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Four years ago, a group of Guatemalan workers, the Carbonera, stood up for their rights and formed a union. Today 71 workers, who pursued their illegal dismissal case to the courts, have achieved an unprecedented victory in Guatemalan history – they have an agreement to receive a cash settlement from their former employer Dymel.

“Never before has a group of Guatemalan workers stood toe-to-toe with a transnational giant (that is) in partnership with the US government and come out of it with so much,” says Bill Howson of the Guatemala Community Network. “They achieved it after the longest and most determined vigil of this nature ever to happen in Guatemala.”

The 71 workers, depending on what their salary was at the time of the illegal dismissal, will get between $17,000 to $20,000 US each in the settlement. This is about 90 per cent of the compensation that the Guatemalan Constitution Court ordered Dymel to pay. Howson says though the workers did not win their jobs back and have agreed to disband as a union, dropping all charges against the company, the victory is a big win within the Guatemalan context.

“While this can hardly be called justice, the reality is that to achieve all of their demands may very well have been impossible,” says Howson. “In those four years they have given a lot to the Guatemalan labour movement. Now the time has come for them to move on.”

Howson says the international support the Carbonera workers received from Canadian individuals, community members, union locals and national unions in the public and private sector was gratifying.

“It will be a long time before

I forget the flags of the CAW, CUPE and Steelworkers flying over the front door of the residence of the President of Guatemala. I wish you could have all stood on the steps with the Carbonera.

It was truly inspiring,” he says. “This whole experience has given me a much better understanding of what solidarity can accomplish.”