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ICE Unions’ Big Strike Attempt Strikes Out

November 30, 2007

A strike that was supposed to be 5,000 strong fizzled Monday into a mixed protest of several hundred people outside the Legislative Assembly.

Though the unions representing Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) employees made threats of drastic action in the future, this time they held their strike to a single day, and the gathering dissolved with the afternoon rain.

The unions were protesting legislation under debate in the Assembly that would put Costa Rica in compliance with the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), a treaty that Costa Rica ratified by referendum on Oct. 7.

Last week, after calling for a “general strike” at a press conference, Electricity and Telecommunications Workers Union President Fabio Chaves had said he wanted 5,000 ICE workers to participate in the walkout. But only about 400 protestors showed up at the ICE building in Sabana Norte, on the west side of San José, to decide how to proceed.

At the gathering, the unions chose to limit the strike to one day, while threatening a general strike should the CAFTA implementation bills – and particularly the telecom ones – be approved.

Later, the strikers marched through the city to the Legislative Assembly, where they joined a crowd of several hundred students and other protestors.

“We’re here to tell (the legislators) that this is the last time we will come here like this, civilly, to ask them to stop these projects,” Cháves thundered from the back of a flatbed truck that, along with the strikers and several hundred other protestors, blocked Avenida Segunda, alongside the Assembly building.

“If they force us to go on an indefinite strike, they assume the responsibility for what happens,” he said.

But the decision to launch a “general strike” only to retaliate against the passage of the bills is already a significant step back for the ICE unions. Just last week, Chaves and other union leaders criticized the assembly for putting the telecom laws on the fast track, saying that was outrage enough to bring protestors into the street.

Chaves later said that he was “not happy” with Monday’s turnout.

The protest was peaceful except for a tense moment early on when ICE’s legal director, Giovanni Bonilla, asked four protestors to stop blocking the entrance to the ICE building in La Sabana.

“You can’t deny access to the public,” he said, but the protestors – one of them Chaves himself – refused to move, and Bonilla was shouted down by the crowd that surrounded him.

Later on, a handful of University of Costa Rica students joined the protest by blocking several streets in San Pedro, on the east side of the city, and burning some tires, though to little effect.

No services were interrupted during the walkout, which failed to impress ICE management.

ICE head spokesman Elbert Durán called the strike a “pathetic act of desperation” and said the workers who walked out would not get paid for that day.

 

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