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70 Years of Labor Justice 

Remembering La Huelga calls us into a deep appreciation for the bravery of low-income workers facing economic inequality.

By Deanna Johnson on July 9, 2024

May 5, 2024, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the United Fruit Company (UFC) strike in Tela, Honduras. The company, one of the leading banana exporters in the country since 1920, refused to pay fair wages to its workers in accordance with the law. In response, over 25,000 Honduran banana farmers mobilized and shut down the country for 69 days to demand fair and legal pay, including double pay for holiday hours and a 50 percent wage increase. The strike, in Spanish known as La Huelga, was a critical event in the fight for labor equality in Central America. The brave workers and their families uniting against the United States-owned company (which today is Chiquita Brands International) showed the world and other “banana republics”, as they were called, that resistance against colonial forces was possible.  

By the end of the strike, the UFC workers were joined by workers from the rival Standard Fruit Company (today Dole) and Coca-Cola. The outcomes of the strike were higher wages, a reduction in the workday, and safer working conditions. The strike also led to the establishment of a minimum wage in the country and medical care for the workers’ families. 

The celebration of the 1954 UFC strike aligns with the celebration of International Worker’s Day, also known as May Day, celebrated around the world on May 1, or the first Monday in May. This year, in Tela, thousands of people gathered on May Day to honor workers and in remembrance of those who went on strike against the UFC in 1954. In addition to marches, UUSC’s partner, Radio Progreso, hosted two community events remembering the strike and honoring those who participated. 

During the first event, an artist who is the daughter of one of the UFC strikers, presented the paintings and prints she created for the workers who participated in the strike—some of whom, like her father, were killed or disappeared during the events. Also, during this event, Radio Progreso offered space for the wife of one of the striking workers to speak about her experiences and those of her late husband. 

The second event was a community concert with performances by various singers, a commemorative display of artwork and photos, food, and community.  

Today, the push continues for fair working conditions. Many participants in the May Day events expressed the importance of just labor practices in stemming the flow of migration and brain drain to the United States. Because people have such difficulty finding jobs that pay adequate salaries for the work required or those which provide safe work sites, people are forced to leave Honduras in search of better employment. Additionally, difficulty in finding employment with sufficient wages encourages people to turn towards illegal means of obtaining funds—further fueling participation in gangs and organized crime networks and contributing to the violence and instability that drives families out of Honduras in search of safer living conditions. 

UUSC is proud to support Radio Progreso and the workers of Honduras in demanding improved labor conditions. Safe and dignified work is a significant component of human rights as is the right to stay. UUSC will continue working with organizations around the globe to ensure that people can stay in their communities if they so choose and live rich, healthy, and secure lives. At the same time, UUSC will also continue its work with organizations that protect people’s right to move safely and dignifiedly throughout the world. Labor justice is embedded in the fabric of human rights work and UUSC and its partners continue to stand in solidarity to work towards it.  

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Image credit: UUSC

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