Salvador May Day march rejects privatization push

An estimated 80,000 Salvadorans representing a wide array of labor organizations, university students, women’s organizations and anti-mining activists, among others, as well as the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) political party, took to the streets for the largest May Day march since the election of President Funes in 2009. “We’re really happy to have had such a diverse and strong showing of the working class on May 1,” said Vilma Vásquez, one of the leaders of the Salvadoran Union Front (Frente Sindical Salvadoreño, FSS). “It takes a lot of work to mobilize that many people but the working class and the popular movement in El Salvador have always carried out our struggle with love.”

A main theme of the march was opposition to a bill before the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly that could lead to the privatization of a broad array of economic sectors, including ports and airports, healthcare, education, and other government services. The Public-Private Partnership Law (Ley de Asocio Público Privado) was written with the assistance of the US Treasury Department under the framework of the US State Department’s Partnership for Growth initiative in El Salvador. The proposal, which creates lucrative incentives for large corporations to exploit the country’s resources, is widely recognized among Salvadoran social movements as a threat to wages and working conditions, as well as to the government’s ability to provide essential public services.

Fourteen  members of a recent labor delegation led by the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) marched with fellow workers from the Salvadoran Union Front. “Privatization and subcontracting are damaging to people’s rights wherever they’re imposed,” said Socrates Bravo, who works at Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle, WA. “I have seen hundreds of fellow workers work in horrible conditions and have pay that barely covers the cost of living, while the airlines and companies are making billions of dollars in profit. Meanwhile, the state earns nothing.”

Members of the delegation recognized striking similarities between the attacks on Salvadoran and US workers and their right to organize, especially in the private sector. “What we see is that we’re dealing with multinational corporations so we have to in turn fight internationally. This is not about one country to the next, it’s about an international working class struggle,” said Jamie Thompson, from the Northern California airport division of SEIU United Service Workers West.

Representatives of the labor delegation met with John Barrett, economic counselor at the US Embassy in San Salvador to deliver letters from the AFL-CIO, the Utility Workers Union of America, United Electrical Workers and other US labor organizations denouncing US pressure on the Salvadoran government to adopt the law. US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte has made multiple statements to the Salvadoran press indicating that privatization is a prerequisite for further US investment through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

During the group’s press conference outside the Embassy, Julia Kann from the Washington DC Metro Labor Council said, “Our government has tried to argue that so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ will be beneficial for the Salvadoran people. But the people we have met with have been clear that this is a law that clearly favors transnational corporations and foreign companies at the expense of the Salvadoran people.”

From CISPES, May 3

See our last post on this year’s global May Day mobilization.