70,000 March against Proposed Privatization Law on May Day
Over 70,000 workers, students, campesinos and campesinas, community organizations, and members of the left Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN, party took to the streets of San Salvador to march for International Workers Day, or May Day. Marching in blocks representing individual unions, campesino organizations and other sectors of the Salvadoran left, participants carried huge banners with messages like: "No More ARENA Privatizations in the Country, Not in Social Security, Not in the Geothermic Energy Company, and No Public Partnerships with Thieves!" This message echoed one of the primary demands of the labor movement – that the Legislative Assembly reject the proposed Public-Private Partnership law, introduced earlier this year by the Funes Administration.
The Public-Private Partnership Law would create the legal framework to concede public services and public works to national and transnational private corporations. According to economist Evelyn Julia Martínez who has been studying the proposed law, the US government - through its bilateral Partnership for Growth program with El Salvador - and the Salvadoran private business sector are pushing for the law's approval.
As the masses of marchers arrived in downtown San Salvador, they rallied in the Civic Plaza as rock bands played new renditions of traditional revolutionary music and university groups performed street theater. Union leaders then led the crowd in one minute of applause to commemorate the Chicago martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle for an eight-hour workday in May 1886. Following the applause Francisco García, Secretary General of the Public Pension Workers' Union (SITINPEP), addressed the crowd on behalf of the organized workers. He called for unity within the social movement to push forward greater changes in the country and to stop the Public-Private Partnership Law. In addition to the "resounding no" to the proposed law, he announced the workers' demands, including:
- More progressive tax reforms and policies to fight tax evasion.
- Raise the private sector minimum wage to match the $300/month public sector minimum wage.
- No to mining and new hydroelectric dams.
- Freedom to unionize.
- Join and expand El Salvador's participation in the alternative regional initiatives of the Americas, particularly the solidarity trade block, ALBA - the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
- Maintain and expand government social programs in education, healthcare, and agriculture.
- Reject the intervention of the US government in violation of the country's sovereignty and self-determination.
García went on to say, "We have advanced in some changes but not far enough. We are constructing a process and I want to recognize the only political tool on the left that supports the people of this country, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, and call on them to accompany us in our struggle for structural changes." After García spoke, the FMLN Secretary General Medardo González addressed the crowd. He responded directly to many of the demands and issues that García had mentioned and publicly declared that the FMLN is in complete opposition to the Public-Private Partnership Law and will vote against it in the Legislature. González went on to say: "I want to close ranks with Francisco and with the struggles of all workers to demand their rights. We must have the political clarity to bring people together and assure that at the next elections there is a popular victory for the FMLN so we can continue together advancing the changes in favor of our country's workers." Click here to see more May Day photos.