Domingo Perez, General Secretary of Nicaragua’s largest public sector workers union, called UNE (Union Nacional de Empleados), visited Bristol on Wedneday 15th June and Thursday 16th June as part of a national speaking tour organised by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign.
Domingo was invited to Bristol by BLINC to meet with delegates from UNISON, UNITE, and the TUC to express the solidarity of Nicaraguan trade unions with hard-pressed British workers.
Domingo Francisco Perez is an experienced Nicaraguan trade unionist and the General Secretary of UNE – The Public Sector Workers’ union in Nicaragua (equivalent to UNISON in the UK). He has worked in many different trades, from artisan shoemaking to accountancy and administration. He is also a lawyer but above all he has been a loyal militant of the National Liberation Sandinista Front (FSLN) throughout his entire political life.
He started at UNE in 1980, when he joined the union as a bank worker. In 1983 he was given the responsibility of union branch accountant at the National Bank. In 1984 he took the role of administrator of UNE at the national level. After more than ten years, in 1995 he took on the role of the Union’s finances officer at the National Executive Committee, until 1999 when he was elected General Secretary. His role also involves sitting as a member of the National Directory of the National Front of Workers (FNT), which is the Nicaraguan equivalent of the TUC. At the FNT he currently acts as Departmental Secretary.
UNE– The National Union of Employees. The Public Sector Workers’ union. Its membership has drastically decreased since 1990 in part because of the privatisation of previously publicly owned services and in part because of attacks on unions carried out by successive right wing governments since 1990. However affiliations have been on the increase in recent years due to successes in organising workers in the newly privatised industries; e.g. banking and transport, in areas where unions have disappeared, e.g. the fishing industry; and in areas that have never been organised, e.g. domestic workers. As a result UNE continues to grow and now represents over 25,000 workers.
One of UNE’s major successes in recent years has been in successfully campaigning for a law which protects civil service workers from political changes. Previously, when the political leadership of the local council changed a large amount of staff would be replaced with new staff. This law ensures job security that is de-linked from political affiliation.
UNE’s priorities include: to continue organising public sector workers, to organise previously unorganised and vulnerable workers, to strengthen the structures and sustainability of UNE, to oppose cuts in government spending, to oppose the privatisation of public services including water, education and health, to support the formation of unions in new sectors and to prevent the negative impacts of CAFTA and oppose the potential ratification of the EU.
In 2007 Nicaragua emerged from 16 years of right-wing cuts, plummeting employment, and loss of union membership – UNE lost 90% of its members. Cuts, and government and media hostility, forced Nicaraguan unions to reorganise and re-think their role in society. Today UNE and the Nicaraguan unions are growing once more and have a good relationship with a government that has built trade union concerns into its agenda.
Domingo is a great speaker, and as leader of a union that endured savage cuts throughout the 1990s, he is well placed to understand the threat to UK public sector workers at the moment. Domingo recently sent a solidarity message to UK unions for the March for the Alternative:
On Saturday 4th June, Bristol will be a part of the international event to celebrate 1,000 Fair Trade Towns worldwide. On this day at 2pm local time Fair Trade Towns and Cities across the world will declare jointly as the 1,000th Fair Trade Towns, so in real time they will declare sequentially from east to west across different time zones. With Kumamoto, Japan declaring as the first Fair Trade Town in Asia and New Koforidua, Ghana as the first Fair Trade Town in Africa, the joint 1,000th declarations will see the establishment of Fair Trade Towns in all six major continents.
Along with key individuals, organisations and other Fair Trade Towns, Bristol Fairtrade Network has demonstrated their support for fair trade by signing up to a policy statement that calls to ‘Make Trade Fair’. The local group have also prepared a photograph with the words ‘Make Trade Fair’ that will be displayed on the international Fair Trade Towns website.
The Bristol photo was taken on board the SS Great Britain, where Bristol was declared a Fairtrade City in 2005. Bristol has since become one of the most successful Fairtrade cities in the world. The Lord Mayor joined representatives from many of Bristol’s leading organisations on board ship to declare support for Fairtrade. The SS Great Britain itself is a key supporter of Fairtrade, using Fairtrade products wherever possible, as well as an iconic symbol of international trade.