La Paz, August 13th 2008: translated from econoticiasbolivia.com
This Tuesday evening the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) announced a 45 day truce in its struggle to win a new welfare system for pensions, but warned that it would begin mobilisations again if the Evo Morales Government did not keep his end of the bargain.
The union’s meeting in La Paz also decided to give its backing to the union leaders Pedro Montes (COB), Guido Mitma (Federación de Mineros) and Jaime Solares (Central Obrera de Oruro) after the government accused them of orchestrating mobilisations to help the right wing and of inciting miners to fight the forces of order.
COB official Octavio Urquizo assured that trade unionists “would not tolerate any attacks on the legitimacy of their unions from the Government or anyone else”.
The meeting approved the agreement reached on 9th August with the Government to draw up a new Pensions Bill in the next 45 days, but also warned that protests would happen again if it did not meet the union’s demands in this period.
However, the executive secretary of the Central Obrera de Potosí, Gerardo Coro, the leader of the Federación Nacional de Trabajadores de Caminos, José Luis Pacheco, and Jaime Solares, amongst others, maintained that the rank-and-file should not demobilise, since an adverse outcome is possible: rather, they should begin a struggle until working-class victory.
Solares argued that president Evo Morales’ politics of conciliation with the ruling class had “given new life to the right”, by not keeping to the mandate he was given by the people in the October agenda, which should have involved nationalisation of mines, gas and oil by the state, land for the peasants, and better salaries and a decent retirement for the workers.
In the meeting trade unionists paid their respects to Luís Hernán Montero Claros (26 years old) and Roberto Cáceres Fábrica (24 years old), miners shot dead last Tuesday during the clashes with police in Caihuasi.
DIVIDE AND RULE
Given the current situation, the miners’ leader Guido Mitma accused the Morales Government of trying to “decapitate” the leadership of the miners’ union and other social sectors in order to avoid fresh mobilisations.
“It seems that the Government is now waging a dirty fight, since it is decapitating the workers’ movement and Huanuni, which has been the vanguard of trade union struggles. For this reason we must not play the Government’s game”, he argued.
Shocked by the two dead and fifty wounded among their ranks, the last miners’ assembly in Huanuni had decided no longer to recognise the three principal leaders of the union – Isidora Vargas, Fernando Chávez and Juan Flores – as well as the COB leader Pedro Montes; the miners’ leader Guido Mitmo; and the executive secretary of the Central Obrera de Oruro, Jaime Solares; all of them Huanuni miners.
“I empathise with the comrades who are shocked by the deaths in Caihausi – this was the Government’s fault – but we cannot turn in on ourselves and our leaders, since this is exactly what the Government wants: to divide the workers’ movement and to rule over it”, Mitma said.
“These positions in Huanuni will be filled, so that this great union is not undermined, and so that there is no crisis in the unions and the people in the leadership of the Sindicato de los Mineros de Huanuni will be able to lead the workers’ struggle in the interests of the workers’ movement”, he added.
The COB had declared a general strike, combined with road blockades and a march on La Paz , to gain attention for its petition of demands, which included a new pensions law; the nationalisation of gas, oil and the mines; the expropriation of the huge latifundios in the east; the distribution of land among the peasants; salary increases; and the nationalisation of the agricultural conglomerates who profit from the hunger of the people and their control over food prices.
The central point of the COB document is the abrogation of the neo-liberal pensions law and its replacement with a welfare system whereby active workers, the state and businesses finance pension payments.
The current private pensions system, administered by the multinationals Zurich Financial Services and the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, only really offers pensions to 10 percent of the Bolivian work force, leaving the other 90 percent without pension payments and therefore forced to work until they die.
This private system is base on individual payments whereby each worker makes a monthly contribution equivalent to 12.5 percent of his salary, which goes to a personal account which will pay out as pensions when he retires. In this system, which allows multinationals to control $3.2 billion of contributions from workers, the state and the bosses pay nothing.
The oligarchy, the parties of the right, bosses' associations and the big communications firms want to keep the system like this.
The second proposal, currently being passed through Congress, is that of President Morales' government, which in essence keeps the individual payment system, with the sole benefit that the $3.2 billion will now not be administered by multinationals but by the state.
The COB wants reform, which fundamentally means: (i) reducing the retirement age from 65 to 55 for male workers and from 60 to 50 for women; (ii) returning to a welfare system where active workers pay into a common fund for old people's pensions; (iii) getting rid of private administration of pension funds, today in the hands of the multinationals Zurich Financial Services and the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, in order that these resources might be administered under the direct control of workers' organisations; and (iv) that the state, the multi-nationals and private business should have to pay enough money into pension funds as to guarantee that the system is sustainable.