Demands of Bolivia’s Central Labor Federation Made to the New Government of Carlos Mesa as Conditions for Calling Off the General Strike


[Note by the Editors of Labor Standard: On Friday, October 17, within hours of Sánchez de Lozada’s resignation, the main labor federation of Bolivia, the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana), presented a “minimum program” to the new government, whose outlines are reported below.

[Since late September-early October, the COB has been on a general strike of indefinite duration, which it called, in alliance with the Indian peasant farmers’ organizations and the organizations of the mostly Indian urban poor of El Alto and other cities, in opposition to Sánchez de Lozada’s plan for the export of Bolivian natural gas by a multinational consortium.

[Imagine, by way of comparison, the AFL-CIO calling a nationwide general strike of indefinite duration, until the workers’ demands were met! Imagine it doing so in alliance with farmers’ organizations and organizations of the downtrodden poor, the oppressed nationalities, Blacks, Latinos/Latinas, Native Americans…

[The COB stated that, as a condition for its calling off the open-ended general strike, the new government of Sánchez’s former vice president, Carlos Mesa, would have to make a number of commitments.

[The following report on the COB’s actions is from the web site Bolpress.com. It has been translated with the help of Eduardo Quintana, a trade union activist in Arizona whose native language is Mexican Spanish.]

“COB Proposes Minimum Program to New Government”

(Bolpress.com)—An enlarged session of the leading body of the COB, with the participation of twenty different affiliates (trades or branches of industry), decided, overnight, to continue the open-ended general strike until the next government has made a commitment “in front of this organization, not to export gas, either to Chile or Peru, and to repeal the Law on Hydrocarbons.” [Apparently this is a recent law that allows the multinational corporations, once again, to gain control of Bolivia’s gas and oil. In Bolivia’s great national revolution of 1952, those natural resources were nationalized.]

In addition, the COB approved a document that presented the new government with a minimum program. Most prominently, the program calls for revision of privatization contracts, annulment of the agrarian reform law [which now apparently allows communally owned land to be sold on the market], revival of national industry, and the bringing to justice of those responsible for “genocide” against the people during the so-called “gas war.” [“Gas war” is the journalistic name that has now been given to the mass protests since late September against the exporting of Bolivia’s natural gas by foreign multinational corporations.]

The COB decided not to give support to the new government, because it considers the ouster of Sánchez de Losada to be only a change of individuals, not a change in economic policy [literally, “no change in the economic model”].

In addition, the COB prefers to maintain its “class independence,” that is, not to compromise with a government that is not of the working class. But since the COB ought to be responsive to the existing situation, COB President Jaime Solares indicated that, in order for the indefinite general strike to be called off, the government would have to “make a commitment, in front of this organization (the COB), not to export the gas, either through Chile or Peru, and to repeal the law regarding gas and oil.”

In this connection the COB presented the new government with a minimum program, which in its view expresses “the outcry of the people.” As long as the newly mandated government works in this direction, the COB will remain alert and vigilant. If the opposite occurs, “the roads and streets will again be turned into barricades.”

Among the points in the proposal are: “Review by the Congress of all privatization contracts, ‘shared risk’ contracts, and leasing of petroleum deposits, mines, and state-owned companies, so that the Political Constitution of the nation will be respected.” [The Bolivian constitution apparently intends that the mineral wealth of the country be preserved for the nation as a whole.]

The proposal also demands: “Annulment of the agrarian reform law, which commercializes the land.  Redistribution of the land. And respect for communally owned land and land originally owned by the indigenous peoples.”

The third point in the proposal specifies: “Restoration of the social rights of the Bolivian workers. Immediate annulment of ‘free contracting.’” [“Free contracting” apparently allows employers to hire and fire at will, without any legal restrictions.] In addition, the proposal urges: “Revival of national industry, rejecting the kind of ‘free trade’ that the FTAA would establish.”

The final demand is “bringing to justice those responsible for genocide against the people of Bolivia, who rose up in defense of the nation’s natural resources and in defense of democracy.” The COB also demands “annulment of the Law of Security of the Citizen” [which apparently gives excessive powers to the security forces].

The enlarged session began at five in the afternoon, after the arrival of miners from the cooperatives of Caracoles, who entered the Plaza of San Francisco, setting off dozens of sticks of dynamite. This group of miners were received with applause [by the crowds of protesters in the plaza; it is estimated that as many as 350,000 had turned out in La Paz that day]. The miners [on their way to La Paz] had suffered two fatalities in the locality of Patacamaya, when the army cowardly fired on them. Immediately a rally was organized, in which the miners’ leaders participated, along with David Vargas [the former police major who helped leaded the police rebellion of February 2003].

At the closing of the enlarged session of the COB, at eight in the evening, Solares called for another enlarged session at 10:00 a.m. the next morning, at the Teachers’ Social Center, for the purpose of discussing such subjects as the strengthening and unity of the COB, and for the purpose of calling an Assembly of the People, which is the political solution, for the medium term, that the workers will be discussing and analyzing.

The enlarged session of the COB also approved a letter that will be sent to the acting president of the National Congress, Carlos D. Mesa, in which the COB “demands that the Congress publicly reject any request to allow foreign troops to enter Bolivian territory.” This letter followed hot on the heels of an announcement that the Pentagon would be sending troops to Bolivia to defend U.S. citizens and the U.S. embassy.

They are demanding that the U.S. not interfere.

Yesterday morning [October 16], 100 U.S. residents in Bolivia issued a statement demanding that their government “not intervene in this internal conflict.” They reminded their government that “the people of Bolivia have the right to determine their own political future free from pressure or sanctions by the United States.”