Unions - Nicaragua and Wales


By Ioan Bellin. Follow him on twitter


Domingo Perez, General Secretary of UNE, a public sector union in Nicaragua will be speaking in Cardiff tonight. What relevance does that have when we are on the cusp of one of the largest public sector strikes here? The ATL, NUT, PCS and the UCU have all balloted to strike on the 30th June over their pensions.

There are of course huge differences between the economy and society of Nicaragua and Wales however I would argue that people in both nations can learn from each other.

In the 1990s a neo-liberal government in Nicaragua embarked on public spending cuts, privatisation and scrapped laws protecting workers. Domingo Perez estimates that between 1990 and 2007 200,000 public sector jobs were lost in a country of almost 6 million. About 80 per cent of workers in the public sector lost their livelihoods.

Since 2007 there has been a socialist government which has improved the situation for many people. The International Foundation for Global Economic Development study of poverty in Nicaragua results suggest that in 2010, at the national level, 44.5% of the population lived in conditions of moderate poverty [down from 44.7% in 2009] and 9.0% lived in extreme poverty, down from 9.7%. Extreme poverty dropped from 18.2% to 15.9%. The study surveyed 1,700 households throughout the country. (Nicaragua Network)

In a recent interview before his visit to Wales Mr Perez said: “It is not possible to destroy the welfare state, the way it happened in Nicaragua in 1990. They destroyed all the benefits that Nicaraguans used to have.” He believes this is partly because of the strength of the trade union movement.

One aspect that I found interesting was the work by the FNT, the umbrella group of Nicaraguan trade unions that reacted to the policies of the neo-liberal government by organising amongst people who were not traditionally unionised. People like the street sellers in the capital Managua or those who made a living by scavenging at the municipal waste dump. Working on their behalf and forming the confederation of informal sector workers union ensured better conditions for these workers. In future Welsh trade unions may have to organise in other less traditional areas and sectors to attract new members because of the job cuts in the public sector.

Domingo Perez also believes the world financial crisis has shown “… that the famous Economy of Bubbles does not generate wealth or profitability. What does generate it is productivity and added value, things which require investment.” This is as true for Nicaragua as it is for Wales.

Domingo Perez will be speaking on Wednesday June 22 at 7-9pm at Unison Cymru, Custom House Street, Cardiff, CF10 1AP