Tomas Francisco Ochoa Salazar, from the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa de Carnes Procesadas Sociedad Anónima (SITRABREMEN), was shot and killed on Sept. 1 2017 as he left the meat processing factory where he worked. According to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Centre in Guatemala City, at the time of his death, the murder of Tomas is the 87th murder of a union leader since 2004. His murder highlights the risk that union organizers face in Guatemala.
“We lost a great leader,” said Oscar Zuniga, the General Secretary of SITRABREMEN. “He was one of the most active members of the union. In his memory we will continue struggling because the union is not just one person, but rather it is everyone.”
Another member of the union, Andy Noel Godinez, was injured in the shooting.
Tomas, who leaves behind a wife and 3 children, was the acting Secretary of Disputes and a key organizer with the union. He spent years working in BREMEN Meats’ meat processing plants, a company owned by Guatemalan businessman and former Minister of Health during the administration of Otto Pérez Molina, Francisco Arrendondo. In 2016, he and other workers began the work to form a union within the plant.
“He was a very active leader within the union. We accompanied him a lot in the process of forming the union, since the union had a lot of need for support,” said Luis Fuentes, the country director at the Solidarity Center. “He was very popular within the factory, and very well known for his work of organizing the union.”
In early 2017, Tomas and the others organizers won a substantial victory: the union was officially recognized by the Guatemalan Ministry of Labour. The victory came after a year of organizing within the meat processing factory. Throughout the organizing campaign the company attempted to buy off Tomas in order to destroy the union. According the Fuentes and Zuniga, they had bribed him money, including blank checks, and even visas to the United States for him and his family.
But he refused.
“Tomas was always concerned about defending the rights of the workers and the affiliated members,” said Zuniga. “He would never allow for the company to manipulate and divide the union.”
This was not the first time that workers had attempted to organize. In the 1980s there was an attempt to organize, but the company squashed the union before it formed.
The Guatemalan legal system has regularly, and systematically failed to investigate these assassinations, and continually failed to respect and enforce labour rights. The assassination of Tomas is no different.
Yet despite this violence, the movement will continue to demand their rights.
“We are going to continue to work for a collective contract,” said Zuniga. “We hope that the company will come to the table to negotiate.”
Source: Upside Down World