Latin America: May Day marches protest high cost of living

This year many of the traditional International Workers Day marches on May 1 focused on demands for wage increases and for fighting the high cost of living following recent jumps in food and fuel prices.

Chile‘s major unions commemorated May 1 with a massive march in Santiago criticizing the government of right-wing president Sebastián Piñera and demanding a new labor accord.

Colombia‘s unions held marches in the main cities, with about 10,000 people joining the protest in Bogotá, according to the Unitary Workers Central (CUT), the largest labor federation. The marchers’ demands included rejection of a planned free trade agreement.

In Panama, several thousand marchers called for pay raises and the freezing of prices for the main commodities in the “consumer basket” (canasta básica), the combination of foods and other staples the average family is expected to need. Latin American governments generally use the consumer basket to measure inflation.

Thousands of public employees and members of labor and campesino unions held three marches from different points in El Salvador to demand better working conditions and to protest the high cost of living and the crime situation.

In Honduras thousands of members of the three main labor federations—including the militant teachers’ unions—marched to demand a pay raise, the lowering of costs in the consumer basket, a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution, the return of deposed president JosĂ© Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), and the country’s reintegration into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a regional trading bloc created by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004.

More than 50,000 marched in Guatemala‘s capital to show their concern about the cost of living and to protest labor rights violations. Their demands also included the abolition of child labor and the promotion of rights and opportunities for women.

Mexico‘s largest independent labor federation, the National Workers Union (UNT), led its May 1 march to the ZĂłcalo plaza with a demand for the Congress to reject a proposed reform of the labor code.

Hundreds of workers marched in the Dominican Republic to demand a general increase in pay now being discussed with the government and the employers’ associations. The current legal minimum wage in small businesses is just 5,158 pesos ($136) a month; the legal minimum is 5,820 pesos ($153) for medium-sized companies and 8,465 pesos ($223) for the large ones. The National Confederation of Union Unity is demanding a 30% increase for workers who are paid the minimum wage and a 25% increase for workers who receive up to 50,000 ($1,319) a month. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 2, from AFP, PL and correspondent; El Diario-La Prensa, New York, May 2, print version only, from EFE, Notimex and correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 8.

See our last post on Latin American labor struggles, and last year’s May Day mobilization.