Organized Labor in Nicaragua: Some Causes of a Regrettable Absence

Members of the Civic Alliance and the UNAB at the moment of presenting the National Coalition. EFE

A brief history of trade unionism in the political opposition in Nicaragua and a call to the new National Coalition

Por Onofre Guevara López  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Over the course of the current political and social crisis—so long and costly already—, a notable the absence has been workers in the anti-dictatorial struggle represented in their own political party and with their unionism, as they were represented 46 years ago in the National Liberation Union, led by Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal.

Now, organized workers show such a political lag that they do not play a part in any opposition activity and even less a vanguard role, as theoretically they have been considered and seen in other political and social processes.

There are numerous reasons why organized workers are absent today in the current civic battles for democratic rights. To explain this phenomenon, there are no speculations, because among the factors there are some that are objective and others of a subjective nature, and some of those factors cannot be changed at will, but, with great will, they can be understood and used in favor of any political struggle against oppression.

The first, and the most decisive, is indisputable according to the most elementary analysis from any ideological conception: in the non-existence of a developed working class, its backwardness corresponds to the dependent underdeveloped capitalism on our country.

Beside its precarious existence as a class, its primary organization —the mutualist association—, emerged in the XIX century, and came predominantly as a form of workers’ organization until the 20s of the 20th century, when barely unions began to emerge in artisan workshops. There were also, for a short time, workers unions, a type of intermediate organization between a trade union and mutualism.

The development of trade unionism began in the 1930s, as a result of the work of the Nicaraguan Workers Party (1931-1939). The unions were born and grew up “without legal status,” that is, they did not have an existence legally recognized by the State until 1945 with the entering into force of the Labor Code, by that time guided by the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (1944).

Even after 1945, the battle for the freedom of union organization was just beginning, and against it continued to be the collusion of the National Guard, civilian authorities and patrons of all the political parties, with their violations to trade-union freedom and defamation against their political and trade union leaders, under the banner of anti-communism.

Much of the trade-union freedom was conquered with the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, when the poor number of existing unions multiplied extraordinarily without state repression, although still with that of many businessmen.

Trade-union freedom began to be frustrated during the political and armed crisis of the 1980’s. The greatest effort for workers association in the actions of unions and trade-union confederations of all tendencies, was to organize the Nicaraguan Trade Union Coordinator.

An important factor for the frustration of this uniting experience, was a phenomenon that is always present in every initial process: the development of the trade-union organization was much more accelerated than the development of the conscience of political and union leaders.

This phenomenon was linked to the petit-bourgeoise character of the majority of the revolutionary leadership, which did not understand the true role and importance of trade unionism in the development of the revolution, since it wanted to make the trade union actions into a political and ideological unity around “Sandinismo.”

Before that, the leaders of independent trade unionism had been marginalized, or better said historical, which had integrated their unions as part of the Sandinista Workers Union Federation (“Central Sandinista de Trabajadores,” July, 1980).

Trade unionism succumbed to the armed defense plans without the majority of trade union leaders and trade union members having matured or achieved a regular development of their political conscience, and little or no previous experience in armed forces of most of them. The death of many workers caused discomfort in many of their families.

After the Contra war, and after the revolution ended with its electoral defeat (1990), the largest trade union movement was submitted to the FSLN, until the present day with a leadership completely tied to the policies of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

That happened, using the leaders that emerged in the 80s, with no experience of independent trade union struggle, who began to act as political agents of “Ortega.” The most disastrous example is offered by Gustavo Porras, who came to Sandinismo from the Somoza youth, and today operates at the same time as the tzar of official trade unionism and president of the Legislative Assembly controlled by the dictators.

A sector of trade unionism, not very independent with respect to certain traditional political parties, which had emerged in the 1950’s, mostly participated without much enthusiasm in the frustrated experience of the Trade Union Coordinator, although it always opposed Sandinismo, even more when it deployed sectarianism and repression against its strikes. Some of their trade unions, very small, remain attached to electioneering parties.

Not few leaders of trade unionism of Sandinista origin followed the bad example of some members of the National Directorate of the FSLN and used the pinata with state or confiscated assets to become businessmen.

Only part of the peasantry is standing up in defense of their lands threatened by the promoters of the interoceanic channel, in defense of national sovereignty and the environment, since 2013. They were the first to challenge dictatorial repression, and fight for public liberties. They have been repressed mercilessly and are a founding participant of the Civic Alliance.

The sectors of the landless peasants, or with very little land, farm workers of haciendas and small farms that were benefited by the agrarian reform (now extinct) were organized in cooperatives, have been confronting political agents of “Orteguismo” trying to take their land, but they do not belong to any of these alliances.

I make this synthesis trying to point out some causes for the non-belligerence of organized workers in the present political and social struggle. But also, because it is a pending task of the two alliances —now also of the National Coalition—, and of all those who fight for unity in action against the dictatorship, those who must become aware of this political phenomenon.

If the alliances do not have the presence of organized workers because of all the aforementioned, they should commit themselves to include the conquest of trade union freedom as part of the demands among all the freedoms now kidnapped by the dictatorship.

That would not be a favor, but a political obligation that has an inseparable relationship with democracy, human rights and social justice. For this social justice, the right to trade union freedom, must be specified in current campaigns as well as freedom of the press and expression, for example.

That would facilitate the incorporation of the working class in the reconstruction of the country, as one of the main productive forces, and if now it is not present with its organizations in the struggle, it is present —with its women and men— as part of the entire Nicaraguan people.