09 July 2010

A la Huelga

They were the same age, he told me. It was easy to count the years. A husband and wife that had migrated from la sierra, the Andes, to work in the plantations on the Peruvian coast. Neither able to read or write, both coughing and sneezing. It was already 10pm when he offered his wife the only chair. He crouched on a cinder block and explained to me his recent dismissal from the company in question.

Accused of working in a state of intoxication and displaying aggressive behavior towards his superiors, he had been released on Father's Day with three days to appeal the decision. In the official letter of termination, no specific infractions were cited. Without money to pay for a lawyer and worried as to how he would feed the ten children that awaited him in Nuevo Chao, an informal settlement that has grown with the agroindustry that surrounds it, he went to look for work. Three days expired with no luck.

He's not the only one out of luck, something that the workers here speak of with frequency and a great deal of sincerity. Hundreds of workers from the same company have been dismissed in recent months under suspicious justification. Generally, the despedidas are correlated with one of two things, and most often with both: union activity and labor complaints.

Currently, the eight dirigentes of the workers' union are at the trade tables negotiating terms of a new contract under the threat of a general strike. The points of negotiation are varied, but include the payment of two years worth of utilidades, something that I understand to be a portion of company profits guaranteed to workers by Peruvian law. Another is the recall of a law known as the Ley de PromociĆ³n del Sector Agroindustrial, a law that has allowed agroindustry businesses exceptions to minimum wage, benefits, and vacation requirements required of other Peruvian employers.

It's 11:52pm. If a new contract isn't signed by tomorrow at 5am, most of the company will begin marching from the Plaza de Armas in Chao in a general strike that has been deemed legal by the local Department of Labor.

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