Nicaragua’s Labor Unions in the Face of Aggression
Aggression against Nicaragua has been intensified by a military circle composed of more than 8,000 counterrevolutionaries on the Honduran and Costa Rican borders and some 600 US-made mines in Nicaragua’s ports on both the Atlantic and the Pacific. However, this is only part of the aggression. It also entails economic pressure, the rejection of Nicaragua’s exports, a virtual blockade aimed cutting off the delivery of industrial material and supplies, the destruction and limitation of energy sources, a reduction in agricultural production resulting from the population’s mobilization for defense purposes, the necessary delays in health and housing projects and the discrediting (orchestrated primarily from abroad) of those directing Nicaragua’s reconstruction. Physical exhaustion, psychological tension, moments of despair, anguish for the youth mobilized near the border, malaise due to lack of basic goods, anger due to a black market that capriciously imposes its prices: these too are inevitable products of what can fairly be called a “war of attrition”—in this case of human attrition.
Against this onslaught Nicaragua must do more than organize its military defense. In order not to be beaten, Nicaraguans must also become accustomed to living with war.
Was the International Labor Union Meeting for Peace, promoted by the Nicaraguan union confederations, a symbol of this defense? One could suggest such a hypothesis, but whatever its intent the conference provided the opportunity to reevaluate the advances and difficulties as well as the short-, medium- and long-range demands outlined by the different union groupings regarding the current situation of aggression and national defense.
This article, comprising three sections, is a follow-up to the labor union conference that took place in Managua from April 24 to April 27:
1. A Panorama of labor union organizations in Nicaragua
2. The present positions of Nicaraguan labor unions
3. Interpretive hypotheses
The first section, based on material from previous envío articles (June and August 1982, and Monograph 3, May 1983), has been redrafted with updated statistical charts.
The second is a synthesis of interviews with the following Nicaraguan union leaders: Carlos Salgado Membreño, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor - Independent; Allan Zambrana, general secretary of the Confederation for Action and Labor Union Unification; Francisco Gonzalez, head of international relations for the Sandinista Workers’ Confederation; Germán Benavidez, organizational secretary of the Rural Workers Association; Miguel Angel Guevara, member of the Executive Committee of the Workers’ Front; Jose Espinosa, political secretary of the Confederation of Labor Union Unity; Eugenio José Membreño, executive secretary and press liaison for the Nicaraguan Workers’ Confederation (Huembes lines), and Agustín Rodríguez, undersecretary general of the same organization. For reasons of time and space, it was impossible to interview rank-and-file members of these unions or provide the historical context for events alluded to by those interviewed.
Section three simply points toward a possible interpretation of the different positions presented by the above groups. It is based on questions frequently asked about the workers’ movement in the context of the aggression Nicaragua is experiencing and the defense waged against that aggression.
It is worth pointing out that the answers to our questions depend on the degree to which one accepts or rejects the basic hypotheses that the different union positions use as their starting point. For example, those who see the military aggression currently suffered by Nicaragua as the most serious problem—as do the Sandinista confederations—argue that for the good of the entire process all else should be subordinated to defense. Those who reject this hypothesis criticize not only administrative bureaucratism but also the orientation of the Nicaraguan revolution in this reconstruction period. Such critics fall into one of two camps: those who see the process as too oriented by radical Marxism and those who believe that, on the contrary, it lacks revolutionary Marxist orientation.
1. A panorama of the labor union organizations in NicaraguaIn Nicaragua there are 11 trade union confederations or unions not within a federation, all of which were either created before 1979 or grew out of union movements that existed previously.
The strongest of these is the Sandinista Workers’ Confederation (CST), founded after the 1979 victory as a result of a merger that united all pro-Sandinista factory unions. It has national coverage.
Next in importance is the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), which works exclusively with agricultural laborers throughout the country.
The General Confederation of Labor - Independent (CGT-i), the Confederation for Action and Labor Union Unification (CAUS), and the Workers’ Front (FO) represent currents linked to self-defined Marxist political parties.
The Nicaraguan Workers’ Confederation (CTN) and the Confederation of Labor Union Unity (CUS) are groups that function in opposition to the revolution, together with the business organizations and the rightwing parties in the “Ramiro Sacasa G. Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Group” (Coordinadora). The CTN is currently divided into two groups, each of which claims to be the genuine representative of the CTN tendency. Only one of them participates in the Coordinadora.
The Federation of Health Workers (FETSALUD) is a pro-Sandinista union grouping of health workers, also with national coverage.
In November 1981, the CST, ATC, FETSALUD, FO, CAUS, CGT-I and the CUS founded the Nicaraguan Labor Union Coordination (CSN) in an effort to promote the unity of the workers’ movement and the construction of a single union confederation. Also participating in the CSN are the Nicaraguan Journalists’ Union (UPN), the National Association of Nicaraguan Educators (ANDEN) and the National Union of Public Employees (UNE), all three of which support the revolution.
The union movement has grown tremendously since the revolution. At the time of the triumph, 133 unions with 27,000 members were functioning in the country, and they were subject to systematic repression. Today there are 1,103 unions with 207,000 members.
*ANDEN , UPN and UNE are included in this category
Note: Some groups claim to have more unions and membership. This is particularly true of unions not registered with the Ministry of Labor (MITRAB), either because they are new or because they are not concerned with legalizing their status.
International or Regional Organizations
WFTU: World Federation of Trade Union. Founded in 1934, headquarters in Prague.
WCL: World Confederation of Labor. Founded in 1928; headquarters in Brussels.
ICFTU: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Founded in 1949 by
unaffiliated unions and those that had disaffiliated from the WFTU;
headquarters in Brussels.
CEPUSTAL: Permanent Congress of Unified Trade Unions of Latin American Workers.
Regional Organization of WFTU for Latin America.
CUSCA: Trade Union Confederation of Central America and Panama. WFTU organization
for Central America.
CLAT: Latin American Workers’ Confederation. Regional organization of the WCL for
CCT: Central American Workers’ Confederation. WCL organization for Central America.
ORIT: Inter-American Regional Workers’ Organization. Regional organization of the
ICFTU for Latin America.
CTCA: Central American Workers’ Confederation. Regional organization of ICFTU for
Not Mentioned in Article:
PSN: Nicaraguan Socialist Party PCD: Democratic Conservative Party
PCdeN: Communist Party of Nicaragua PLI: Independent Liberal Party
FSLN: Sandinista National Liberation Front PLC: Constitutionalist Liberal Party
PSC: Social Christian Party PPSC: Popular Social Christian Party
PSD: Social Democratic Party PPSCA: Authentic Popular Social
MAP-ML: Popular Action Movement
Nicaraguan Coordinating Groups
CSN Nicaraguan Trade Union Coordinating Group
CDN: Ramiro Sacasa Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Group
Nicaraguan Trade Union Groups and Party Affiliations or Affinities
CGTi: General Labor Confederation-Independent (PSN)
CAUS: Confederation for Action and Labor Union Unification (PCe N)
CST: Sandinista Confederation of Workers (FSLN)
ATC: Association of Rural Workers (FSLN)
CTN: Nicaraguan Workers’ Confederation (PSC)*
CUS: Confederation of Labor Union Unity (PSD)*
FO: Workers’ Front (MAP-ML)
*Although this union has no direct or automatic links with the party mentioned, similarities clearly exist in their positions on most major issues.
2. The present positions of Nicaraguan labor unions
a. On immediate demands and medium- and long-range programs
CUS: “We put a priority on what’s immediate: anything from dismissals to the reactivation of unions, organization and education; immediate tasks that we permanently maintain such as the holding of seminars, restructuring of our leadership structures and, above all, political analysis. In the long term, we have outlined a general struggle for workers’ demands, the introduction of laws or proposals that will eventually benefit the working class in general, such as the abolition of the law prohibiting the right to strike; the abolition of interference by the Ministry of Labor—in other words, the state—in collective bargaining; the freedom to decide what union organization to belong to and, above all, to see that obstacles are not put in the way of unions in formation.”
CTN: “Demands are subject to the provisions of the Ministry of Labor. If we proceed without consulting the Ministry, the worker runs the risk of being accused of capital flight. For this reason, the company won’t participate.
“As workers, our long-term goal is to be really free, to free ourselves from both capitalism and so-called communism. Both the Soviet Union, through state capitalism, and the United States, through liberal capitalism, try to control the world. Our position is to propose a third path; the creation of a new society without exploiters.”
CST: “The National Council of the CST has been forced to be more dynamic (in order to study this point) as a result of last year’s events, which are similar to what has been occurring this year: the accelerated onslaught of the enemy, the counterrevolution, the international situation and the interests of the United States in an election period with Pyrrhic precedents, as Castro called it, with the possibility of a direct intervention in Nicaragua. This situation has had profound repercussions in the union movement because of the problem of the war. We thus define two important lines of work: strengthening defense, without losing sight of the most important workers’ demands, and improving the provision of supplies, a problem directly linked to that of defense.”
ATC: “Today we have to defend what we’ve won; we have to defend our schools, work places, hospitals, lives, liberty and sovereignty. In this sense, we’re playing an important role by encouraging worker participation in defense. For us, defending the revolution means defending the future because, if we don’t, we’ll lose the possibility of building and making reality what Germán Pomares, Filemón Rivera, Pikín Guerero and all the other heroes of our people struggled for. We’re advocating two fundamental tasks: the defense of our gains and the possibility to build a new society in the homeland of Sandino. Within this general framework comes the struggle of our union for economic and social demands. Right now we’re working for a fair salary policy for everyone, based on giving to the worker in relation to what he or she has contributed; within this framework, we’re struggling for an improvement in the supply line, a strongly-felt need.”
CGTi: “We’re conscious of the blockade. The union movement’s work of pushing for demands has to be related to the general tasks we have at this time within the CSN. Therefore, we’ve established two principal demands, which are the application of the ‘national system for the organization of work and salaries,’ and an improvement in the system of provisions. We understand the limitations imposed on our revolutionary process; we’re fully aware of the economic blockade and military attacks. This situation clearly hinders the JGRN’s programs and projects.”
CAUS: “Austerity policies only hurt the worker. To think about immediate demands is very difficult, but we believe that the Government of National Reconstruction can make the necessary efforts to guarantee material incentives for the workers. From this could come greater labor discipline and an increase in productivity. But this hasn’t been the government’s policy; rather, it has been a policy of austerity that has fallen fundamentally on the workers’ movement and not on the state or private sector.”
FO: “We’re struggling for workers’ control. We think that within the workers’ movement the main points of struggle are union independence from the state and other political currents of the bourgeoisie, as well as worker control as a means of struggling against administrative bureaucratism both in the Area of People’s Property (APP) and in the private sector.”
b. On the Salary Problem
CUS: Survival Salaries for the Black Market
“The monetary and salary policies of the government necessarily have to respond to concrete situations. This is true both for matters strictly related to salaries and also for issues related to politics and social policies.
“With a minimum salary, workers and their family can really barely survive. It’s impossible to live decently. Anyone will tell you so. A roll of toilet paper supposedly costs 3 córdobas, but it’s sold for 45. Toothpaste should cost 30 or 35, depending on the size of the tube, but on the black market it costs 500. These maladjustments reduce the real salary in that they don’t respond to reality.”
CTN: The Bosses Are Willing to Pay More
“Salaries are completely frozen. The worker previously could negotiate a salary increase directly with the boss. Now that’s not possible: a salary increase has to be analyzed by the Ministry of Labor, which determines whether the raise will be given or not. The ministry has created parameters, and, under the pretext that there shouldn’t be privileged workers, the great majority of workers have been done a disservice. The workers of Comercial Zambrana, on negotiating their agreement, demanded 3,000 córdobas in assistance in case of a death in the family; the company was about to give in to the demand when the Ministry of Labor said that it would only permit 1,500 córdobas.”
CST: We Must Become Accustomed to War
“The salary revision was suspended as a consequence of the invasion of Grenada and the threat of invasion in Nicaragua last year, but was continued again in December. This year we began to work within the framework of a salary table. A series of salary agreements have been signed on the basis of the National System for the Organization of Labor and Salaries (SNOTS, in Spanish). The principal sectors of the economy have signed their agreement: the sugar workers, machinists, transport workers and oil workers. Unquestionably, the salaries of these workers have improved. In sugar alone, it means an increase of 400 million córdobas. But this problem isn’t going to end either this week or this year. Given the political decision of US imperialism to liquidate this revolution, we must all now get used to living in a war situation. Furthermore, the salary policy must deal effectively with the question of salary anarchy and the piratry to which this anarchy leads, because without clear qualifiers, even in MIDINRA, for example—a technician can easily be offered more to join another enterprise. The SNOTS will establish that an engineer, for example, must be paid a salary in accordance with his qualifications, no matter where he works.”
ATC: With a Policy that Brings Results
“We’re putting together a whole salary policy, a structure that will enable workers to be paid a fair salary based on their qualifications. Greater productivity means a better salary. This has given immediate results, for example in the case of the tobacco workers: beginning April 30, there new salary levels based on reordering. We hope to be able to implement this in other areas. Of course, we’re aware that this still isn’t an adequate response, but, if one looks at the situation realistically, it corresponds to what’s possible within the total framework of today’s reality.”
CGTi: We’re Applying a New System
“One of the main tasks now being implemented is the application of a national system of organizing labor and salaries. This system will be introducing a series of judgments and totally new concepts for the labor union movement. It deals not only with salary readjustments, but also with the elaboration of occupational qualifications in accordance with the complexity of work. This will help establish wages for different groups of workers.”
CAUS: The Salary Policy Is Pretentious
“At this stage of the revolutionary process,, after four and a half years going on five, the salary problems of the workers haven’t been solved; they’ve only gotten worse. Despite an important nominal increase, the real salary has dropped precipitously.
“The current salary policy is really pretentious. On the one hand, they’ve tried to establish an ordering of labor and salaries based on the universal principles of equal salary for equal work. But, on the other, they’ve inherited a big mess of unequal salaries from the previous regime, and this has created the expectation that the new salaries would correspond to the present cost of living. But there was a major contradiction in many cases where the previous salaries were higher than those fixed by the application of the established qualifications. This is the contradiction with the so-called ‘historical salaries.’
“The ‘social salary,’ a new term in Nicaragua, is artificial. To a large extent, the economy is parasitic; we’re virtually living on international charity, called international solidarity. Almost everything that has been called the social salary, in other words, those projects intended basically for the service area—hospitals, schools, children’s parks, tourist centers, etc.—are artificial. This is to say that our economy, our production, can’t sustain it. It only appears to be social progress.”
FO: The New Salaries Are No Solution
“Workers’ living standard has dropped by about 53%. Why? We say that it’s due to the effects of the mixed economy and the worldwide capitalist crisis we-re experiencing, and the government, with its mixed-economy policy, is making the workers bear the brunt of this crisis. The salary problem won’t be resolved as long as there’s no readjustment enabling workers to recover their purchasing power through a real control of prices and distribution. The new salary table, at this point, is no solution to the problem of purchasing power. The Ministry of Labor proposed a readjustment to 1,700 córdobas a month. The CST proposed 1,900. We oppose both because they don’t even represent 25% of lost purchasing power. Our proposal was to readjust salaries in order to recover what has been lost and, at the same time, develop the people’s control over the distribution of products.”
c. On the Problems of the Supply of Goods
CUS: The Solution is a Stabilization policy
“The difficulties are reflected more very day in a scarcity of food and other products. The government has neither been able to control this nor does it have the mechanisms to do so. There’s a growing parallel market, a black market, and real costs bear no relation to the nominal salary of the working class. This has a political explanation, since many countries aren’t collaborating with this government for political reasons. The solution is a political change, a general policy that will allow for conciliation on the political, economic and social levels. This is the only way to achieve stability. To solve the problem, the government would have to make a great effort, one that would have been more timely five years ago.”
CTN: Food Is a Political Weapon
“There are political objectives involved in the food issue. In other words, food is being used as a political weapon. The government has authorized the CDS’s to take charge of distribution, and they share the government’s goals. They’re also in charge of exercising absolute control over the population by means of the ration card. The same is true with the night watch, whicch they call revolutionary vigilance. The need for food forces people to sign up for revolutionary vigilance. In the black market you can find oil, soap, and sugar, all products whose production and distribution is controlled by the state. There are hoarders, so where do the products go? To us it’s all self-explanatory. If I’m the only tailor and only I make pants, then the pants worn by any particular citizen were made by me.”
CST: The Root of the Problem Is the Aggression
“The problem of supplies is directly linked to that of defense. That’s why it hasn’t been resolved. Obviously the troops in the mountains need supplies too; the workers in the city have seen their supplies decrease. That’s why we’ve had to put even greater emphasis on the slogan: ‘Supply the war front 100%.’ Everyone has to understand this necessity. Here in the cities, the areas where there’s no war, such as Managua, the Pacific Zone, Chinandega, we only come into contact with the war through the newspaper, and haven’t fully understood the scarcity. We’ve had to understand that, besides shortages, there’s fighting every day. Those on the front need clothing, food, shoes. This directly affects the distribution of supplies to the people, who haven’t been adequately provisioned. And this limitation isn’t only due to the need to supply the front. It’s also a result of the fact that many of those who work in production, supplies, commerce and technical studies have had to leave their jobs and go to the war fronts. In addition, the mining of our ports means that last week, for example, a shipment of milk couldn’t come into port and be unloaded. It had to go to Costa Rica along with a series of raw materials. We think that the roots of all these problems are to be found in the aggression and that the imperialists are responsible for them.”
ATC: The Counterrevolution Is Responsible
“The problem of supplies has to do with the problems of production, but also with those of aggression and counterrevolutionary attacks. For example, a large number of workers are mobilized in defense tasks; these people can’t fulfill their potential within the productive process, yet they eat and need military clothes and boots. Everything has to be done for defense, and there’s no way out of it.”
CGTi: It’s a Very Serious Problem
“The problem of supplies is one of the most serious, and people interpret it very negatively. Within the CSN, we’ve come to the conclusion that we must demand more coherent and scientific policies of supply, distribution and price controls. There’s also the problem of distribution. There’s no other way to explain the fact that articles of basic necessity supposedly to be found in popular centers or warehouses find their way into the black market, where they’re sold at extraordinarily high prices. There are errors and failures but not enough authorities at this point to crack down on all the hoarders and speculators.”
CAUS: This Is Progressive Capitalism
“Since the Sandinista revolution has opted for a regime of mixed economy, political-ideological pluralism and nonalignment that responds to a capitalist line, even if a progressive one, it hasn’t been able to respond to the problems of production, commercialization and distribution. The workers’ movement isn’t interested in the salary and supply situation just because it wants to demand a substantial wage increase; we consider that economic policy should be first directed toward establishing an agrarian reform that will truly provide for agricultural production. The current agrarian reform has only served to develop the social base of capitalism in the countryside, with a series of difficulties such as the supply of basic grains, oil, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., products that are now being found on the free market at prices workers can’t afford. A large part of our small production is falling into the speculative market, tied to another element of the same economic crisis—unemployment. In order to survive, people buy where things are sold at controlled prices, for example, the supermarkets. There you find long lines and many people who buy things they later take to the free market and sell. This has become a way of life. To begin to attack these problems the country’s agroindustrial production has to be developed. To do that the state has to become a big producer, stimulate agricultural production and push forward a truly adequate agrarian reform.”
FO: The Source of the Problem Is the Mixed Economy
“It’s all a result of the mixed economy. The solution is incorrect unless there’s a readjustment that enables workers to recover their purchasing power by means of price controls that they themselves can regulate. The government’s control over distribution has only been implemented at the bureaucratic level; they’ve put inspector after inspector out there, and all of them have become thieves. They’ve had to throw a bunch of MICOIN inspectors in jail. This type of distribution control isn’t enough; mass organizations have to be used.
“Rice, bars of soap, cooking oil and toothpaste undoubtedly get to the black market, Managua’s Eastern Market, through organizations that aren’t under the people’s control. The people’s organizations are the only ones we’re sure are working.”
d. On the Suspension of the Right to Strike
CUS: It Favors Bullying Bosses
“For us as workers, the right to strike is sacred because it’s the only truly coercive weapon the worker wields as a last resort. Joining, promoting or supporting a strike carries a penalty of one to three years in jail. This gives some bosses a sense of arrogance; they just say, ‘So go strike!’ There have been some cases in which the bosses have acted in a bullying way.
“I wouldn’t say that union freedoms are totally nonexistent, but they’re seriously repressed. For example, we had the chance to affiliate a dockworkers’ union of 1,500 workers in Port Corinto when its leadership decided to leave the Sandinista Confederation and join the CUS in May or June 1983. People from the Ministry of Labor came and said the union couldn’t join because the general assembly, not the leadership, had to approve the change. We went to a first and then a second assembly. The reaffiliation was approved, as was the replacement of the union’s president, Danilo Contreras, who had gone into exile because he was threatened. The Ministry of Labor didn’t accept the election of the new president, Alejandro Arnuero. Another assembly was held and gangs attacked us, beat us, and ran us out.”
“We can’t ignore the fact that the attacks, we might say the unfriendliness, of the United States have created problems. In reaction, the Nicaraguan government has turned to methods that have restricted our freedoms.”
CTN: It Doesn’t Exist
“The right to strike doesn’t exist in this country. Anyone who promotes a strike goes to jail. He goes to jail. He goes to jail for a year to three years; after that, they can apply other laws.”
CST: Any Strike Favors the Counterrevolution
“To strike is a historic right of workers. It’s not possible to understand why it has been suspended if one doesn’t live here. You have to experience the tremendous inherited difficulties, the problems resulting from outside aggression, the pressures created by the imperialists’ refusal to grant credits, the diplomatic pressures, the direct counterrevolutionary military aggression supported by the CIA. A union member living in Nicaragua will understand why the right to strike has been suspended, and undeniably it has been. In this country at this time, any strike, no matter how small, ends up favoring the counterrevolution. Despite that, even with the right to strike suspended, there have been strikes here; for example, in the construction of the National Stadium there were two work stoppages last year; there was another in the San Antonio refinery recently; in Leon, the construction workers went on strike two months ago. In none of these cases did the army stop the strikes, as during the years of the Somoza dictatorship, when workers were killed for striking. Here strikes have been conducted under pressure from leaders directly linked to the imperialist strategy. They’re well known here. They’re interested in making the workers go on strike to provoke repression. But it hasn’t happened. In practice, suspension of the right to strike is a legal means to stop or condemn, if need be, those who are part of the imperialist strategy. And there’s no need to gaze into a crystal ball to know that so-and-so has ties with the US Embassy, which furnishes him with instructions. No such strike has prospered because those union leaders have no base.”
ATC: We have the Maturity to Understand It
“For us, the state of emergency is no problem. The main problem is imperialist aggression because it’s killing us, destroying our work centers and our economy; it forces us to send our members to the front line in defense of our sovereignty and freedom. That’s the main problem. The union movement in the countryside has reached a level of maturity that enables us to assimilate this experience. This maturity allows us to understand that a strike in a tobacco or cotton processing plant right now would mean a drop in production and in the level of foreign exchange. We’ve come to understand that a strike within this revolutionary context affects the workers, nobody else. Imperialism is sabotaging our work centers; it wants to bankrupt us.”
CGTi: What Affect Us Most Are the Errors in Planning
“The law against strikes isn’t a problem; it hasn’t visibly affected the union movement. Even before the declaration of the state of national emergency, the union movement understood that within the revolutionary process the right to strike is two-edged: if the workers went on strike to propose a solution to certain problems, this would directly affect programs and economic plans. Suspension of the tight to strike doesn’t affect us. But what does affect us is the lack of coherence in planning and programming the national economy. The Minister of Economic Planning thinks one thing and the Minister of Agriculture, Jaime Wheelock, thinks another, so it’s not really possible to plan a solution to economic problems. Lately, we’ve been invited to discuss this with the Ministry of Economic Planning and other institutions.”
CAUS: It’s a Political Mistake
“The truth is that much has been said about this, and, above all, what has been said represents the policies of the bourgeois opposition to the Emergency Law. First was the social-economic state of emergency; later the state of emergency to control the counterrevolutionary forces. We understand that the state of emergency can’t be lifted 100%, but it would be possible to restore public freedoms, the political and civil rights of all Nicaraguans, while maintaining the state of military emergency in the affected war zones. The Sandinistas themselves agree with this. However, other political factors have intervened: the Sandinistas have not only tried to defend the revolutionary process, national sovereignty and our self-determination, but hey have also used the state of emergency to defend their power, party and interests to the detriment of the other revolutionary forces and in favor of the bourgeoisie’s political forces. Eliminating the right to strike means protecting the rights of business interests.”
FO: They’ve Disarmed the Workers
“We’ve made official protests about this in the Union Coordination. We think that in our country, where 70% of the economy is private, including the most important part of it, and where there’s a monstrous bureaucracy, it’s wrong to take away the workers’ most important weapon: the right to strike. We disagree with this measure, which has disarmed the workers. But we do believe that it’s important to use strikes with care because the Right could take advantage of them. Things are such that rightwing sectors can easily manipulate the workers’ movement. For example, we had been present at the San Antonio refinery, but were excluded. Bureaucratism has helped the CUS o grow, and the Right has manipulated the situation. For example, when La Prensa says there’s no union freedom, this manipulates the workers. A worker reads something like that and only remembers the time he or she asked to make a point and wasn’t given the floor. They doesn’t realize that the right wingers and La Prensa are out there manipulating everything they can muster with respect to union freedom.”
e. On Worker Participation and Administrative Initiatives
CUS: Rules Should Be Established for the Mixed Economy
“We consider it a necessity that workers participate in both administration and production, or at least in ownership of the enterprise. Workers are part of the company, and the company’s part of them. The idea of a mixed economy was included in the FSLN’s original program. We understood that there would be a state sector, a private sector, and later shared management programs, with a production committee in all enterprise. But this hasn’t happened. Instead, what we have is a mixed-up economy. That’s how I see it because the state sector, the APP, and others have no guidelines to give them an idea of where to begin or end. Therefore, we say the mixed economy should be regulated. We’re always asking for political pluralism, which we understand as the equality of rights and conditions.
“We’ve been thrown out of the state sector. In the private sector, we promote the idea that bosses should assume the cost of food and turn over a share of the profits, but it’s prohibited from doing this. The government says it’s decapitalization. The government doesn’t even allow the workers to take over part of a business. In the Camino Real Hotel, Alfonso Robelo dared the FSLN to draft a law that would entitle the workers to 40% ownership of each company. The Sandinistas attacked him for this, saying he was a demagogue.”
CTN: For a Third-Way Economy
“We’re striving for worker control, first through co-management and later through self-management. We want workers to have an important role in planning, production and management. They should also be able to reap benefits from their work in the company. Presently, workers only participate in planning production; then they’re forgotten about for the rest of the year. We reject this kind of participation. Out struggle isn’t limited to purely economic demands: our struggle is political.”
CST: The War Has Made Us Conscious
“It goes without saying that we have a very important role to play in the political-ideological preparation of the rank-and-file. This war is difficult because it means that, instead of bread, the workers get politics. It’s a very difficult task, but such is the story of the revolution. If people aren’t aware of their own power, they have no future. In the unions, we talk about the real situation, trying to project moral, ideological, Sandinista values. We’ve increased the number of schools offering political and union training. We teach Sandinista thought, regional economy, political economy, labor law, job safety and other related courses. Union leaders have to be familiar with sociology in order to understand what’s happening inside their own union.
“The workers aren’t oblivious to the aggression: 132 CST leaders and rank-and-file members have been killed on the war front. Battalions are composed largely of workers. I don’t believe that either the bourgeoisie or foreigners are defending the country. Those are Nicaraguan workers on the battle front. The war creates tremendous difficulties for the unions since it’s often the basis of discussion. There’s always some individual or group that hasn’t understood the importance of the war. Some people have never had to deal with the war on a personal basis. In other words, it’s harder to organize a reserve battalion in Granada, where there’s never been any military action, than in Estelí. In Estelí the people are immediately ready for combat.”
ATC: For Democracy in the Unions
“The participation of workers in defense tasks is important. In this last harvest alone, 180 ATC members were killed. This gives us an indication of worker participation in the tasks of defending their victories.
“Union participation in the Area of People’s Property has materialized in the form of worker participation in discussions about technical and economic plans. In the private sector, our role is to control the use of resources provided by the state and guarantee that the revolutionary government’s policy for private production is carried out.
“On the other hand, the unions understand that the revolution needs technical knowledge about why there are shortages. We have a national school that our members attend for three months. In each union, we also have workshops and study circles, where our members can learn about the history of the world labor movement, its role, its present tasks, how to lead an assembly, how to plan work, who Sandino was, what he means for our history, etc.
“Democracy within the organization has been the governing principle. The first assembly after 1979 was initiated at the base, where the principles were discussed and leaders were elected. Now we have national and regional assemblies where the groups offer their own initiatives. We have just had the fourth national assembly on the sixth anniversary of the ATC.”
CGTi: There Is More Class Consciousness
“There has been growing strength in the labor union movement, including those confederations whose positions are in contradiction with the revolutionary process. One can feel that there has been political development and an increase in class consciousness, owing to things such as the participation of workers in government decisions and economic measures.
“We have established electoral procedures; a National Assembly is held every four years; and the National Executive Committee meets every week to look at problems and orient activities.
“We believe that there should be more active participation in the APP enterprises, where participation is often only formal and bureaucratic. Without real participation, those who make decisions are not actually the ones who represent the union organization.”
CAUS: Unions Have Gone off Course
“There has been a titanic struggle in all the unions, not only in CAUS, to establish workers’ control in the APP enterprises, as well as in the mixed and private ones. We’ve achieved some examples of participation, but instead of advances there have been deviations because unions have played the role of administrators more than they’ve defended the workers’ rights. It remains to be seen if we’ll find a way to achieve a greater influence on economic solutions in the country.”
“We’ve promoted a particular type of factory union: one union covers several enterprises, and in each there’s a section group, for example, among mechanics or metal workers. In each union there are different committees, depending on the number of workers. The central leadership is elected for one year in regular general assemblies. The only federation is in Managua, but a departmental committee in Leon represents an embryo of another federation. In the other departments, there are only executive committees.
“The central leadership doesn’t usually determine what guidelines are to be followed by local unions. The local executive committees make those decisions. They decide what must be done and how to do it. We’re against vertical unionism.”
FO: There Has Been No Organized Participation
“We believe that the construction of a new society, above all a socialist society, is achieved through the organized participation of workers, and not by a top few who say to workers, ‘Hold on, stay out of this. We’ll create socialism here.’ We’ve taken a step back. After the revolutionary triumph, popular militias should look after the barrios, handling problems of crime, health and hygiene. What they should have done was provide political education to increase popular power and develop delegates on neighborhood and state levels, eventually forming a national popular council. Arguing that it wanted to save time, the FSLN didn’t do this.
“Workers’ participation in the management of factories is purely theoretical. We’ve made persistent demands for worker control in both the private and state sectors, through speakers’ assemblies and production planning assemblies. But frankly, this is now just a theoretical and partisan issue. We believe that even though the party is the vanguard of the working class, it should never substitute the power of that class, or a dictatorship of the proletariat won’t be possible. The Sandinistas have prevented us from putting this into practice.”
f. On Union Unity and Ideological Pluralism
CUS: Workers and the private sector
“We defend the concept of working class unity, but a unity based on equality. For example, under the CTB in Venezuela, the Social Christian, Marxist-Leninist and Social Democratic tendencies all get along well and defend the interest of the working class. But here, ideological pluralism tends to disappear because the FSLN promotes its own ideology in the schools, using its advantage to discredit other tendencies. What we have here is a partial or restricted pluralism, on unequal terms.
“We were founding members of the CSN, but upon drawing up the state, article 6 declared the CSN’s recognition of the FSLN as sole political leader. This, along with numerous other clauses such as the promotion of militias, restricted union freedom. In particular, the autonomy of the CUS was jeopardized. Gathering all seven federations under the FSLN’s roof didn’t appeal to us and we said so. We weren’t about to promote the militias, although we wouldn’t criticize them either. Even so, our youth coordinator is an instructor in the militias and we have people mobilized in the reserve battalions. Now. We participle with the CTN in the Democratic Coordination Body (CDN) where we have opportunity to talk over common problems, such as the arrest or abuse of one of our members, or not being able to obtain legal status. In the CDN, the workers are united with the private sector, their natural enemy, because we’ve realized that the solution to our social and economic problems has a political origin.”
CTN: The FSLN is the Cause of All Division
[“There are two factions of the CTN because] the FSLN tries to divide those organizations it can’t control. That’s why there are two CONAPROs (Association of Professionals); a true and original one, and another created by the FSLN as a parallel. There are two human rights commissions; one independent, with great international prestige, and the other, an official commission that responds to the government line. There is the true Catholic Church and a popular church. The government tried to do the same with our organization but failed.
“People who don’t align themselves with the FSLN are often accused of ‘divisionism,’ implying that only one ideology can govern this country, that Christianity, social democracy and liberalism shouldn’t even exist; only Marxist-Leninism.
“Legally we’re free and have the right to do political work and organize in the factories, but in practice we don’t. CAUS union members have been stopped from going into one of our factories. We’ve had problems with the gangs, which have stoned us and thrown us in jail, but we haven’t given up.
“This doesn’t mean that we oppose the FSLN. Despite our differences, we’re willing to defend our country’s sovereignty: we don’t want to see a new reactionary power come in. Though we have our differences, we also have affinities, similarities.”
“The CSN was supposed to be an instrument for creating one united confederation, but we weren’t able to overcome our differences. The original CSN project is now nothing but a formality, although it’s still a forum for airing the general problems of the workers’ movement.”
FO: There Are Fundamental Problems
“We favor a revolutionary brand of labor unity with a program allowing for the organizational and political development of the working class, as well as qualitative progress in the direction of superior forms of organization. The CUS and CTN want a purely colonialist unionism. The CSN was founded in an attempt to unite the Nicaraguan labor movement, but once again there was a fundamental political problem because the FSLN’s political line has often come up against the medium or short-term interests of the workers’ movement. The FSLN has a concept of party unionism, confusing party activity with union activity, and this is reflected in its economic program. This has only bureaucratized the CSN, and we’re not interested in this kind of bureaucratic unity.”
g. On the Sandinista government
CUS: The Correct Thing Would Be for the
FSLN to Dialogue With Those Armed by the CIA.
“The government of the FSLN is the child of the Nicaraguan people; they struggled to put it where it is. I didn’t fight as a Sandinista but as an anti-Somocista. We struggled against Somoza, but that didn’t mean we were Sandinistas. Now this legitimate child of the Nicaraguan people is going bad. But we say that, just like a mother, we have to try to change that; we have to influence the child to change for the better. We don’t want to see the FSLN destroyed, but rather corrected. Fifty thousand martyrs died to put the FSLN in power. So it has an obligation to interpret the wishes of the people: Nicaragua first, not an international line. Geopolitical, historical, ethnic and cultural reasons won’t permit a totalitarian regime to survive here. We think that on an international level Canada, for example, has to give us a hand in influencing the Sandinista regime, because the Sandinista government can’t confide in just anyone. The United States can’t influence the Sandinista government because, if it says it’s going to help us, we say it’s coming to kill us.
“When we speak of dialogue, what we’re asking for is dialogue among all Nicaraguans. By Dr. Ramírez Mercado’s own words in the closing speech of the International Labor Union Conference for Peace, we know there are 16,000 men armed by the CIA and provided with “piranha” boats. Now there are going to be elections: there will be agreement with the internal opposition, but what will happen with the people outside? They have their own dynamics, their own leaders and their own strategy. If we go into the elections without taking these people into account, the problem in Nicaragua will continue the same; the war will go on. The elections will probably not satisfy the United States, and it will go on funding the counterrevolution. We should try to talk with the non-Somocista counterrevolutionaries. We would also say [to those in command] that the ones responsible for the killings and genocide are going to be tried by us, and I’m sure the guilty won’t come here to be tried.
CTN: We want the original Program to Be Implemented
“The people of Nicaragua aren’t to blame for this war. Only the FSLN can be held responsible for the difficult situation in Nicaragua because it didn’t carry out the original government program. Here there’s no union freedom, no freedom of expression, a total mixed economy [sic]. There’s persecution, repression even of the Catholic Church and all the sectors that don’t agree with the FSLN.
“The government program had three fundamental points, which were pluralism, international nonalignment and a mixed economy. We can see that the government has openly aligned itself internationally; this is a clear indication that the original government plan hasn’t been implemented. As for political pluralism, we’re prevented from entering the factories and traveling to the departments, and the political parties can’t carry out their campaigns. There’s no political pluralism, much less a mixed economy.”
CST: We Try to Be Independent and Serve As a Counterpart
We try to be independent and work for a united labor movement that can serve as a counterpart to the revolutionary state. By this we mean that the unions have the obligation to play an active role in the leadership of their businesses and the state; to do this, the union has to be familiar with the productive process.
“We don’t receive financial assistance from the government. In situations such as this International Meeting, all we request is help with all the procedures: smoothing out things at the airport and notifying the hotels so they’ll give us the necessary help. The rest we do ourselves, with international help.”
ATC: We’ve Been Critical
“As an organization, we’ve been critical of the revolutionary state because we know that it is our own project. We criticize and reject the acts of some of our state officials. The CGT, CAUS and FO have done this too, but they’re taking another road to arrive at the same objective we’re all fighting for.”
CGTi: The Workers and Peasants Still Aren’t in Power
“At this point, we don’t believe the working class and peasants are in power. Power is held by an organization, an eminently revolutionary organization, which is establishing the basis for revolutionary transformation; but if there’s no participation by the working class and peasantry in this process, there can be no progress in the struggle to construct a new society, a socialist society.
“We stick to our criteria about developing the struggle constructively, with strict criticism but without defending positions that could be used by those that want to set the workers against the Nicaraguan government. At times there’s a lack of consistency, as for example in the case of the Holy Week Vacations: the government first published a communiqué, then an explanation of the communiqué, then another communiqué annulling it all. The workers think they’re making fun of us. We also know that a war economy could be imposed on us, and that the people have to make sacrifices, but we should all be affected. While workers don’t have transportation to get to work, for example, we see state-owned vehicles being driven around on week-ends, wasting gas. All this harms the revolution, because these peoples aren’t Sandinistas or even revolutionaries; they’re opportunists.”
CAUS: This Is Nicaraguan Social Democracy
“[The current government] is social democratic in nature. It’s a very Nicaraguan social democracy, different from Costa Rica’s, where they are giving themselves over to the gringos. The Nicaraguans aren’t, but they are going along with the Europeans. It’s true that there are Sandinistas who are fighting for socialism, but rather than being at the level of government it’s at the level of the FSLN, and even there, they’re a minority.
“The government has been implementing a policy of a mixed economy, and is thus inclined to favor the private sector. It offers very unilateral material incentives favoring the private agroindustrial producers, which are the majority. Its pretext that this is a workers’ and peasants’ revolution just means that these are the people who must bear the brunt. This policy isn’t correct.
“Another economic error is this: the government’s decision in 1980 to end unemployment, lowering it from 30% to 14%, was based on generating employment in the service sector. The resulting high cost of maintaining such a large bureaucracy has forced it to adopt a very hard fiscal policy. The government now receives more in taxes than the Somocista government, but the tax money has gone to sustaining this huge bureaucracy.
“Besides the bureaucracy as such is its inoperative nature. In the Ministry of Labor, for example, the lack of authority means that even the smallest conflict takes four or five months to resolve.”
FO: There’s A Lot of Bureaucracy
“There is a huge problem of bureaucracy that directly contributes to the nonparticipation of workers. Union bureaucratism adds to that of middle and top-level state management. There’s a kind of top-down process in which everyone says the same thing, and there is consensus. This impedes any development. The government has allied itself not for strategic reasons, but because some are petty-bourgeois revolutionaries, and many are populists and demagogues. Believing that they’re acting for the good of the revolution, they serve as agents of reaction, with a defined capitalist ideology.
“[In the midst of all the limitations caused by the war] there’s a basic political problem related to the government’s economic program. Even despite the war, we believe that a pragmatic socialist program would be better than this proselytizing one.
“The government hasn’t been able to solve this [economic] problem [of unemployment], not because it hasn’t wanted to, but because in large measure the natural resources and foreign exchange have been used for state purposes, problems of the war and incentives for the bourgeoisie. All this has impeded the generation of more employment.”
h. On the Union’s Relation to a Political Party
CUS: Just Allied
“We’re social democrats. Philosophically and ideologically, we believe in social democracy, though we don’t pot for any party. We’re friends and allies of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), although we don’t always coincide ideologically. Perhaps we have a different conception of social democracy from the party because it’s is a classicist organization. It has bourgeois members and we’re workers. Perhaps we are slightly more to the left, but there’s not much difference.
“At one time, we could have established a relationship with the WFTU, but we were repressed. In October 1981, the Sandinistas began to portray us as Maoists, Trotskyists and leftist extremists which is a distortion of the truth. Of course, it would be advantageous to be affiliated with the WFTU. However, we don’t believe our worth is defined by whether or not we are members but rather by what we do in practice.”
FO: No Affiliations
“We aren’t affiliated to any international federation because, of the three international political tendencies, two are rightwing and the other is pro-Soviet. We’re neither pro-Soviet nor Pro-Maoist. We’re for the development of a new international Marxist movement in which there will be no need to indicate a pro-Soviet or Maoist preference.”
3. Interpretive Hypotheses 1. The range of positions expressed by the diverse union tendencies is an obvious reflection of ideological and political pluralism. Within the explicit and recognized limitations imposed by the State of Emergency, all these positions demonstrate that a sufficient margin of free expression and organization is currently possible. Criticism of the current situation seems to center on a desire for total freedom and the abrogation of the State of Emergency as soon as military aggression ceases and wherever it is not directly present.
2. The verified numerical data, plus what minority unions claim to have, proves a significant increase in organized labor activity since the revolution’s triumph. The FSLN’s rise to power, attributed even by its opponents to its role as the vanguard in the struggle against Somocismo, gave it a greater margin of influence over the most important labor sectors. This factor, more that inter-union squabbles aimed at gaining more followers, explains the significant growth of the CST and ATC: of course, it’s possible that some Sandinista labor leaders have abused this backing in their struggle for greater numbers and benefits.
3. The workers’ class consciousness appears to have grown at an uneven rate. This doesn’t seem to be a result of important struggles related to labor demands or to direct worker participation in management. It rather appears to arise primarily from the increased emphasis that the different tendencies claim to have placed on union training programs. In the case of the CUS, class consciousness seems to be overridden by alliances with employers. Such alliances are motivated by interests that are more political than labor oriented.
4. The suspension of the right to strike is lamented by all. Their explanation that limitations are necessary to counteract the economic aggression is not unfounded. It is possible that the indefinite prolongation of this suspension could become a political error, as some claim. However, some sectors consider that the criticism leveled against this restriction has been grossly exaggerated to give the impression that all labor and organizational rights are also suspended.
5. Criticism concerning government bureaucracy and inefficiency with respect to labor seems to have some basis. Given the obvious problems of shortages and the existence of a black market, some degree of opportunism and corruption is possible. The effects of these problems place a burden on the working class and slow down production.
6. There’s no basis for concluding that the CST’s affiliation with the WFTU wasn’t an independent decision. Some have claimed that it’s the expression of pro-Soviet alignment. Nevertheless, the fact that the ATC has no international affiliation belies such claims and gives credence to the Sandinista policy of ideological pluralism. The concern over Soviet alignment within Nicaraguan unions appears to be based on a misleading interpretation of East-West relations, not on an objective analysis of the facts.
7. There’s no basis for asserting that the Nicaraguan government is waging a battle against the principle of a mixed economy. However, it’s reasonable to demand more efficient economic planning, while taking into account the limitations imposed on the government by destabilization tactics and economic and military aggression.
8. It would be inaccurate to say that there is a labor movement totally identified with the state or the Sandinistas, however the possibility of reaching such a situation is both dangerous and tempting for the Sandinista labor movement. The mistakes made by certain Sandinista labor leaders are often attributed directly to the government and even to the revolution, as if the Sandinista labor movement were tied lock, stock, and barrel, to the government and the FSLN.
9. No one can deny existence of the war and its economic and labor repercussions. Salary limitations, although granted a certain amount of importance, are subordinated for the time being to the immediate tasks of defense. Numerous unions have taken on these tasks as a priority, although the rightwing union federations don’t share this position. With a conceptually apolitical attitude, they have given priority to the political struggle for a change of government. From the perspective of the working and peasant classes, and in the context of counterrevolutionary aggression, the CUS proposal for political dialogue with 16,000 CIA-armed contras remains incomprehensible.