Peru: Workers resist government’s ‘state of emergency’

Peruvian workers have challenged the ‘state of emergency’ imposed by President Toledo.

In an emergency meeting, called the ‘National Alliance’, Toledo appealed to representatives of the elite – the employers, parliamentary leaders, the church, military commanders and the judiciary – to look for a solution to the conflict between his government and workers. The Toledo government has presided over a worsening economic and social situation and wants to introduce deeper cuts. Already half of the population of 27 million people live on less than US $2 a day.

The working class and rural poor have signalled they have had enough with a series of widespread strikes. Toledo’s appeal for an end to the conflict was applauded by the leaders of the employers who were the first to support the imposition of a state of siege emergency.

On the other hand, Alan García, President of the main opposition party, APRA, and a former president of Peru, did not support Toledo’s appeal and limited himself to calling for the ending of the ‘seige’. García, perhaps because he thinks Toledo is finished, did not participate in this meeting of ‘national unity’. But if the life jacket is passed to García, it will not solve anything given that this shark of Peruvian capitalism presided over the worst economic crisis in the memory of the Peruvian working class up the current one. The former right-wing Presidential candidate, Lourdes Flores, also did not participate in the meeting.

The government has been compelled to send a representative of the Catholic Church to negotiate with the teachers. In these negotiations an agreement was reached which will only be implemented if the teachers agree to end their strike. This will increase wages by 100 ‘soles’ – teachers are currently receiving the lowest level of real wages ever. It is ‘scraps’ when compared to the salaries paid to MP’s and President Toledo, who receives US$12,000 in wages a month (according to the World Bank, the average annual wage in Peru was $1,980 in 2001). It is a real slap in the face for teachers given the conditions they are forced to live along with the rest of the working class. Amongst the other agreements reached will be the right of teachers to withdraw from private pensions and to re-join the state pension scheme – this proposal has already been rejected by the private pension companies. These agreements will be put to a mass meeting of teachers on 7 June.

Urgent need for workers’ party

The working class of Peru faces a massive leadership vacuum. Recent governments have launched a systematic and violent campaign to exterminate the guerrilla organisations in Peru. But this persecution and war "against terrorism" has also had the principal left organisations as its targets. As a result, left organisations have been as badly affected by repression, as have the guerrilla organisations. Many of the hundreds of thousands who have fled Peru in the last decade have done so because of fear of repression.

The small Partido Communist Roja (Red Communist Party), which has a very limited base amongst the working class, is the largest left-wing organisation in Peru.

The leadership of the main trade union organisation, the CGTP (Central General de Trabajadores de Perú), from the beginning has not supported the strikers. Recently, following the declaration of the ‘state of siege’, it has found its voice. But this is not in order to support the demands of the strikers but to oppose them and call upon the government to "calm the situation". In reality, the leadership of the CGTP, behind the scenes, participated in the meeting of ‘national unity’ called by Toledo.

However, the pressure from below has affected the trade union central leadership and obliged it to participate in the strike movement. It has been able to put itself at the head of the movement. This is testing the bureaucracy of the CGTP, which has lost a lot of credibility because of its attempt to conciliate with the government. The leadership vacuum is such that the Peruvian working class has lifted the bureaucratic leadership of the CGTP again at the head of the movement – it is the only point of reference that exists for the working class. This is not a secondary question. It shows a clear example of the pernicious role of the guerrilla groups and sectarian organisations, and the right-ward turn of the left Peruvian organisations.

At present there is no political party that is defending the interests of the working class and fighting to improve its conditions of life. There is an urgent need for the construction of a new mass workers’ party that will fight to defend the interests of the Peruvian workers and the poor. The working class are looking for the cohesion and unity necessary to fight the attacks of the capitalists and its institutions. Capitalism and its institutions fear for their privileges and cannot solve the problems of poverty, misery and unemployment faced by the mass of the population. The Peruvian population is tiered of the elite and its threats against the majority of the population.

The ruling class faces two alternatives: Firstly to repress the masses and move towards imposing a military government. This, however, could be very dangerous under such explosive conditions where even the police have threatened strike action to win higher wages and where the armed forces have lost the prestige they once had amongst the population following previous military regimes and the enormous wave of corruption during the era of President Fujimori. Moreover, amongst the military there are also populist sections of a character similar to that which has developed around Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador or even Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

The second and most likely route the ruling class will take, in the short -term, will be to make some minimum concessions. This will be done in order to try and preserve ‘stability’. These concessions cannot be long lasting given the depth of the crisis in Peru, which does not give the government much room for manoeuvre.

The struggle for socialism

If the capitalist class today is discussing which of two roads to take in order to continue attacking the working class and the poor, the working class has only one possible road to take to end the misery that faces it – the struggle for socialism.

With a socialist programme, and in alliance with the peasants, the working class would be able to guarantee a government that would solve the desperate problems and misery facing the rural population and those in the cities. It would end the rule of the bloated and privileged elite. It would be possible to nationalise the private monopolies and the banks and introduce a democratic socialist plan of production run and controlled democratically by the working class, to take over the foreign multi-nationals and to refuse to pay the foreign debt. It could implement a programme of land reform that would also guarantee enough food for the millions who die of hunger. Jobs can be provided for workers, the unemployed and underemployed through the introduction of an emergency public works programme to build houses, hospitals, schools etc.

International solidarity

A revolutionary movement of the poor in Peru only can only be successful if the working class of Peru appeals for the solidarity of the workers of Latin America and the world. The Bolivian workers, the miners and the coca farmers are in struggle to defend their rights. The Brazilian workers support the original programme of struggle defended by the PT (Workers’ Party, the party of government), which included non-payment of the foreign debt. The Argentinean working class will sooner or later end the honeymoon that the new nationalist and populist President Kirchner enjoys. This will give way to new attacks by the ruling class against workers. The Venezuelan workers defeated the attempted reactionary coup of the bosses last year, supported by US imperialism, and are beginning to search for a means of deepening the ‘Bolivarian revolution’, which needs a socialist programme. The Chilean workers have now begun to take up the example of struggle given by their brothers and sisters in the rest of Latin America and are opposing the Free Trade Agreement with the USA and are opposing neo-liberal policies which have broken all of the founding principals defended in the past by the traditional left-wing parties and trade unions.

The Peruvian working class must make a class appeal to the working class of these countries and also to the US working class and the largest ethnic minority in the USA –the Latinos. The workers of these countries and others would respond to an appeal for support and solidarity by the Peruvian working class fighting for a socialist programme.

The working people of Latin America do not need the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (TLC) or the MERCOSUR of the local ruling classes. Only with the establishment of a Socialist Federation of Latin America can the workers, the peasants, the youth, the poor and the indigenous peoples find a way out of the exploitation and exclusion that exists in the continent.

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June 2003