating Committee.
Affiliations: None, Maintains fraternal relations with revolutionary trade union movements.
Their own description: “Class-based confederation of the Nicaraguan proletariat with a predominantly Marxist-Leninist line. We defend the government, but we struggle against certain tendencies within the government which affect the interests of the workers, such as corruption, bureaucratism, etc”.
C- Sandinista Workers Confederation (CST)
Date taken from an interview with Francisco González, Director of International Relations of the CST.
Founding date: July 26, 1979.
Political relations: Recognizes the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) as the vanguard of the Nicaraguan revolutionary process. It promoted the creation of the alliance with the CGT-I and CAUS and is the prime mover behind the Nicaraguan Labor Coordinating Committee.
Affiliations: Supports at a regional level the Trade Union Confederation of Central America and Panama (CUSCA). Hemispheric: Maintains relations with the Permanent Congress of Unified Trade Unions of Latin American Workers (CEPUSTAL). International: affiliated with the WFTU, World Federation of Trade Unions.
Their own description: “Class-based confederation, ready to resolve problems of Nicaragua’s workers. One of its principal bases is the support of the Sandinista Revolution. It supports the principles of trade union internationalism and international cooperation; it regards the political participation of the working class as a fundamental element within the new context of a class-based policy of the revolutionary state”.
D- Nicaraguan Confederation of Workers (CTN)
Date taken from an interview with Alfredo Woo and Donald Espinoza, from the Information Department of the CTN and from various documents.
Founding date: September 6, 1972. However, it began as the Nicaraguan Autonomous Trade Union Movement with a Christian inspiration.
Political relations: Defines itself as completely independent of any political party or religion, forms part of the opposition Ramiro Sacasa Coordinating Committee. Also in this coalition are the CUS (Confederation for Trade Union Unification), and the Social Christian, Social Democratic and Conservative Democratic parties.
Affiliations Regional: CCT (Central American Workers Confederation). Hemispheric: CLAT (Latin American Workers). International: WCL (World Confederation of Workers).
Their own description: “The only autonomous and independent confederation of the Nicaraguan working class. Independent with respect to parties, government and institutions. Supports the construction of a society that will be Christian, humanistic, nationalistic, democratic, egalitarian and pluralistic”.
(Excerpt from CTN publication in recognition of May 1980)
E- Trade Union Unification Confederation (CUS)
Data from an interview with José Espinoza, political secretary and representative of CUS in the Council of State.
Founding date: April 6 and 7, 1972.
Political relations: Forms part of the Ramiro Sacasa Democratic Coordinating Committee. Was present in the Founding Congress of the Nicaraguan Labor Coordinating committee, but withdrew a short time thereafter. CUS disagrees with this latter group on two or three points but considers these “can be discussed and resolved”.
Affiliations: Regional: CTCA (Central American Workers Confederation). CTCA is the regional organization of ORIT, the Inter-American Regional Workers Organization. Internationally it is affiliated with the ICFTU, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. CUS is also linked to the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD).
Their own description: “A workers confederation independent of all political parties but holds Social Democracy as its political philosophy.”
The complete the list of unions, we should also mention FETSALUD (Health Workers Federation) and ANDEN (Nicaraguan Teachers Association). Neither of these are confederations but they are unions that are important in terms of numbers of people involved in the country. Both have leaders with a basically Sandinista orientation. It is important to mention the Nicaraguan Labor Coordinating Committee as the coordinating group for a large number of the workers. This was founded in November 1980 and it is composed of the ATC (Farmworkers Association), CST, CGT-I, CAUS, ANDEN, FETSALUD, FD (Workers front) and the UPN (National Journalists Union).
During 1981, there were 39,238 new union members in Nicaragua. 96.9% of these belong to the organizations of the Coordinating Body (CST, 25% - ATC, 68%). Only 3.8% of the new members belong to the organizations that are not in the coordinating Body, i.e. CUS and CTN, according to Ministry of Labor’s statistics.
Observations: These figures do not correspond with those given us by the labor confederations. For example, the CTN gave us the figure of 65,000 members in their confederation; the CGT-I gave us 20,000 as their membership, and the CUS also 20,000.
In some cases these differences of numbers are due to the fact that within some confederations there are small unions that do not have legal status and therefore no official recognition. But this does not explain such large discrepancies.