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Latin American class struggle is ignored by U.S. media

By Daniel Vila, in People's Weekly World, 12 July, 1997

Although you would not know it by watching or reading the mass media, the class struggle is alive and thriving in Latin America. About the only time the news media report on anything south of the U.S. border is when a huge drug bust is made or when leftist guerrillas attack government forces.

But when workers or campesinos participate in massive mobilizations challenging their governments, rarely is the American public informed. And over the last two years Latin America has been rocked by hundreds of popular demonstrations condemning neoliberalism, privatizations, social cutbacks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These demonstrations have been characterized by a high degree of political content. That is, they do not limit their focus to one corporation or government agency, but attack policies which hurt the entire working class. At the same time, these popular expressions often point the finger to the international organizations of the ruling classes which are responsible for formulating repressive policies.

One of the most significant strikes took place in Venezuela after last November when 1 million 3 hundred workers paralyzed the country for six weeks. The major demand was payment of back wages by the government. The strike ended after the government agreed to the demands. In July of 1996 thousands of workers had taken to the streets of the capitol to demand that the government stop the implementation of the IMF economic program. Strikes and marches have continued this year.

During January and February of this year Ecuador was also shaken up by weeks of protests against the government of Abdala Bucharam who was finally forced to resign after a labor led general strike which lasted several days. Although he had won the presidential elections on a populist program, once in office he followed the line established by international capital. The opposition was solid in rejecting his neoliberal policies and on February 11 the World Federation of Trade Unions issued a declaration supporting the general strike and condemning the IMF and the World Bank. On that same date the Parliament voted to replace Bucharam with opposition leader Fabian Alarcon.

In the Dominican Republic, workers for the largest bus union went on strike January 15 to protest President Leonel Fernandez' decision to devalue the peso, raise gas prices by 30 percent and increase the sales tax by 50 percent. Many people were arrested after riots broke out in the poor sections of the capitol. Similar incidents occurred on the 21 of the same month and on the 29 some 43, 000 teachers went on strike demanding a salary raise. Fernandez was also elected president promising to help the poor and working class. But here also labor and the left have made the connection between his actions and the IMF. Labor has continued the pressure and there were more demonstrations and confrontations June 15 and 16 after the government announced an increase in telephone rates.

Argentine labor declared the biggest general strike against the presidency of Carlos Menem in August of 1996. Others have followed and last June strikes spread to most of Argentina's large cities demanding an end to privatizations and the continuation of social programs that aid the working class.

Columbia's 800,000 public employees brought the government to a halt when the labor federation, CUT, declared a strike against privatizations and for salary increases.

Haitian workers conducted a three-day general strike aimed at the IMF in January while, in Puerto Rico, tens of thousands rallied in front of the legislature in San Juan on May 1 against plans to privatize the telephone company. In Mexico over 400,000 marched the same day. In Nicaragua the Sandinistas led mass demonstrations in late June. Identical accounts can be made about demonstrations in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and most Latin American countries including Peru where, since the end of the hostage situation, marches by thousands of workers and students have sometimes turned into violent confrontations as Fujimori's popularity continues to sink.

The U.S. ruling class would like the working class to believe that there is no struggle in the Americas and that people are blandly and fatalistically accepting the program of the G-7. But in the age of the global economy class solidarity is more important than ever and the first step in that direction is being conscious of other struggles. Of course, strikes alone will not change or stop international capital. But we'll talk about that in the future.

-Daniel Vila is a World staff member who edits the Nuestro Mundo pages of the paper.

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