International solidarity with Nicaraguan trade unions was crucial during 16 years of neo-liberal governments, when our sisters and brothers in the Nicaraguan trade union movement struggled to survive. Although considerable progress has been made in areas such as health, education and the public services since the return to power in 2007 of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti. Our sister unions in Nicaragua are gradually getting stronger and making huge strides in terms of their development and defending the rights of Nicaraguan workers. They are now enjoying a period of membership growth and are focussing their attention on capacity building and recruitment. However, they still lack many of the resources they need; because of the poverty which still exists in the country, it is very often difficult for the unions to collect membership dues, as people just cannot afford to pay. International support and solidarity therefore remain essential to Nicaraguan trade unions in order to build stronger and more powerful trade unions, achieve the best deal for their members and build a fair and just society.
Trade union solidarity is about mutual support and working in partnership to achieve better outcomes for workers. The relationships developed between UK trade unionists and their Nicaraguan counterparts will provide opportunities for a mutual exchange of advice and expertise in order to improve the lives of trade union members and better overcome the challenges faced globally.
At present, 10 national unions in the UK are affiliated to the NSCAG – BECTU, BFAWU, CWU, FBU, GMB, NUT, RMT, UNISON, UNITE and USDAW. SERTUC is also affiliated to us. In addition, over 100 trade union regions and branches are now affiliated to us.
Much of our current work is focused on strengthening links between UK and Nicaraguan trade unions through the development of a number of projects. UNISON currently has an ongoing project with the public sector union UNE to support a legal office for UNE’s members. The legal office deals with a wide range of cases, for example unfair dismissal, breaches of contract. The project has particularly benefitted women with legal and civil cases, for example helping them to receive child support. It has been instrumental in enabling UNE members to learn about labour and social rights in the workplace and to achieve better deals through collective bargaining.
Nicaraguan trade unions are particularly keen on enhancing the role of women and young people in the union movement. Again, we have facilitated a project with the Nicaraguan health trade union FETSALUD which is designed to build the capacity of women and young people in the union through a trade union education programme and UNISON have agreed to provide funding for the project. The TUC have also agreed to fund a similar project being undertaken by the self-employed workers’ union CTCP.
Our work has also involved organising delegations to and from Nicaragua in order to build mutual understanding and awareness. We have arranged a number of study tours for Nicaraguan visitors to the UK, and hope that we will be able to increase this activity in the months to come. Two delegates from the health union FETSALUD visited the UK in April 2015 and attended UNISON’s National Health Conference. The visit culminated in the signing of a twinning agreement between UNISON’s West Midlands Region and FETSALUD and between the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust in Nuneaton and the Nilda Patricia Hospital in Ciudad-Sandino, Managua, the first UK-Nicaragua twinning of its kind.