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Peru: Manufacturing unions facing up to the challenge

8 January, 2019Peru is a bastion of orthodox neoliberalism, where institutions are weak and economic growth is all that matters. But IndustriALL Global Union affiliates (FENAIP, FETRIMAP and FNTTP) are fighting back. They recently agreed to form a national council in order to work closely together, and have planned a series of joint activities as part of a project funded by Union to Union. The two unions in the manufacturing industry are making gains for workers’ rights.

FETRIMAP – a young and rapidly growing organization

IndustriALL’s newest affiliate in Peru is the federation of industrial manufacturing unions FETRIMAP. FETRIMAP has grown rapidly from two workplace unions in 2015 to 22 today. The federation brings together unions in various manufacturing and related sectors, including glass, paper, writing instruments, food and monitoring and inspection services. 

“We have focused on providing our members with support in collective bargaining and in legal defence,” says general secretary Gilmer Ibañez Melendrez. 

In addition, many member unions are increasingly mobilizing in defence of their right to organize and bargain collectively, which is helping to strengthen FETRIMAP’s presence. 

“Our vision is to promote social dialogue through strong unions and solid industrial relations. One of our major problems is the widespread use of short-term contracts, which denies employment stability and undermines all other rights, including the right to form a union. We focus on legal recourse for workers who have been unfairly dismissed as well as switching workers from temporary contracts to permanent ones. We’ve achieved this for hundreds of workers, and this success is helping drive our growth.” 

“With the support of global union networks organized by IndustriALL and Building Workers International, FETRIMAP is making some progress in dealing with multinationals,” says organizing secretary Daniel Alburquerque. “National employers, however, are more recalcitrant.” 

FNTTP – developing new strategies and forging alliances with civil society

A union that knows all about the retrograde attitude of Peruvian employers is the textile workers federation of Peru, FNTTP. 

A 1978 law governing non-traditional exports, permits the unlimited use of short-term contracts in the garment export industry. Contracts can be anywhere from two weeks to six months, which means that a worker can work for the same company for thirty years and sign hundreds of employment contracts during that time. 

Given this situation, it is not surprising that IndustriALL’s textile affiliate, the FNTTP, remains a relatively small organization of 2,500 members. Yet in many ways the organization punches above its weight. 

“We’ve developed a plan to grow our membership base, but we’ve also developed other strategies to support organizing,” says Amed Albujar, FNTTP general secretary.

“We are using trade mechanisms to try to force change.” 

The FNTTP was a signatory to the complaint filed with the US Department of Labor against the government of Peru for violating the labour rights provisions of the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, which has led to several improvements in the implementation of labour rights. It is also a signatory to the complaint against the government for failing to fulfil its labour and environmental commitments under the trade agreement between Peru and the European Union.

Like FETRIMAP, FNTTP has become adept at using the courts and pushing the boundaries of jurisprudence in order to defend the rights of textile workers

“Courts are of course an uneven playing field, but we still have a success rate of about 90 per cent. We combine legal action with worker protest, often mobilizing our members to picket in front of the law courts or labour ministry,” Amed says. 

The FNTTP is also demanding a return to sectoral collective bargaining. A first step is asserting itself as bargaining partner on behalf of members who have joined the federation through direct affiliation, a strategy which is minimizing the impact of anti-union measures at the workplace. It is also taking legal action to prevent employers from unilaterally extending the benefits of collective bargaining to non-unionized workers as a means of undermining the role of unions. 

Several years ago, the FNTTP joined together with other youth organizations and helped spark a massive wave of protests, which in less than six weeks succeeded in overturning the ‘Pulpín Law’ aimed at slashing the labour rights of young workers. That experience helped build lasting relationships with youth and women’s groups who today continue to support the FNTTP in its struggles.

The federation has also been actively involved in popular movements such as Keiko No Va (in protest at Keiko Fujimori’s run for president), Ni Una Menos (in protest at violence against women), and most recently a coalition to tackle state corruption. 

The federation has become a well-known meeting point and is referred to as ‘The Bunker’, a reference to Batman’s centre of operations. The first meeting of the Ni Una Menos movement at the federation headquarters was so packed they had to move to a nearby public square.

The Pulpín Law

The FNTTP were part of a series of youth mobilizations that profoundly influenced the country in 2015. In the space of five weeks, tens of thousands of young people participated in five massive protests to force the government to revoke a youth employment law, popularly known as the ‘Pulpín Law’ (named after a kid-sized juice box), which would have slashed the rights and benefits of young workers between 18 and 24.

What is less well known is the role played by the textile federation. Lorena Chavera Caceres, FNTTP youth secretary, explains:

“When the bill was first proposed in November 2014, the textile federation was among the first to react. This new law would have made our situation much worse so we started to organize. Our members would come straight from the night shift, and together with our national centre the CGTP we would stage pickets outside the Congress, with 20 or 30 people at a time. On 9 December, somewhere between the first and the second vote, we organized a demonstration together with other unions and with several youth collectives. About 500 people turned up. Although this first demonstration was overlooked by the media, it was the start of something much bigger. 

“When the bill was adopted, our group had a lively confrontation with one of the key members of Congress, and the exchange was picked up by the media and got a lot of coverage. We started organizing another demonstration, and the meetings just kept growing. Still, nothing prepared me for the size of the turnout: over 20,000 people in the Plaza San Martin on 18 December! There was a police crackdown and the demonstration turned a bit chaotic, after which we started to organize ourselves better. 

“After 18 December came 22 December, 29 December 29, and 15 January, each time with 10,000 to 25,000 protesters on the streets in Lima alone. There was so much energy, and we were determined to make ourselves heard. When the police prevented us from marching to the nearby parliament building, we instead undertook a series of marches, walking nearly ten kilometres to the business district – and back again - sitting down at major crossroads as we went. 

“On 26 January, Congress reconvened and overturned the law. Imagine! A bill pushed through with the support of big business and the collusion of the mainstream media was overturned in less than six weeks thanks to the power of youth mobilization.”

FNTTP: www.facebook.com/FederacionTextil/

FETRIMAP: www.facebook.com/Federacion.Industria.Manufacturera.del.Peru/

Union to Union – a Swedish donor organization: www.uniontounion.org