The Labour Struggles in Latin America panel at LaborNotes #ln2014

The session included presentation by six union activists from Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico and Argentina.

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The Labour Struggles in Latin America panel at LaborNotes #ln2014 The session included presentation by six union activists from Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico and Argentina.

All the presenters related their current struggles in Latin America to those that lead to the Haymarket Affair in Chicago.

Free trade and oppression of trade union activities by their governments acting on behalf of Capital were prominent themes of all the speakers.


In Colombia, free trade agreements are not working for the workers, have impoverished the people and furthered the boundless exploitation of their environment.

The current free trade agreement with the US had a labour side-agreement. This so-called Plan for Labour Action has failed in its supposed objectives. Over 100 union leaders have been killed since the agreement has been signed which is as much on the US as it is in the Colombian government.

In fact, the labour crisis continues in Colombia as terror and violence continues to be a method used to undermine workers’ rights. They say they have inherited the country that they live in now, but the people continue to struggle for a different future for Colombia.

“Argentina Subway Workers”

For the subway workers, the main struggle is for the return of the six hour work day.

Argentina was the first country to dig subways. It is very dirty work and subway workers at first had 6 hour word days underground. This ended in 1976 when they moved it to 7 hours. At this time, the struggle for six hours was the call for those fighting the dictatorship. The victory was only achieved when democracy returned to Argentina but at a cost of many disappeared workers.

However, the six hour day was lost again with the privatisation of the subway systems and new “labour flexibility” programs.

The transit workers have again take the slogan for the 6 hour shift. Their past victories have shown that the struggle must go beyond the fight for pay, it is also the struggle for a quality life.

“Independent Mexican Autoparts Unions”

Mexico struggles are just beginning when compared to other countries, but like other Latin America countries violence is starting to be used as a method of control against unionists.

Free trade agreements are also a big issue for Mexico and the labour movement.

In the last year they have seen laws that moved forward with privatisation of energy (oil) and education. The government has also been increasing taxes on the poor and cutting services and rights for workers.

Workers are trying to start independent unions in workplace. True unions that are out of control of the government and the bosses.

Recently they have organize in autoparts manufacturers. Two groups have been formed to start the unionization process. However, when you want to form a union you must fight with the legal authorities and this process takes years before you can have a vote.

With some support from United Electrical workers union they were able to pressure the company in the United States and force a vote. The election was called and the union was given one day to organise it. However, they succeeded in winning the vote and proudly proclaim they are the “bad” example where workers can win if they sustain their fight long enough.

“El Salvador Teachers’ Union”

In the 1920s the first unions that were made legal were the teachers. However, these rights were lost in the 1950s.

Recently, through various strikes and community support in the streets, teachers have gained many of these lost rights back including health coverage for teachers and professors.

The 1980s in El Salvador brought the decade long FMLN uprising. At the end of that struggle, the labour movement was demobilised. Many of the promises of the pact to end the violence were not fulfilled. This is how after 20 years there has not been much change even with the arrival of the FMLN. The workers have now seen that it was important to re-establish an organized workers’ struggle.

The El Salvadorian Union Front started organizing to put forward a social vehicle for their demands. They must work in the government, but workers cannot be accomplices to oppression and must always act as political force as well.

“Chile’s Federation of Port Workers”

Salt and Copper are the main exports from Chile to the US.

The Federation of Portworkers Union in Chile do not have a typical union structure. The union represents 70% of the workers in the ports in Chile but these workers are temporary and contract workers.

The struggle to build their political power focused on developing deep connection between mine, metal and port workers.

The union has been able to sustain the support for the recent students struggles, social movements including the demand for free education.

A recent victory had forced the state to legislate an hour for lunch. After a 28 day strike with 70% of the ports paralysed, it was only through international solidarity erupted across the world in Europe (especially Spain) that they were able to win rights to a lunch break.