815.00 TA/4–2452

The Ambassador in Honduras (Erwin) to the Department of State

confidential
No. 650

Ref:

  • Policy Guidance of March 5, 19521 to TCA Country Director from Acting Administrator, TCA.

Subject:

  • Comment on Policy Guidance Regarding Labor and Manpower Aspects of TCA Program.

The policy guidance under reference states the policy of the Point Four Program to encourage countries to establish fair labor standards and to develop free labor union movements as collective bargaining agencies. The legislative and administrative aims described in the memorandum are commendable and obviously worthwhile, and they will be borne in mind in carrying out the technical assistance program in Honduras. It is readily perceived that guidance can be offered and given in several labor fields. Industrial training and apprenticeship, for example, offers many opportunities. Point Four will likewise be able to do useful work in labor market analysis, migration, labor statistics and possibly in advising with respect to the establishing of the labor bureau. The importance of labor in accomplishing the ends of the Point [Page 1294]Four Program is fully realized by the Embassy and the Country Director in Honduras.

The Embassy would be considerably less than forthright if it left the impression that the Point Four Program here can actively engage in labor propaganda with any hope of success. The scope within which the Point Four Program will have to work in labor affairs will be circumscribed for a long time to come. Although United States Point Four participants are not overlooking the significance of labor in overall planning at this stage, they are aware of its limitations and dangers and particularly of the necessity of proceeding slowly and cautiously.

Honduras is aware of the need for labor legislation. During the last year several labor measures have been passed. Labor legislation was included in a revision of the mining code and in the aviation law; a workmen’s compensation act and a women’s and children’s labor act has been enacted; a labor bureau is to be established. But Honduran development in social welfare compares roughly to that in the United States at about the turn of the century. The help which the United States offers in the labor field must be gauged to this development. To appear to force labor legislation or unions upon Honduras will be regarded as intervening in domestic politics.

The visit of Serafino Romualdi of the American Federation of Labor in 1950 caused trepidation in Government circles. The activities of Argentine labor attachés are resented by the Government. Open advocacy of labor unions by the Embassy will be greeted by the Government with a coolness which will freeze the whole technical assistance program—if indeed it did not result in the whole “kit and kaboodle” of Point Four Experts being declared persona non grata. The Government, for example, has objected to reduction from nine to eight hours of Health and Sanitation programs of IIAA.

Advocacy of unions and labor legislation by the Embassy will be resented by business. The suggestion of C(9) that Point Four people should urge American business to improve labor standards is a thorny proposition. The Embassy’s first reaction is that since the labor policy of most large enterprises in Honduras is established by the American headquarters of such corporations as the United Fruit Company, the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, the New York and Honduras Rosario Mining Company, the Pan American Airways and others, it would be more practicable to begin the suggested campaign of education at the source.

The principal mines in Honduras have been established upon a basis of cheap labor. Every suggestion that labor unions in the mines would be a good thing is met with derision and anger. The Embassy’s perception of the need for the improvement of the labor position as a counterweight to Communist propaganda, when communicated to private [Page 1295]companies is not readily understood or accepted. As long as the Embassy has to work with such enterprises, it cannot directly aid and abet their unionization. It is much the same with all American enterprises here. Two years ago one of the fruit companies discharged several men for organizing the machine shop. An Embassy employee’s suggestion that organization might have been desirable immediately put the adviser under suspicion. Not long ago TACA Honduras, an American controlled company, discharged two employees for agitating for wage increases.

The American companies doing business in Honduras are the backbone of the Honduran economy. They can, with justification, point out that the working conditions of their Honduran employees is much better than that of Honduran workmen in general. The fruit companies, the airlines and the petroleum distributors all pay higher wages and provide more workmen’s benefits than Honduran employers. Bearing this in mind, they can quite honestly state that they are the vanguard with respect to social welfare benefits and that without attempting to move too rapidly they are already showing the way to the local Government and local enterprises with respect to workmen’s benefits. Sincerely believing that they are benevolently conferring upon Honduran labor advantages and compensations which it would not otherwise receive, these companies could with justification object to United States Government employees’ gratuitous attempts to advance social improvements rapidly for these companies strongly feel that Honduran labor is not yet prepared.

Labor is a controversial political matter. Bearing this forever in mind, the Embassy will not overlook its significance in the Point Four Program. As the Department and other end-using agencies in Washington are fully aware, this Embassy has the sympathetic interest of Honduran labor at heart. It has frequently expressed its attitude on this subject in labor reports during the last four years.

John D. Erwin
  1. Not printed (MSAFOA Director’s Files, FRC 56 A 632).