Share This

Bookmark and Share


Our Word is Our Weapon, if you have anything you would like us to publish please send us an email @


The Historical Significance of the Cochabamba Factory Workers' Strike

If neoliberalism left something intact, it was the factory workers movement

Oscar Olivera F.

Narco News

Cochabamba, Bolivia -

We write these lines from a very important place for us as Cochabamba factory workers, an ancient building, located in the very heart of Cochabamba. This building is the patrimony of our dear old workers, who in 1960 bought it with their collective social security funds, but was in other moments, a hotel where the Cochabambino oligarchs danced, entertained themselves and spent the night.

Fifty years ago, this building was converted into a space where not only important men and women—social justice fighters—spoke their minds, but also a place in which we—the people of the city and the countryside—established a space of autonomy, deliberation, dignity and decision-making and collective action in order to recuperate our VOICE and our ability to become indignant and decide for ourselves.

This building was testimony to the plans formed by Ché who, according to what our few remaining elder communist friends tell us, came to organize a guerilla around 1966.

This building then became the site of incarceration and suffering: offices converted into cells where dozens of social justice fighters were tortured, raped and humiliated…we can still hear the cry of our brothers and sisters who tell us of what happened during the dictatorships when the paramilitaries took over this building and forbid unions. In other words, this building is our heir. It holds the struggles and collective, horizontal, joyous and dignified actions of the men and women of this valley.

It is here, during this cold June and July, where a handful of us factory workers are now days into a hunger strike. There are younger leaders here, like Mario Quilo and Mario Céspedez; there are former noble and accomplished leaders like Max Fuentes, José Santa Cruz and José Chalar; there are Factory Worker Confederation leaders like Hernán Vásquez, Jaime Siñani and Rene Albino, who came from La Paz to our tradition of supporting their brothers and sisters in Manaco, a shoe factory and subsidiary of the Czech transnational Bata. We are here, supporting the struggle for the right to work and life of Alejandro Saravia, a 56 year-old worker who has spent 28 of those under the intense discipline demanded by capital in this 700 person factory.

A simple shoemaker, Alejandro has rural ties and has a serious but sweet wife named Petrona. They have a few children, the oldest being a source of great worry because at 18 years old, he, César, is starting his mandatory military service.

These kinds of reflexions come about during this type of gathering: the seemingly mundane worries of Alejandro, a man who wakes up at 5am because his routine of waking up at dawn to arrive at the factory has created an internal clock, become worries for us all.

These six days of hunger strike have allowed those of us who work or worked in Manaco, to relive stories full of dignity, solidarity and reciprocity, of anguish and joy, of our struggles and encounters during the last 30 years. We remember our brothers’ and sisters’ nicknames, and we remember also the persecution—living in clandestinity, assasinations of our comrades in struggle. As Max here says: Let these words be a product of reliving that historical memory which we find marvelously fresh and intact thanks to this strike creating that marvel and blessing.

If neoliberalism left something intact, it was the factory worker movement, the industrial workers of the cities who, despite all the difficulties of this 25 year of struggle, have managed to maintain our culture and values, tucked inside our hearts and veins and houses and factories and union headquarters.

The miners movement is living out a stage of organic cultural and ideological restructuring; the construction workers movement has been boxed-in by city government; the truckers are all but wiped out, not to mention the sad state of the rail workers. The proletariat continues to resist being totally destroyed: the water, gas, electricity and telephone workers are trying to restructure themselves, but only along trade lines.

Meanwhile, the factory workers movement, almost 100% subject to the whims and capital of large transnationals such as Vitro, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Bata, Unilever and others have configured a common platform everywhere with a young workforce, still scared and ignorant of their rights and in a neoliberal culture dreadfully drowning in individualism and irreverance. In other words, workers’ historical memory of has been eliminated. Our brothers and sisters DO NOT KNOW who they are. One again, the have lost their identity.

The case of Manaco is the clearest example of this situation and this struggle is one that is being lived out today in many different factories. The mobilization of the unions that are rising up today is thanks to a mixture of a few of us older workers who are left in the factories and who have had the luck to have resisted bribes from above, attacks from government, and offers for government posts. We have been left standing thanks to the support of our comrades and the union movement that still lives on today. But we are also here thanks to those young workers who stand strong, though not immune to management’s arrogance, or to the over-exploitation. They live in the belly of the beast and many times are left totally unprotected by union leadership—like Manaco—who have become unconditional servants of the bosses. The workers landscape is one marked by the inexistance of factories with large concentrations of workers, and the emergence of small workshops with only 20-60 workers, constructed to destroy workers’ power. This is why it is difficult for us of the Federation of Factory Workers of Cochabamba to reconstitute our movement as an organized body of brothers and sisters.

Because of this, our strike is made up of former leadership and retired workers: we are trying to recuperate this culture of solidarity, reciprocity, respect, and of seeing each other as equals, with our totality and unity as the only means of action and struggle to advance and triumph. The young factory workers can’t struggle alone or advance in the recuperation of their rights. We all have to be here to accomplish it, and we the old workers can’t see our dreams as creators of a more just society realized without these principals being a part of our goal.

The workers of yesterday and today should feel proud of our identity of being the producers of the material goods that we and others need to live, proud that we are those use the strength of our arms and our minds and our hearts to transform mother earth’s, Pachamama’s, gifts into well-being.

We have managed to resist. We have managed to subsist as an organized body. We have been able to salvage some of our rights, and we have passed into a long and dark tunnel in these years of invisibility and now we are disposed to making ourselves visible again by showing our indignation for our working conditions.

We are also doing this because of the indifference of our current government, which for more than two years has ignored us. In spite of the fact that we workers struggled to put this government where it is today, our leaders have forgotten about us. We have been struggling in the streets since April for BREAD, WORK and HOUSING because they don’t listen to us, they don’t see us, they don’t feel us, because they no longer live like us, the simple working people who live from their own work and not others’ work.

We ought to feel proud because with our struggle, we are pushing for the so-called “process of change” to be not just a slogan but also a reality. The only way to change things, to change our working conditions and our lives is through unity, organization, mobilization, the recuperation of our memory, of our values. We must remember our fathers and grandfathers, our mothers and grandmothers, our older brothers and sisters and we must ask them face to face if what we are doing today is OK and what else we are missing in order for their inheritance to be preserved and augmented, so that the well-being of our sons and grandsons, and all of dignified life, forever preserved.

Hence: this hunger strike—a prolongation of the constant and permanent hunger that thousands of working families in Cochabamba and Bolivia feel everyday. It’s not just a demand that Alejandro be given back his source of work, but also that dignity be returned to our country’s factories where capital tries to reign and where fears seems to be an unfortunate hereditary. We therefore say ENOUGH, as we have said since 2000 through the various struggles for our emancipation as men, women, girls and boys, elders, and all the children of this earth.
Cochabamba June/July 2008

* Oscar Olivera has been a worker at the Manaco factory and part of the Cochabamba factory workers leadership for 30 years.

No comments: