Strike of agribusiness workers in Peru

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The living conditions of agricultural workers

Following the introduction of the agrarian Reform implemented by the military government at the end of the 1960s[1], in the mid-1990s there began a process of transferring the ownership of land into the hands of a number of bourgeois industrial companies, which have, since then, dedicated it to the lucrative business of exporting fruit and vegetables to the North American and European markets. The largest companies are located in the north (La Libertad, Lambayeque, Ancash) and in the south (Ica) of Lima, and these agrarian capitalists currently own almost half a million hectares of land and water in those areas, and enjoy rich financial incentives and tax breaks granted by successive governments.

Peruvian agribusiness has become the poster child and flagship of the Peruvian economy (traditionally monopolised by mining) and it now generates the biggest profits with the help of financial incentives and juicy tax breaks from the state. The workers who toil in these factories and on the land are migrants from the surrounding villages, and with the boom in the agricultural sector, the demand for labour increased. So many workers were hired that the bourgeoisie talked about Ica being a “model region with full employment”, a kind of economic showcase that the rest of the country should aim to copy. However, such propaganda from the state and the agrobusiness corporations could not hide the oppressive conditions of exploitation of the agricultural workers.

These workers are paid poverty wages of 39 soles (12 euros) or less per day; no CTS support[2] or bonuses; there is continued pressure and blackmail to boost productivity and production quotas and long working days that last from 3.00am until late at night; they work under a burning hot sun and the work is physically demanding and harmful to health; they suffer mistreatment by foremen who bark orders at them and are made to work in silence to prevent them from supporting and showing solidarity to each other. With the increased demand for labour power, even children are hired for the harvests and, of course, the threat of dismissal or loss of pay hangs over them if any complaints are raised against these miserable working conditions.

The agrarian strike in the current Peruvian political situation

Since the departure of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the end of 2017, four presidents to date have passed through Congress. The penultimate one was in position for just a week. In addition, the current “transitional government”, which has not yet completed its first month in office, has already had three interior ministers. The corruption that spreads uncontrolled like a cancer eating away at bourgeois institutions is “denounced” continually in the media, and is little more than an aggravated expression of the historical phase of decomposition of the capitalist system[3] . And all the while, as this unfolded, the profits of big Peruvian capital continued to increase, reaching levels that ensured their rich financiers had no reason to give a thought to the unfolding pandemic.

However, as the situation dragged on, it evolved: to the economic and social impact of the pandemic and the failure to introduce new health measures to stem the tide of the contagion was added the war of the bourgeois factions in Congress ending in the departure of former president Martin Vizcarra. These conditions provided to the final straw that broke the camel's back. An explosion of social outrage culminated on 14 November with the death of two young people and there was increased pressure on the government leaders, who would have, if needed, not hesitated to take more lives. It was in this atmosphere of protest and resistance that the agrarian strike emerged. All the indications were that they chose this moment to raise their demands as things were already coming to the boil. Moreover, although the capitalist system is mired in the economic crisis and the Peruvian bourgeoisie does not escape its effects, it has been able, to date, to keep some control over the social situation.

It is true that one of the dominant tendencies of decomposing capitalism is for the bourgeoisie to lose control over its political apparatus; however, the bourgeoisie was quick to see that it could end up in a similar situation to that as in other countries, such as Chile [4] .So, the inflexible attitude taken under the short-lived government of Merino, gave way to a government of a more “conciliatory” kind, one more “attentive to the demands of the people”. Yet, instead of proposing a Constituent Assembly or a reform of the Constitution, as an immediate palliative, the idea put forward was to wait until the next year's elections, to let the “transitional government” complete its business successfully. So, right now, this government is selling the lie that the workers’ demands will be listened to and that there will be some recompense for the injustices committed.

Some evidence of this is in the repeal of the Agricultural Promotion Law and, in order to prevent social unrest led by the workers, the Congress gave its approval to refunds to contributions to the pension system (ONP), it passed a law to formalise collective taxes, as well as taking the decision to remove parliamentary immunity, a bourgeois political approach that emerged long before the arrival of the pandemic. There are other events in addition, such as the National Police reforms and the retirement of some of the police high command. This seems to indicate that the faction of the bourgeoisie which is now at the head of the state, and some of the parties in the Congress, are focusing their efforts on pursuing a populist strategy, in order to achieve successful participation and support for a new power structure in 2021's elections. This shows that the bourgeois factions have been able to momentarily set aside their differences and act in a coordinated manner when the workers make their presence felt and the bourgeoisie's economic interests and profits are threatened.

It also shows that their ideological weaponry and deceptions are not exhausted and that the workers must avoid falling into their traps, believing their promises. We must be aware that, in the end, the ruling class will not be able to resolve the serious social problems nor can it stop exploiting the proletariat; nor will it be able to avoid confrontations within its own ranks, as each faction will continue to defend its own privileges and power tooth and nail. Only the united organised action of the workers, putting into practice the methods of struggle fundamental to the workers’ movement, will put an end to this nightmare of decomposing capitalism.

The workers' strike was fully on a class terrain

We can state that, unlike the citizen mobilisation in Lima, this strike of the workers of the agro-industrial enterprises had a clear class basis. The proletariat shows its strength and capabilities when it struggles directly against exploitation. The workers of Ica began by protesting against the unbearable and tormenting working conditions and they halted work and went on to the Pan-American Highway to make their voices heard.

The strengths:

- The strike is the main weapon of the workers’ struggle. This was understood by the workers on the various estates and in the companies when they organised a widespread stoppage and took their action onto the road. Likewise, the workers led the struggle directly with no intermediaries; giving form to various forms of self-organisation such as picket lines and communal fund raising. Inside Ica, the absence of trade unions meant there was no possibility of the strikers being subject to manoeuvres to deflect or derail the struggle as is practised by trade unionism.

- There was a strong class identity and a call to other workers to show solidarity and participate in the struggle. We heard things such as “We, the workers, produce the wealth so 'they' can line their pockets”; or “down with exploitation”, “we want a pay increase”, etc. This is in total contrast to the citizen’s mobilisations in Lima two weeks earlier, for example. All the workers’ demands and banners displayed slogans AGAINST CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION. There were no pro-democracy calls for “a new constitution”, “Citizen's rights” or “Defend our fatherland” during the 5 days of workers’ struggle.

And despite the short duration of the strike, the workers of Ica received solidarity from their class brothers in the valleys of Moche and Viru in the North, who, in turn, came out on strike in their area where a heavy deployment of police led to one worker being killed.

The weaknesses:

- Despite the strong organised class instinct that marked the strike, the weaknesses that the world proletariat face today could also been seen in this struggle. For example, there were legalist and democratist illusions, a belief that the repeal of the Agrarian Promotion Law was a “victory” when in reality legal measures can never change the objective situation of capitalist wage labour and the class exploitation by the bourgeois state. Workers were not aware of this. The strike was not able to go beyond the stage of demands, which is a necessary first stage but not enough, which only highlights the current difficulties facing the international working class in the context of the serious problems that face the whole of oppressed humanity.

- There were some expressions of nationalism, with Peruvian flags on some of the barricades, but very few in comparison with those displayed in the patriotic orgy of the “citizen's marches” in Lima.

Although these protests in the agricultural sector have the same political and social context, one of conflicts between the different factions of the bourgeoisie and the social and economic background of the pandemic, they are different from those that took place in the days around November 14. They have nothing at all to do with the hapless lament of the citizen’s movement and the resentment of a petty bourgeoisie who feel squeezed and threatened by the crisis, and see themselves sliding deeper and deeper into poverty, like the other exploited strata that rest their hopes on an impossible “moral renewal” of the degenerate political elite.

The struggle of the proletariat is the antithesis of the whining of the whole body of journalists, intellectuals and politicians, who demand strong institutions “to restore order”, to suppress any demonstration of protest or rebellion of the population, by force of arms. Nor does its struggle resemble the desperate and sterile actions of terrorism or putschism, the methods favoured by the fanatical voluntarism of petty-bourgeois ideologies, that also imagines them imposing their own interests and taking control of the state to continue exploiting the workers. In the end, the final goal of the proletariat is to destroy the capitalist system, with all its institutions, not to change one executioner for another, one management for another, which would leave intact the machinery that perpetuates social misery and threatens the very existence of humanity.

State repression was not long in coming

At the time of writing, the agrarian workers have renewed their actions, this time to demand that the Congress throws out legislation proposing a new labour law. They blockaded the South Pan-American Highway for one day because their demands for a wage increase of 45% of the monthly salary that is 73 soles (23 euros) per day excluding bonuses and CTS were rejected. The strategy of the bourgeoisie is to draw the struggle into a bureaucratic labyrinth, until it is exhausted and the workers demoralised; and this is a well-used trick to lessen the impact of the workers’ initiative that will find the trade unions as willing accomplices.

While there has been some degree of self-organisation, there have also been weaknesses. There is a great determination to struggle, but there have been no assemblies and/or a strike committee to centralise the struggle. The negotiations have been entrusted to “leaders” and they have passively sat back and put things on hold for 15 days. When they heard that the Congress had not approved their demand for a wage increase, the workers immediately went out to ask why they were being cheated and they went back on strike.

The workers are now also calling for the dismissal of the current President and in the scuffles with the police, 26 policemen were injured. In response the Ministry of the Interior demanded that demonstrators clear the road and they were warned of a possible “iron fist” response. In an act of provocation some infiltrators set an ambulance on fire in order to lay the blame on the protesters, part of a strategy, encouraged by the media, to turn the population at large against the protesters. Finally, the Sagasti government did unleash a brutal repression against the workers, smothering the communities in the surrounding areas in tear gas, even using firearms against the demonstrators and inflicting injuries; helicopters and tanks were used in support of a huge contingent of police and military forces that had no hesitation in unleashing their fury against a defenceless population, accusing them of not being demonstrators but “vandals” who want to damage vehicles and attack the properties of big businesses.

The agricultural companies suspended their operations, calling for the “restoration of public order, security and free passage” in La Libertad and Ica, saying that the firms will remain closed “until the rule of law is restored”. These actions were aimed, firstly, at portraying the protest as chaotic, disastrous and pointless, to demonise it, and secondly, to divide the workers, using blackmail, by saying that the stoppages would mean a loss of income and employment for 100,000 workers. Not content with this, the big companies have tried to offload all the resentment that the workers feel for the exploitation they suffer onto other, smaller companies, saying that “many workers in the countryside have had their rights violated for many years by fraudulent companies[5] , with which they aim to deflect attention from their own direct responsibility for the precariousness of workers’ wages and living conditions, which is so hypocritical, since they fail to mention that they reduce their own cost of production from the contracts they give to these small intermediary companies.

One of the central aspects of the bourgeoisie’s strategy is to focus its effort to keep the workers entangled in the democratic circus [6], under the illusion that the state is not the apparatus for the domination by the capitalists over the working class but more a kind of arbiter, a neutral power overseeing the classes which can be pressurised and made to intercede and adopt laws granting benefits and wage increases to the workers.

Of course this perspective is one cultivated by all the organisations of the left of the capital, such as the agricultural federations and trade unions and the NGOs such as CONVEAGRO (Convención Nacional del Agro Peruano), the CGTP (Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú), left-wing members of the Congress and some leaders of the struggling workers themselves who, like firemen, are negotiating with the employers and the Ministry of Labour with the concern to not to do too much harm to the profits of the agro-industrial bourgeoisie, keeping down the wage increase to 54 soles (17 euro), which then has caused discontented workers to take to the streets in Ica and the northern valleys once more. The workers sensed that a fresh swindle was in the pipeline, cooked up at these high levels of the negotiations and that they were being “deceived”, without clearly understanding that these “leaders” that claim to negotiate in their name are also part of the exploiting class.

Although the workers cannot give up their struggle for demands, this is a moment for them to discuss and draw some lessons. They have to understand that they cannot win if they are not able to go beyond this level when the struggle will only be trapped in the dead end of legal chicanery and respect for the Constitution. The real liberation of the workers will arise when they are able to bring down the bourgeois order, with its laws, its constitutions and its unions, thus heralding a real transformation that will also free humanity from this decomposing social system.

Internacionalismo; Section in Peru of the International Communist Current 24/12/2020


[1] The government of General Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975) presented itself as a “government of the people” with strong nationalist and popular demagogy

[2] CTS: Compensación por Tiempo de Servicio (Compensation for Time of Service), provides some compensation for dismissal or termination of employment. It is a measly amount.

[3] “The phase of capitalist society’s decomposition is thus not simply the chronological continuation of those characterised by state capitalism and the permanent crisis. To the extent that contradictions and expressions of decadent capitalism that mark its successive phases do not disappear with time, but continue and deepen, the phase of decomposition appears as the result of an accumulation of all the characteristics of a moribund system, completing the 75-year death agony of a historically condemned mode of production. (...) But the signs of society’s total lack of perspectives today are still more evident on the political and ideological level. We only need to consider: the incredible, and prosperous, corruption of the political apparatus, the deluge of scandals in most countries, as in Japan (where it is more and more difficult to distinguish the government apparatus from gangland) (…)” (“Theses on decomposition”; International Review no.107 - 4th quarter 2001;

[6]This naive and idyllic vision of democracy is a myth, something that has never existed. Democracy is the ideology which masks the dictatorship of capital in its most developed regions. There is no fundamental difference between the various models that capitalist propaganda presents as opposing each other. All the supposedly different systems which democratic propaganda has presented as its opponents since the beginning of the century are expressions of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, of capital. They may differ in form, but not in kind. (…) In the most sophisticated form of capitalist dictatorship, that of 'democracy', the capitalist state must maintain the belief that the greatest liberty reigns. Brutal coercion, ferocious repression, must, whenever possible, be replaced by subtle manipulation to give the same result without the victim seeing it.” (“Bourgeois Organisation: The Lie of the ‘Democratic' State’”; International Review no.76 - 1st quarter 1994;


Class struggle