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IW 03

Uruguay

Working class demands and mobilizations on the rise

The Uruguayan working class has begun to manifest, through a series of demands and mobilizations, its impatience in the face of the pro-IMF policies of the center-left government.

On June 30 a partial general strike was held, convened by the trade union confederation , PIT-CNT. Some teachers unions struck for 24 hours. The general strike was an expression —very deformed-- of the tendency of sectors of the working class towards a struggle for demands.

The leadership of the PIT-CNT declared a thousand and one times that the general strike “was not against the government,” but rather “against all the reactionary businessmen,” hiding the fact that the government is the one fixing the miserable “guidelines” in the wage councils, decreeing a miserable adjustment for public employees, maintaining the privatization of water and driving new privatizations (Ancap), and is the one driving the “investments” of Botnia and Ence (pulp plants). It is the government itself that signed the biggest sellout with the IMF in the last decades, since it is the one that guarantees the primary surplus and the payment of interests and amortization payments higher, in comparison, than those paid by the governments of Sanguinetti, Lacalle y Batlle.

The policies of the trade union bureaucracy of the PIT-CNT leads to the isolation and atomization of the struggles, for the sake of “not making waves” against the “progressive government.” They totally failed to show up at the mobilization on water (and aim to impose a “truce” with the government, in spite of the pro-privatization decree still remaining in force); some even openly support the installation of the pulp plants in Fray Bentos (like the metal workers and construction unions), and with a great deal of difficulty mumble something critical of the sellout pact with the IMF.

The general strike was, it is true, purely symbolic. It was an isolated measure, without continuity, since it had no intention of having any platform of demands met. However, the important thing is why it was necessary, four months after the start of the center-left government, to take even symbolic measures. The reason is to be found in the start of a process of the raising of demands and an incipient tendency towards mobilization, which finds its expression, to a greater or lesser extent, in the different working class sectors.

Struggles for wages

This tendency finds better expression in the partial struggles emerging in the most exploited and even unorganized sectors, who have begun to forge unions, to occupy the work centers and to struggle to put an end to outsourcing and casual labor.

The Public Health doctors are on a 24-hour strike, demanding a minimum salary of 12,000 pesos (some 480 dollars). Some 2,000 doctors earn an average of 4,000 pesos monthly.

The public employee trade unions reject the miserable 2.7% wage “adjustment,” repudiate the accords with the IMF, demand an end to the privatizations, and some even denounce that “Alfie (the Economy minister of the Colorado government) never left,” since Astori continues his economic policies. At the same time, the trade union leaders do not propose any plan for mobilization, arguing that they run the risk of “getting isolated” before the population. In particular the Panes (a plan dictated by the World Bank, similar to the “Heads of Households” of Argentina and the “Fome Cero” of Brazil) is used openly against public employees, since the latter is held to be a “priority” over the salaries of public employees —but not over payment of the foreign debt. The government talks about “redistributing wealth” (saying first you have to create it, and for that give “guarantees” and “peace of mind” to the “investors”), but in reality their policies consist of ‘redistributing poverty’, since wages must continue to be postponed in order to finance a miserable plan of 1,360 pesos a month for a fraction of the unemployed (80% of the unemployed are outside coverage of the emergency plan).

Pickets of the unemployed

On the other hand, even though the unemployed annot make strikes, they are beginning to mobilize spontaneously making demands through roadblocks and demonstrations against the government's delay in delivering consignments to more than 100,000 people who are registered but have not received a peso.

In the last few days pickets demanding the immediate arrival of Panes have been spreading like wildfire, both in various neighborhoods of Montevideo as well as in some localities in the interior of the country (such as Rincón de la Bolsa, in San José).

For example, on July 8 a roadblock was set up on the Camino Lecocq and Servidumbre highway, in north Montevideo. The unemployed stated to the press: “the immense majority of the neighborhood voted for the Frente Amplio to see if there was going to be any change, and nothing changed, we are the same as with the blancos and the colorados, and it is sad to say because we voted for a change.” The head of the ministry of Social Development, Marina Arismendi, General Secretary of the Communist Party, was called upon to “get nearer to the people and not so near to the bosses she has meals with in those posh lunches, while the people in these neighborhoods are having a really bad time of it” (taken from the pro-Frente Amplio radio CX36, 8 Jul).

By Rafael Fernández