Uruguayans march against President Lacalle Pou’s pension reform

The union leaders have urged the national government to call for a national dialogue to address the concerns raised by the majority of the Uruguayan working class

March 27, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
On March 23, thousands of Uruguayans took to the streets of Montevideo against the pension reform promoted by the right-wing government of President Luis Lacalle Pou. Photo: Christian Quintero/Prensa Sindical

On Thursday March 23, thousands of Uruguayans took to the streets of the capital Montevideo to protest what unions are terming an anti-worker pension reform, promoted by the right-wing government of President Luis Lacalle Pou.

Workers from diverse sectors, members of various social organizations, and citizens in general marched from the esplanade of the University of the Republic to the Legislative Palace, rejecting the pension reform bill, which raises the retirement age from 60 to 65 years, attacks early retirement benefits under the current social security system, and increases benefits for the private Pension Savings Fund Administrators (AFAP), among other modifications.

“No to this Reform,” “Another Reform is possible,” “Don’t let them steal your future,” “Excess of Oligarchy,” “Plebiscite to guarantee social security for the people,” were among the messages written on placards and banners held by demonstrations during the march.

The march was held as a part of the general strike called for by the Inter-Union Plenary of Workers–National Convention of Workers (PIT–CNT), the Uruguayan union center. According to the PIT-CNT, different sector unions staged strikes for different durations, ranging from 4 to 24 hours, as determined by its members. Banking, education, healthcare, housing, port and transport workers from both public and private sectors joined the strike.

The PIT-CNT condemned that the reform promoted by the Lacalle Pou administration limits workers’ rights, reduces pensions for widows, and shortens terms for collecting them, among other setbacks. The union center stressed that it is not the reform that Uruguyans need, pointing out that the society needs a more comprehensive social security reform, not a regressive pension reform.

The vice president of the PIT-CNT, José Lorenzo López, said that the reform “implies that workers work more to earn less retirement,” while stressing that “another reform is possible.” López added that “the only thing the government is looking for is to finance the social security deficit with the pocket of the workers,” and urged the authorities to seek financing from “capital and not from work.”

The PIT-CNT has also set up tents in front of the Legislative Palace. The union center has warned that the union leaders will remain in the tents until the voting on the bill is suspended. The reform is currently in its final stage. It was approved in the Senate in December 2022. The Chamber of Representatives is scheduled to vote on it in the coming days. The union leaders have urged the legislators to postpone the voting on the bill and have requested the national government to call for a national dialogue to address the concerns raised by the majority of the Uruguayan working class. The union center has also warned that the workers will mobilize en masse against the reform if it is approved.

Enrique Méndez of the Executive Secretariat of the PIT-CNT, in his speech from outside the parliament, stressed that “social security is a conquest of the working class, it is a conquest within the framework of the Salary Councils, it is a fight that the popular sector waged in the face of injustices, in the face of the unfair, unequal conditions of the market economy whose leitmotif, purely and expressly, is to seek indiscriminate profit without thinking about social vulnerabilities. Social security is a welfare state, it is attention to early childhood, it is family allowances, health insurance, unemployment insurance, it is attention to each one of the vulnerabilities, it is a care system, it is express measures in attention to disability, it is a fundamental tool for the fight against gender inequities.”

In this regard, Méndez clarified that “state policies on social security never go backwards. Social security policies must be forward-looking in order to improve conditions for the great majority of the people.” He added that “the International Labor Organization (ILO) has pointed out that in order to carry out a social security reform, a deep social dialogue must be built, which has not existed in Uruguay…The government broke a social pact built for decades in our country. That is why the pension reform, born without popular support, is being rejected today.”

Méndez warned that if the government goes ahead with this reform, without a true social dialogue, then it will have to face the consequences. “The vast majority of workers are not willing to work more to retire with less. They are going to pay for this with votes. We, the workers, are not going to give up, we are betting on a great social dialogue and that this discussion will be postponed. But if you approve it, be very clear that you will face strong opposition from the trade union movement and the entire popular movement,” he said.