Strikes across Bolivia in Evo Morales' first showdown with labor
Strikes and protests against the Bolivian government's wage hike offers this week marked a break by organized labor with the leftist government of President Evo Morales. An indefinite strike was called May 5 by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the country's largest union federation, to press the government on its offer of a 5% wage increase. As the strike kicked off, police arrested 17 in La Paz, where protesting workers attacked the main entrance to the Labor Ministry with dynamite. Three were reported injured in the clash. The strike was honored across the country, with factory workers, rural teachers, public health workers, miners and other sectors walking off the job, and marching peacefully in many towns and cities.
COB is rejecting the government's offer of a 5% wage hike—the lowest since Morales became president—while police are similarly spurning the offer of 3% for the national police and armed forces. The government points out that it has also raised the national minimum wage by 5% to 679 bolivianos ($96) a month, 32 bolivianos higher than in 2009. Economy and Finance Minister Luis Arce defended the wage increase, arguing that it is well above the 2009 inflation rate. The COB wants wage increases of up to 26% to offset the hike in food prices.
Currently, Morales is at the United Nations in New York to deliver the demands of the recently concluded Cochabamba summit on climate change. At a press conference in the Government Palace in La Paz between his visits to New York and Argentina, Morales said, "This president will never take measures against workers, but workers also have to be rational for the sake of the country." He also questioned the motive of workers: "Some sectors [of labor] appear to be infiltrated by the right that wants to confuse the workers."
As the strike began, Standard & Poor's raised Bolivia's debt ratings to B from B- and said the country's outlook is positive. "The positive outlook reflects the country's resilient economy and prudent fiscal policy," S&P said in the statement. (Latino Business Review, May 7; IPS, Monthly Review, Bloomberg, May 6; LAHT, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, May 5)
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