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Union supporters placed under siege in garment factories that produce for Liz Claiborne--Will Liz Claiborne and the Guatemalan Government take appropriate action?

After a year-long clandestine campaign, the two unions at the Choishin and Cimatextiles factories in Guatemala, owned by a Korean-based company called Choi & Shin's, went public on July 9, 2001. Both factories produce for Liz Claiborne and are located in Villa Neuva, just outside Guatemala City, Guatemala. The larger of the two plants, Choishin, is being monitored by COVERCO, a trusted local monitor, as part of a pilot project of Liz Claiborne. Liz Claiborne is on the board of the Fair Labor Association, an organization that coordinates the internal and independent monitoring of garment factories.

While the factory management gave little response to the union drive at first, the situation soon deteriorated. Union supporters reportedly began to face death threats, threats to close the factory, blackmail, the calling of meetings during work hours to denounce the union, and the stoning of the workers' meeting place while meetings are taking place.

These events escalated and on Wednesday, July 18th, the union supporters were attacked by a mob of non-union workers. The mob seemed to be orchestrated by the factory management, which motivated the non-union workers with threats that the factory will close and that the workers will be blacklisted and never get work again. Witnesses report that at 10:30 a.m. that morning, all the line and area supervisors of Choishin and Cimatextiles met in the offices of Cimatextiles (an uncommon occurance).

After the meeting, these supervisors spoke to a few people on their production lines. One union leader overheard her supervisor say, "Today we'll see who wins. It's either them or us." Shortly before the noon lunch break, news circulated that there would be a meeting on the field during the lunch hour.

About mid-way through lunch hour, a group of non-union workers headed toward where the union leaders were eating together, led by a top supervisor of Choishin and composed mostly of workers from Choishin. The mob surrounded the group of union leaders and threatened them verbally, saying they were going to kick them out, to lynch them, to kill them, and started throwing food, bottles and rocks at them. The Korean management and the personnel managers were on the field watching the event and reportedly told union leaders who asked them to intervene that they could not do anything.

Two and a half hours to three hours later, MINGUA, the United Nations body to oversee the peace process in Guatemala, had arrived. Also arriving that afternoon were inspectors from the Labor Ministry, the FESTRAS organizers, two policemen, COVERCO monitors, local press, and representatives from other non-governmental organizations like STITCH, Witness for Peace, and NISGUA. By 4:30p.m, the union leaders were rescued from the plant and 21 of them went to the Public Ministry in Guatemala City to report the incident.

At the end of the day, it was discovered that ten union leaders had been forced to sign resignation letters and seven had already received their severance payment. Union leaders reported getting hit in the head with bottles and rocks and a few members were beaten.


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