[Marxism] Bolivia: A break in the biggest workers’ action of the last twenty years

Juan Andres Gallardo juanagallardo at gmail.com
Tue May 28 08:36:16 MDT 2013


The struggle for the pension law in Bolivia
A break in the biggest workers’ action of the last twenty years

by : LOR-CI, Bolivia
Tuesday 28 May 2013

On Tuesday, May 21, after 15 days of a general strike with road blockades,
the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) began a break of 30 days in the measures
of pressure, on accepting the offer of Evo’s government to lower the
retirement age for mining from 35 to 30 years, in addition to which, the
pension will be calculated on the basis of the most recent 24 pay stubs
while employed. This decision was harshly challenged by big groups, like
city teachers’ federations, miners’ and healthcare workers’ groups, who
denounced this decision as a betrayal of their aspirations for an income of
100% of the salary they got while employed. In the following lines, we try
to draw the main lessons of the conflict, as well as understanding the new
political moment that this conflict is opening up.

*A workers’ action without precedent in the last two decades*

The starting point for any serious analysis of the conflict is registering
that these two weeks of conflict, will enter the world of concepts as “the
days of May” of the Bolivian working class. Not because the workers were on
the verge of taking power, nor because the result of the struggle will be
that of a forceful and extremely clear victory over the anti-worker
policies of the government of Evo and García Linera, nor because of the
number of dead or wounded that the conflict has left. “The days of May” are
becoming a starting point because they mark a qualitative leap in the
recomposition and re-emergence of the Bolivian working class. A class that
suffered a big defeat with the beginning of the neoliberal cycle in the
middle of the 1980’s, with tens of thousands of layoffs, unemployment, job
insecurity, the loss of the rights of union organization, the activists’
leaving the union, and the workers not following the COB nor many important

Beginning with this extremely big defeat a little more than 25 years ago,
the activism of the working class had a defensive and partial character.
Except for times like the action of the Huanuni miners in the October 2003
national uprising or the role of the manufacturing workers’ federation and
the COD of Cochabamba during the water war, the workers’ organizations and,
more generally, the workers acted in a weakened fashion, as part of the
people and the peasants’ movement. However, this most recent conflict is
not only one more link in the efforts at workers’ recomposition, efforts
that began with the manufacturing workers’ rebellion of 2010, the struggles
over wages in 2011 and 2012, the valiant resistance by the health care
workers against the attempt to extend the working day, without the
consequent wage compensation and rights, but it opens a new moment in the
working class and changes the national political map.

During the 15 days of struggle, hundreds of thousands of workers occupied
between 35 and 40 points of blockade on the national routes, massive
mobilizations in all and each one of the departments, strikes by teachers,
healthcare workers and at some mining firms, as factory workers show that
the social subject, that was given up for dead, for finished, is showing
that it is alive and that it is beginning to recover an ability for
struggle, that was not seen in these two decades. Teachers, miners, factory
workers, public health workers, municipal employees, and different groups
marched and fought together throughout the country, in addition to the fact
that they were beginning to radicalize the measures in different places of
the country.

This big independent workers’ action is what provoked the anger of the
government of Evo Morales and García Linera, and what motivated a
McCarthyite attack against the workers, like the prohibition of the right
to strike, the arrest of more than 400 workers in different places of the
country, the prosecution of dozens of comrades, including the house arrest
of Vladimir Rodríguez, Executive Secretary of the Oruro COD, the defamatory
campaign against the leaders and against the struggle, with the accusation
of a conspiracy and a coup d’état, up to the slanders and falsifications
against the socialist and revolutionary left that raises the banners of
Trotskyism. The government of Evo and García Linera had to resort to the
tactic of mobilizing the organizations of the peasants’ and indigenous
people’s bureaucracy, to be able to counteract the power of the workers’
mobilization. Only at times of a profound national crisis has the MAS
resorted to the mechanism of manipulating the peasants.

*An employers’ and anti-worker government and the emergence of the
working-class political opposition*

With this conflict, the pro-employer and pro-business role of Evo’s
government has been revealed. Evo systematically refused to increase the
employers’ contribution for the workers’ pensions. The MAS prevented
increasing the government’s contribution, keeping the core of the
neoliberal system of pensions, based on the individual contribution and
compounding. For this reactionary purpose, it resorted to all the possible
mechanisms, from repression, lying, and falsification, up to the attempt to
set one group of the poor against another, by mobilizing peasant groups
against the workers’ blockades. With this conflict, it is the government
itself that ends up consolidating a workers’ opposition to the government,
an opposition that during the previous months had a social and union
character, but after such a struggle is being transformed and consolidated
as a political opposition to the MAS, from the left.

If the workers were discussing the launching of the Workers Party some
months ago, after this most recent struggle, what is revealed is not only
the need for, but the urgency of organizing this new political formation of
the workers as an expression of the tendencies to reorganization of the
workers, who have confirmed that from the government of the MAS, the wage
earners and the urban and rural poor can expect little or nothing.

*Some lessons from the struggle: If the capitalists do not pay, we workers

The conflict was a difficult one, not only because we are facing the
presence of a strong government, that is enjoying an economic bonanza,
that, according to some studies, has accumulated foreign currency in the
last 5 years, equivalent to all that which was collected in the last 25
years of governments previous to Evo. A government that, as a result of
formal democratic concessions, is even managing to contain and establish
its hegemony over broad swaths of peasants, and of trade unionists and the
urban poor, which allowed the big strike of the COB to be limited to the
wage earners and some signs of popular sympathy, but that were essentially
passive. Facing this scene, the leaders did not measure up to the movement
that they unleashed, being frightened by the scale of the mobilization and
trying to contain the movement, in extremely passive measures, like the
“vigils” that exhausted and wore down the vanguard of the miners, in
addition to the fact that they prevented deploying all the strengths and
energy of thousands of workers that joined the conflict everyday.

In the first place, a policy was needed that showed that the government was
not defending the interests of the poorest people, as official publicity
asserted, but that it was defending corporate and capitalist interests. The
leadership of the COB limited its demand to the government contribution,
when what had to be clearly set out is that it was necessary to restore the
employer’s contribution, eliminated by Sánchez de Losada, an elimination
kept by Evo. In the second place, it was necessary to show that the Dignity
Income [pension] is, in reality, an income worthless for survival, since no
one can make it with the sum of 250 bolivianos [$35.66 USD, monthly]. It
was necessary to overcome the unions’ self-interested behavior and openly
enter the political arena, showing that there was a need to fight for a
universal income equal to the minimum wage. This policy would have shown,
to hundreds of thousands of peasants and the urban poor, that Evo was
lying, that, instead of defending the poorest people, he was defending the
capitalists, since a universal income based on the minimum wage could only
be guaranteed with clearly anti-capitalist measures and financed by the
rich. Such a policy would have helped break the isolation of the workers
and would have allowed new and more detachments of the people to join the
struggle. Finally, in the third place, these measures and these demands
could only have been used if the struggle acquired forms of democratic
organization, based on the rank and file workers, who were the ones that
carried out all and each of the measures of the struggle. What was needed
was the formation of a National Strike Committee, that, based on delegates
elected in assemblies and open to all the organizations committed to the
workers’ struggle, could expand and democratize the leadership of the
conflict, strengthening the COB and limiting Trujillo’s policy, based on
fear of the mobilization, on exhausting vigils, and on a dialogue that
never flourished in the service of the workers.

*Advance with the Workers’ Party, a working-class alternative political

The outcome of the conflict is activating a new level of reflection of the
workers’ vanguard. The key is not demoralization, but reflection and anger
against a government to which thousands of workers gave their trust and
their democratic and social aspirations. Next June 28 and 29, in the
Department of Oruro, the Second Congress of the Workers’ Party (WP) will be
carried out, where the documents approved at Huanuni should be confirmed,
against the attempts to dilute the most anti-capitalist aspects of the
party, as well as reaffirming the need that this party should be the
organic expression of the unions and the workers. During the 15 days on
strike, we insisted and sent a letter to the provisional leadership of the
WP, that it should intervene in the conflict, since we want a party that,
in addition to participating in the 2014 elections, will be principally a
class-struggle party, that is, a fighting party of the working class.
Unfortunately, the provisional leadership subordinated itself to the logic
of separating the union intervention in the struggle from the necessary
political struggle, which weakened the defense of the conflict in the face
of the attacks from the MAS. Facing the nearness of the Congress, the
struggle that is posed has to do with the need to overcome narrow
self-interested behavior, in order to formulate a program from the workers,
for all the oppressed and exploited people of the country, as the Pulacayo
Theses recommend.

A program that will respond to all the poor, as, for example, a universal
income that will really be dignified, respect for the right of
self-determination of the original peoples as in the TIPNIS, land to the
peasants’ movement that, after 7 years of Evo’s government, still finds
itself forced to seize lands in the east, confirming the preservation of
the large estates by Evo and García Linera. These basic measures are so
that the working class can make the jump from its current position of a
workers’ opposition to the MAS, to gain hegemony over all of the oppressed
nation and finally become the class that leads the movement of the peasants
and the poor. Only on this basis will it be possible to clear the way
towards a profound social transformation that can only be the workers’ and
socialist revolution.

May 23, 2013

Translated by Yosef M.

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