Monday, January 22, 2007

Murder of labor leader in Guatemala

In Guatemala, Pedro Zamora, general secretary of the
Dockworkers Union (STEPQ), was gunned down Monday by
unknown assailants who used methods reminiscent of
those by paramilitary forces during Guatemala's 36-year
civil war.

Zamora had been leading efforts to stop privatization
of the country's major port of Quetzal and was
demanding decent working conditions for dockworkers. He
also stood with workers when they were locked out of
their workplace and when the military took over the

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in a letter to
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, described what
witnesses say happened to Zamora:

On his way to pick up his children from an appointment
at the health center located in the Port of Quetzal
grounds, Mr. Zamora was gunned down.... His killers fired
over 100 shots, 20 of which hit him, and fired one
final shot to the face to further degrade and
underscore the message of his murder. Mr. Zamora's
three-year-old son was seriously injured in the attack.

It is unacceptable that as our countries grow closer
and closer in trade and immigration that Guatemalans
who have taken on the honorable responsibility of
representing their co-workers in what should be civil,
peaceful labor-management negotiations, should fall
victim to brutal acts of violence at their workplace.
Achieving justice in the murder of Mr. Zamora
represents one small step in the path toward the
primacy of rule of law over impunity and toward the
support of real democracy in Guatemala.

Guatemala is one of the nations that signed the
Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement
(DR-CAFTA). Its growing textile industry is well-known
for its sweatshop working conditions and lack of
workers' rights.

Ellie Larson, executive director of the AFL-CIO's
Solidarity Center, says:

Over the last year, we worked with Pedro Zamora and his
union to ensure that the rights of dockworkers are
protected under international conventions and
Guatemalan labor law. We mourn his loss, and we condemn
his murder.

(You can read the Solidarity Center press release on
Zamora's murder in Spanish by clicking here.)

Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade
Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 168
million workers in 153 countries and territories, says
Zamora's murder

was planned and premeditated, and appears designed to
send a message to those who dare to stand up for
fundamental rights.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) also
expressed outrage over Zamora's murder. David Cockroft,
ITF's general secretary, said:

This is an outrage, pure and simple. It could not have
been a more dirty and cowardly attack. It's a filthy
little act that makes the blood of any decent person
boil. The Guatemalan government will never be forgiven
if it doesn't investigate and then bring the murderers
to justice.

The ITF protested in October to the Guatemalan
government and the United Nations' International Labor
Organization that Zamora was being followed in response
to his role in defending workers' jobs at Quetzal.

Click here to take action to demand a full
investigation of Zamora's murder and that his killers
be brought to justice.

The ITUC also condemned the killing of at least three
civilians, the wounding of many others and the
detention of several top union leaders in the West
African country of Guinea. The country's security
forces opened fire on a peaceful demonstration Jan. 10.
Guinea's national trade unions organized the strike to
put pressure on Guinean President Lansana Conte to
improve the country's faltering economy and other

Meanwhile, in Iraq, militia groups Jan. 16 killed
Mohammed Hameed, an organizer for the Federation of
Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Hameed
was among a group of 15 civilians randomly gunned down
in an open marketplace in southern Baghdad. Hameed was
out on a walk when he was caught in the gunfire.

A second incident occurred five days earlier, when
militia gunmen abducted eight engineers of the Iraqi
Oil Ministry as they were traveling in a vehicle to a
FWCUI press conference on fuel price increases. Four of
the kidnapped victims, all union members, were
released. One was later found dead, after being
tortured. The other three still are missing.

Falah Alwan, president of FWCUI, says he is
disappointed with the response from the government and
the lack of information on these heinous crimes.

The Iraqi government must take responsibility for the
lawlessness that has become so prevalent in the oil
industry, as well as for the obvious security
deficiencies that has allowed ordinary workers to be
killed every day.

The Brussels-based International Federation of
Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions,
which represents 20 million workers worldwide, called
on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-
Maliki to fully investigate the abductions and killings
of the engineers and to make serious efforts to
apprehend the drive-by gunmen responsible for the
random shootings that took Hameed's life.

In December, Abdullah Muhsin, the international
representative of the General Federation of Iraqi
Workers (GFIW), told a group at AFL-CIO headquarters
that Iraqi workers are caught in the crossfire between
the insurgents and Iraqi and U.S. soldiers.

Iraq's workers and the union movement are under attack
by forces sowing chaos in the country, he said. Every
day, thousands of workers desperate for jobs risk their
lives in war-torn Iraq to feed their families and eke
out a living. Muhsin said:

People are lining up to go to work, and a crazy suicide
bomber comes into the crowd, and they all die. These
people are not supporting any cause, any religion, any
political agenda. They're just trying to make a living.

Muhsin says many people are afraid to go out of their
homes for fear of being killed, but they have no
choice. They must go out and find work or go to the

Muhsin and Alan Johnson are co-authors of Hadi Never
Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions, a book
about the life of the prominent Iraqi union leader who
was brutally tortured and murdered in January 2005 by
enemies of democracy in Iraq. <8>


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