A comrade from Lima who is corresponding and discussing regularly with our organisation has already sent us an article on the miners’ strike in Peru last April and has now sent us an update with further news of the teachers’ strike there and of workers’ struggles in Chile. We warmly welcome his efforts. It’s vitally important to rapidly circulate information, experiences, lessons regarding the workers’ struggles developing across the world. The contributions by this comrade are an example which we can only encourage. The article that follows is based on a number of texts written by the comrade. It was written before the terrible earthquake which “benefited” the Peruvian bourgeoisie by breaking the dynamic of the social struggles that had been spreading throughout the country (see this article where the same comrade describes the way the Peruvian bourgeoisie tried to take advantage of the misery caused by the quake).
The social situation in South America is more and more marked by the development of workers’ struggles. In Chile over the past year there have been numerous strikes in the copper mines, which provide 40% of world copper production. This indicates the importance of this sector in a country where the working class is seeing a very brutal deterioration in living and working conditions. It’s difficult to obtain precise information about these movements because there is a media black-out. But we do know that the unions have organised the division between the workers of the state enterprise CODELCO and the workers of the soustratantes, who earn a third of the wage for the same work. The same goes for divisions between strikers and workers still at their jobs. The strike lasted 38 days up till July and ended with promises of improvements in contracts for the ….workers, without any real change in their status, which was their main demand.
The strike in the mines in Peru
In Peru, in April, a strike beginning in the Chinese enterprise Shougang extended to all the mining centres in the country. The unions have played their reactionary role to the full; in the country’s most important mine, Yanacocha (a gold mine near Cajamarca in the north of the country, producing between hundred and a thousand million dollars worth of gold each year), the unions entered into private talks with the bosses and didn’t resume the strike.
In Chimbote, where there was also a strong movement among peasants and the unemployed, the Sider Peru enterprise was totally paralysed. The miners’ wives demonstrated alongside them as well as a large part of the town’s population. In Ilo and Cerro de Pasco, the roads were blocked. In the latter 15 miners were arrested, accused of throwing stones at the regional government’s headquarters. The bourgeois press rushed to declare that the strike had been a failure. They quoted the minister of this sector, Pinilla, who said that only 5700 miners were on strike when the real figure was more like 120,000.
In the mountains around Lima, the miners of Casapalca locked up the mine’s bosses who had threatened to sack them for abandoning their posts. The minister declared the strike to be illegal because they had only given four days warning instead of the five required by law. He threatened to sack all the workers who continued the strike.
Students from the University of San Marcos de Lima expressed solidarity with the miners and brought food to their “collective kitchens”, a practice which was common to all the strikes in Peru, whether by teachers, nurses or miners. Sharing food with strikers’ families also made it possible to exchange experience and collectively analyse the struggle on a day-to-day basis.
It is very significant that this unlimited national strike took place after 20 years of social peace in this sector.
Teachers’ struggles in Peru
On 19th June, a leader of the teachers’ trade union, Huaynalaya, called for a national strike, and this call had an echo across the country. Huaynalaya was seen by the press as being in opposition to the majority of the teachers’ union, the SUTEP, which has a somewhat pro-Chinese orientation along with the “Red Motherland” party (Patria Roja, a party of the left wing of the bourgeoisie).
On 5 July the union joined the strike anyway. Previously, influential journalists had been denigrating the movement. The position of the press could hardly have been clearer. The teachers were described as being responsible for their own intellectual shortcomings and were accused of “cultivating strikes”, depriving the children and teenagers of the nation of precious days of their studies. It has to be said that this argument is a bit contradictory. How can these days of studies be so precious when the people doing the teaching are so incompetent? Basically the press was afraid that the pupils would come out onto the streets to support the teachers as they had done in 1977, an experience which gave rise to a new generation of militants, many of whom turned to armed struggle.
The Minster of Education himself told the journalist Palacios that there were only 5000 strikers out of the 250,000 teachers employed by his ministry. Later on he had to admit he had made a “mistake”. The mobilisations spread across the country: to Juliaca, Puno, Ucayali, Ayacucho and Huanuco. The teachers were also supported by the population as had been the case two months before during the miners’ strikes. However there was very little coordination among the most combative sectors, capable of drawing a balance sheet of these experiences. The unions remained in control and were a real obstacle to the movement of the workers.
Reflections on the current struggles
The current struggles in Peru, which have covered the whole country, are the fruit of a confluence of events which have their origins in two sources of discontent. On the one hand, regional demands, in particular in Pucalipa where the town was taken over and isolated for over 15 days, and, on the other hand, the strike of the SUTEP which began on 19th June by teachers opposed to the orientations of the Patria Roja party, and later joined by the whole of the union, bringing in the majority of the 320,000 teachers of Peru from 5 July onwards.
This mobilisation, mixed up with regional demands, which were very varied and generally highly localist, gave rise to a huge mass reaction across the country. The number of injuries and arrests remains unknown, and occupations or burnings of local headquarters, as well as confrontations with the police, took place in all areas. On 9 July, the minister admitted that there were still 75 unresolved conflicts, which means that there were no doubt a good deal more.
The current struggles, despite the violence they have unleashed, don’t contain the perspective of an autonomous struggle of the proletariat, fighting for its own objectives and its own programme. The proletariat at the moment is dominated by the interests of the local bourgeoisie and its numerous petty bourgeois allies (intellectuals, journalists…). The proletarians who intervene in these movements need to create nuclei that can draw the lessons and facilitate the autonomy of the struggle, which is the only path that will enable the working class to get rid of the capitalist system and all its misery, death and destruction.