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Hugo Gonzalez Chirico, Paraguayan trade unionist on hunger strike

5 June, 2014In a weak voice, after suffering periods of sickness and nausea, Hugo Gonzales Chirico, union leader at ACEPAR, explained his determination to continue the hunger strike he began on 22 May, in defence of workers’ rights. He condemned Paraguay’s political class in power which, he said is complicit with the pseudo-employers who ride roughshod over human and labour rights.

Between April and November 2010, the ACEPAR Workers’ Union (SITRAC) went on strike in protest at the company’s failure to comply with the collective agreement in force, failure to respect workers’ human rights and its dismissal of 325 workers, which exacerbated the dispute. The union has suffered the hardships of social struggle since 2001 in its attempts to ensure the company observes the terms of the collective agreement.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of SITRAC in July 2009, recognizing the validity of the collective agreement in force. However, the steel company's management, led at that time by the Argentinian businessman Sergio Taselli, did not comply with the agreement.

“In this country, there is no legal security for small investors, there can be no development, much less any equity”, said Chirico, who hopes that his demands will be heard. Among these demands are: “moral and financial compensation for ACEPAR's victims”, respect for property of the workers who have invested in the company, the investigation and punishment “of those responsible for asset-stripping“ and environmental crimes, an end to “the persecution of workers and trade unionists at ACEPAR”, the re-establishment of jobs and respect for the Supreme Court’s ruling, which found that the collective agreement between SITRAC and ACEPAR was valid, and respect for the regulations that apply to the collective agreement.

This is not the first time that Chirico has been in this situation. He also went on hunger strike thirteen years ago, but says that now, at the age of 62, it is more difficult. However, he has been notified of the impending termination of the legal personality of SITRAC, “it is all part of a policy to destroy particular social movements”, he said.

ACEPAR workers have expressed their solidarity with SITRAC's general secretary and, on 28 May, they marched through the streets of Villa Hayes to support him and his call for the authorities, the government and the judiciary not to violate private property.

The workers also denounced the country’s president, Horacio Cartes, for being responsible for violating the property of small investors and prejudicing the interests of genuine Paraguayan capital, represented by Cootrapar Ltd., which has a 33.33% stake in ACEPAR and is protected by the National Constitution and other laws.

ACEPAR S.A. is now owned by the Brazilian company Vectorial, which has reached an agreement on early retirement with some workers. SITRAC will continue fighting to force the company to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, which found in favour of the union i.e. that the collective agreement between the company and the union is valid.

Members of the trade union will continue to organize demonstrations in front of the ACEPAR Workers’ Cooperative and Chirico says that he will continue on hunger strike indefinitely: “If I die in the attempt”, he said, “the authorities, who were never on the side of the working class, will be answerable to God and the Motherland”.

IndustriALL Global Union Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean holds the employers and the government responsible for any deterioration in our colleague Hugo Gonzalez Chirico’s physical and mental health and demands that they open negotiations aimed at seeking a rapid solution to this dispute.