Bolivia: ‘NO’ to the Dismissal of 152 Water Service Workers!

To fight the economic crisis, we need socialist, not neoliberal, solutions

In April 2000, the ´14th of September´ plaza was the battleground where the people of Cochabamba won the Water War, defeating neoliberalism and kicking out one of the most powerful multinacional corporations of the world. Nine years later, there´s a new Water War in the same plaza and against the same neoliberal political system.

In early May, 152 workers of the Drinking Water and Drainage Muncipal Service (Semapa), the municipal water company that recovered control over Cochabamba´s water service as a result of the Water War, received notification that they were being laid off. But instead of accepting the dismissals, the workers marched to the ´14th of September´ plaza and 33 of them began a hunger strike to defend their jobs and demand social control over the city´s water company.

Semapa´s interim manager, Leonardo Anaya, says that the layoffs are necessary because the $1,294,000 USD salary budget is not enough to maintain them. According to news reports, the new budget is part of a restructuring plan established by the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government to put an end to the inefficiency and corruption within Semapa and improve the water service.

The mayor of Cercado (the county which includes Cochabamba) and president of Semapa´s governing council, Gonzalo “Chaly” Terceros, has proposed resolving the dispute by creating small businesses with the laid off workers which would then sell their services to Semapa.

Revolutionary Socialista Alternative (ASR, CIT-Bolivia) is in solidarity with the Semapa workers and supports their rejection of the layoffs and demands for social control of Cochabamba´s water service. We reject the justifications for the layoffs given by Anaya and the reported MAS restructuration plan. We are also against Mayor Chaly´s proposal. At best, it would mean lower salaries and no labor rights for the workers. But most likely it is nothing more than an empty promise aimed at demobilizing and dispersing the workers in order to defeat their struggle.

The Corrupt Managers, Not the Workers, Should be Dismissed

Anaya acuses three of the hunger strikers of having directly benefitted from corruption and many Cochabambinos think the same. ASR rejects and fights against all forms of corruption. If there are accusations of corrupt workers, then they should be investigated case by case. But to fire 152 workers for the supposed corruption of a few is absurd and makes it clear that the accusation is just an attempt to slander the workers to undermine their struggle.

Nobody denies that corruption and inefficiency exists within Semapa. But the 152 dismissed workers are not the corrupt one and should not pay the costs. Moreover, getting rid of more than 30% of Semapa´s labor force will not resolve its problems, it will not improve Cochabamba´s water service, nor will it lower the rates. On the contrary, it will make everything worse.

The Workers Didn´t Cause the Economic Crisis and Should Not Suffer its Consequences

In reality, the new budget and the 152 dismissals are the result of the world economic crisis. The crisis has caused oil and raw material prices (75-80% of Bolivia´s state income) to plummet, which negatively affects municipal budgets and, as a result, Semapa´s budget.

The same situation exists throughout the entire world; businesses and governments are suffering the effects of the economic crisis and are trying to make workers and poor people pay through massive layoffs and by cutting social services. All over the world, the CWI rejects this neoliberal approach and struggles against layoffs and cuts to our social services.

To Overcome the Budget Deficit: Let the Capitalists Pay for the Crisis they Caused!

It´s understandable that the right-wing governments of the United States and Europe try to implement these neoliberal policies. But we can´t allow the MAS—a government of indigenous peasants, workers, and poor people—to do the same, dismissing workers and cutting social services to overcome the crisis. A socialist and revolutionary government must put forward revolutionary socialist solutions to the capitalist crisis.

To overcome the budget deficit immediately, the government should impose a special tax and rate increases on all businesses which use large cuantities of water, such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Taquiña (a Bolivian beer company), etc. Wealthy individuals from upper class areas should also pay higher water rates. The rates of workers and average people should not raise one cent. In other words, the businesses and individuales who have benefitted from neoliberalism should pay the costs of the capitalist crisis.

For Everybody to Have Drinking Water and a Stable Job, We Need Socialism

Paradoxically, on May 16th, just days before the start of the hunger strike, Evo Morales came to the ´14th of September´ plaza to kick off a program, called Misicuni, to provide drinking water for all.

In Bolivia, 2.3 million people (29% of the population) lack drinking water. It´s impossible to imagine that the government can provide every Cochabambino with drinking water while laying off more than 30% of the water service workers.

The only way to guarantee drinking water for everybody in Bolivia, especially in the face of the worst economic crisis since the 1930´s, is by breaking with capitalism and struggling for a socialist revolution. We must put the land, large businesses and multinational corporations in Bolivia under the democratic control of the workers, indigenous peasants and poor. There must be the carrying through of a major agrarian reform programme and the major companies and banks must be nationalized to form the basis of a democratic socialist planning of the economy.

With control over Bolivia´s vast wealth, instead of laying off workers that provide basic services, we could hire unemployed workers to bring not only drinking water to our communities, but also electricity, housing, hospitals, schools, and every other basic necessity.

The Water War taught us that it´s not enough to kick out multinational corporations and hand them over to state bureaucrats. A state company, especially one that provides basic services, can only function if it is democratically controlled by workers and the community within a socialist state where the economy operates according to a democratic plan and the wealth generated by the land, natural resources, and big businesses is used to satisfy the basic needs of everbody. Let´s win this Water War by defending the jobs of the water workers, kicking out capitalism and building socialism.

  • ‘No’ to the Dismissal of 152 Water Service Workers!
  • Not One Layoff, Not One Dollar of Our Services to Pay for the Capitalist Crisis!
  • Let the Big Businesses and Rich Pay for the Crisis through Higher Taxes and Rates!
  • For a Semapa Democratically Controlled by Workers and the Community!
  • For a Socialist Economy that Plans the Use of the Wealth for Our Basic Needs!

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May 2009