Uruguayan workers protest the economic crisis and high cost of living

Thousands of Uruguayans took part in a partial national strike called for by the PIT-CNT and mobilized against the right-wing national government, its austerity policies, rising hunger, high cost of living, privatization of public companies, among other issues

July 11, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Thousands of Uruguayans mobilized against President Luis Lacalle Pou’s neoliberal policies in the capital Montevideo on July 7. Photo: PIT-CNT/Twitter

On July 7, thousands of Uruguayan workers went on a 4-hour national strike (from 9 am to 1 pm local time) and mobilized in different parts of the country against the neoliberal economic policies of the right-wing government of President Luis Lacalle Pou.

In the capital Montevideo, workers from different sectors, teachers and students held a massive march from the Independence Plaza to the Legislative Palace in rejection of the national government’s policies that generate inequities in the country and affect the vast majority of the working class.

The partial strike and mobilizations were called for by the Inter-Union Plenary of Workers – National Convention of Workers (PIT-CNT), the Uruguayan union center, under the banner of “for our rights and against the regressive adjustment, against hunger and high cost of living, for decent and quality work, for a budget for the great majority, in defense of collective bargaining, in defense of public companies and their social roles, for an integral social security.” Those  sectors are demanding that the government increase the basic salaries and reduce the prices of basic food products to help hundreds of thousands of Uruguayans survive the rampant inflation.

Through a thread on Twitter, the PIT-CNT criticized that “the economic policy of the government coalition responds solely to the interests of the ruling classes,” pointing out that “more than 100,000 people are eating in community canteens and soup kitchens” and that “the situation of people living on the streets is increasing with a painful rise in (the number of) children and adolescents.”

The union center stressed that it would “defend the interests of the working class that lives on their salary,” saying that “the people cannot continue to lose income while retirements and pensions serve ever less as a result of the high cost of living.” It also stated that “the government does not prioritize the vast majority.”

The trade union center requested “budget for housing, health, infrastructure, education.” It demanded that the changes to the Collective Bargaining Law be reviewed, which it noted “reflects a reduction in workers rights” and “favors the employer.” It also urged for “a more universal, fairer, more humane social security reform.” Additionally, it demanded an end to privatization of public companies, warning that they would “take to the streets in their defense.”

The vice-president of the PIT-CNT, José Lorenzo López, in his speech before the gathered workers, condemned that “despite the economic gains in the country with the increase in exports and the price of raw materials, the gap between the richest sector and the vast majority has deepened.”

Lorenzo López pointed out that “the economic activity grows by leaps and bounds, deposits in national banks grow by billions of dollars, deposits by Uruguayans abroad grow by more than 9 billion dollars, the gross domestic product grows, but the share of the wage bill in relation to the product falls substantially.” He criticized that “while the wealth of those who have the most increases, while the economy recovers and exceeds pre-pandemic values, while the income of the DGI grows, while the fiscal deficit is reduced, the poverty indicators do not reflect this growth.”

He added that “of the 100,000 Uruguayans who fell into poverty in 2020, only 33,000 managed to get out of it in 2021 and there are 67,000 more people living below the poverty line as compared to 2019,” and denounced that “this is what the government’s policy is about, to enrich the who have the most at the expense of the great majority of the population of our country.”

Enrique Méndez, member of the Federation of Dairy Industry Workers (FTIL), stressed that “in Uruguay we are in crisis, but it is a crisis of inequality,” adding that “inflation is eating up wages, pensions, and without a doubt, every worker has been facing greater difficulties every day to make ends meet.”

Méndez said that the Urgent Consideration Law (LUC) “did not solve a single problem, it has shown that it is a real failure and that 50% of the people were right when they said that it had to be annulled,” referencing to the citizens who voted against the legislation when it was submitted to a referendum in March.

Uruguay’s working class, which enjoyed expansion of its rights and remunerations during the 15-year rule of the former left-wing government of Frente Ampilio, has been feeling increasingly attacked under the current administration. However, the workers are determined to fight in defense of their rights, and have been organizing with greater strength and unity. Since the beginning of last month, Uruguayans have been repeatedly taking to the streets to protest the anti-people policies of the Lacalle Pou administration.

On June 9, the workers associated with the Union of Metal Workers and Allied Branches (UNTMRA) went on strike demanding an increase in their salary and rejecting closure of companies and eventual loss of job and homelessness of fellow workers. On June 15, educators’ unions held a march rejecting budget cuts in the public education sectors, demanding comprehensive education policies and an end to persecution of organized workers.

On June 16, the Confederation of Organizations of State Officials (COFE) organized a 24-hour strike demanding the recovery of salaries of public sector officials that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same day, members of the Federation of Public Health Officials (FFSP), the State Health Services Administration (ASSE) and the Ministry of Public Health also went on a strike, demanding recovery of their lost salaries, and greater budget for the public healthcare sector to employ more health workers, improve working conditions and the quality of care provided to patients.

On June 21, the fuel sector workers held a national strike against the privatization of the oil industry. On June 22, the Single Union of Telecommunications (SUTEL) organized a national strike in rejection of the announcement made by the government regarding the authorization given to five private firms to sell Internet services. On June 29, the Single National Union of Construction and Annexes (SUNCA) carried out a partial general strike in defense of the collective bargaining law and their jobs at risk due to privatization of the construction company.