STECSA – Coca Cola

The union is the sum of us all


Lázaro “Lacho” Antonio Serrano and Carlos Alberto Luch, former organization secretary and former general secretary, respectively, of the Union of Workers of Embotelladora Central Sociedad Anónima (STECSA), leave their positions as members of the union’s Executive Committee after serving eight years. They leave after an extremely dynamic period in the history of the union, during which the plant went from being a nationally-owned business to being controlled by two different transnational corporations, with perhaps different attitudes, but with one same strategy: undermining the union. 



-How many years have you been with Coca-Cola, Carlos?

-This is my 15th year.


-And you, Lacho?

-I’ve been here 27 years.


-Yesterday, January 14, you both stepped down from your positions in the union’s Executive Committee. After your eight years there, what is your evaluation of that period?


Carlos –We had to face a lot of changes. In March 1998, Panamco (Panamerican Beverages Inc.) acquired the plant from Corporación Porras. Later, in 2002, FEMSA (Fomento Económico Mexicano S.A) purchased Panamco, forming the largest Coca-Cola bottling company outside of the United States and the leading one in Latin America.


Throughout this whole period, although we saw many different faces and characters in charge, in our opinion the boss has always been the same. If we look at the logs of claims presented by one or the other transnational corporation in 1998 and now by FEMSA, there are no changes in its basic strategy. Panamco may have been a bit more aggressive, but the goal of both has always been the same: to do everything in their power to undermine the union. In the face of this, as a labor union, we have maintained the same policy within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement: never a step backwards, always forward, even if it means taking tiny steps.

That is the battle we’ve been waging since ‘98, fighting off the attempts to break, as we say, the backbone of our collective agreement.

Lázaro “Lacho” Antonio Serrano


Lacho -We, who have been heading the Committee for eight years, have had serious clashes with the business sector. We have faced all of these situations from a position built through the ample support that workers have given us and the trust they’ve shown in our work. The rank-and-file members have corroborated this in countless meetings and in each election held in our union.


All in all, we think we’ve done a good job, but we also think the organization needs to breathe some fresh air, and that’s why Carlos and I have decided not to take part of the new Executive Committee.


Nobody’s allowed to forget

“Nobody forgets and everyone learns that the union was born when Guatemala smelt of gunpowder, and the army and the paramilitary groups were killing people like flies. Nobody forgets, and the young learn, that repressive forces murdered eight of our union leaders and activists. Their pictures and names are displayed in the factory’s canteen and in the union’s headquarters, which are also inside the plant. The union’s anthem remembers them in its verses. Nobody forgets and everyone learns how STECSA was born.”

(Gerardo Iglesias)

-But that won’t entail substantial changes in STECSA’s strategy policy …

Lacho –Naturally, the committee’s political guidelines are shaped by the entire union, regardless of who is serving in the Committee. And what are these guidelines? Putting our greatest efforts and dedication into defending our rights and our organization.


All these years of existence of STECSA have left us with great teachings. There were very difficult times, with fellow unionists being murdered, and others forced into exile. STECSA was forged amidst struggles, and we are convinced that that tradition will keep it alive.


-Does that explain STECSA’s strength?

Lacho –We see it as the result of two things: the first is the Executive Committee’s ongoing and effective communication with the union’s rank-and-file. Through that communication we discuss all aspects related with the collective agreement, the status of negotiations, the daily activities conducted by STECSA, and the challenges it faces. Being frank with the rank-and-file members and not losing touch with them is a very significant aspect of any organization.


The other pillar is our union training activities. We all participate in these activities: from the union’s earliest members to the newest incorporations. With this mechanism we can make everyone aware that just as we have rights and enjoy certain benefits gained through collective bargaining, we also have to be responsible for the union’s day-to-day activities.

Another important element is discipline. In STECSA, the “compa” (or fellow unionist) that does not participate in a general assembly, or who fails to show up for the May 1st rally, or the October 20 demonstration that commemorates the 1944 Revolution that overthrew the Jorge Ubico dictatorship, is penalized with the measures stipulated in the union’s Bylaws. If we enjoy rights and benefits thanks to the union, then we also have the obligation of participating actively in the various activities organized by it.

Carlos Alberto Luch


Carlos –We must be clearly aware that the movement is not solely the work of its leadership, or of any particular leader, however brilliant that leader may be. There’s a movement only if the union’s rank-and-file members become aware of the importance of their involvement and take action to promote it. Our task as members of the Executive Committee is to serve as facilitators for securing the commitment of the union’s ordinary members, spreading among them the idea that the union is the sum of all its members. The union is not the ten people in the Executive Committee, it is all of us.


-After a time as leaders, many are reluctant to go back to the factory. This, apparently, is not the case with you two…

Carlos -In my case, the sooner I go back, the better. Why? Well, there are several reasons, but mainly I want to get back because I feel that there are some things I’ll be able to observe more clearly from there. I’m sure that that perspective will be useful to the union, and will also come in handy if I ever become a member of the Committee again.


-The truth is that, in these 32 years of STECSA’s existence, we have been the longest-standing members of the Committee. Other leaders were elected and when their two years -a term in the Committee- were up, they returned to their jobs. These eight years have been very positive, and I’m not at all uncomfortable going back to my job. And I feel comfortable returning because of the daily contact we’ve maintained with the rank-and-file members….

Training as a tool

 “When a worker arrives at the factory for the first time, the union welcomes him and invites him to participate in the courses that teach the history of our organization, its struggles and goals; nobody can join before they participate in these activities.”

(David Morales, general secretary of FESTRAS)


-It is something that is evident when you see how any worker can come into the office where the Committee works, and they sit down and talk openly, without any problem, and the workers don’t feel inferior to the union leaders, who in turn don’t look down on them from a higher position…

Lacho –Which is something that management has tried to do. If you recall, Gerardo, during the negotiation with Panamco, which lasted 23 months and ended in 2002, the transnational corporation wanted the union to leave the plant, claiming they needed the space for storage purposes, and it tried to convince us by offering to pay the rent for a fancier place for our headquarters…


Carlos –They even offered us an entire floor in a hotel



Lacho –They wanted us to hold our meetings in conventions centers in some hotel or in a theater. We know very well that our greatest strength is in maintaining a direct and permanent contact with our rank-and-file members, and we’re not going to give that up. The office space we have for the Executive Committee is very small, but there is a warm atmosphere there; it’s a place where we all feel equal.


-While the transnational corporations bring in their “union models”, you know full well that, from Rel-UITA, we seek to socialize the way this union works outside the country.

Carlos –I’d say that STECSA is the thorn stuck in Coca-Cola’s side since the 1980s, when the agreement between the IUF and the Coca-Cola Company was signed. That represented a milestone, because through the international boycott and pressure we were able to negotiate directly with the transnational corporation’s parent company. That is why when Coca-Cola realized what it had done, it tried to get STECSA out of the way. STECSA also represents a bad example in the eyes of any other transnational corporation.


-Does the struggle continue for you?

Lacho –Something we have been underlining throughout all these years is that the same responsibility you have when you’re in a leadership position in the union, you also have when you’re among the rank-and-file. The “compa” that says: “I’ve done my duty for the union, now it’s somebody else’s turn,” well, that worker just didn’t get it, he didn’t learn a thing!


-How would you define the way you feel being a member of STECSA?

Carlos –I joined the company when I was very young, at 19. STECSA gave me what nobody else had given me. My grandmother used to say that you have to give in order to receive, and, well, very soon l realized that STECSA gives you a lot, but at the same time it needs a lot from you. With the passing of time, I also became aware that the union is all of us and that it is everywhere.


Lacho –When I started working in Coca-Cola, during the hard times of 1979, we had at the most 50 members and a strong solidarista association that sought to destroy the union. From that moment, I began to understand that the union was to a great extent my family. Today I am grateful for all it’s given me. We’ve had some difficult times, but we’ve also had good moments, we can’t deny it.

I know that I’m only going to leave the union when I’m dead and buried. As long as I’m alive, I’m going to follow my organization closely, I’m going to continue fighting for STECSA.



Gerardo Iglesias


January 15, 2008




Photos: Gerardo Iglesias


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