Compañera Febe Elizabeth Velásquez, ¡presente! 30 years later, the struggle continues for worker justice
October 31 marked the 30-year anniversary of the bombing at the National Federation of Salvadoran Workers’ Trade Unions (FENASTRAS) headquarters, where nine unionists were killed, including General Secretary, Febe Elizabeth Velásquez.
Born on August 26, 1962, Febe Elizabeth was someone who recognized the importance of struggle in the creation of a better society, at one point leading a 32 day hunger strike in the textile industry. Considered a “dangerous enemy,” Febe was kidnapped on July 7, 1986 by heavily-armed men in civilian clothes, but was released after five days of physical and psychological torture. After her release, her words were: “I will continue to fight, because it is just and I do not fear for my life.”
Following the bombing of the union headquarters, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) launched a major offensive in November of 1989 named “Febe Elizabeth Lives” that hastened the peace talks between the Salvadoran government and the FMLN that ended the twelve-year civil war.
Thirty years later, amid dizzying attacks against workers from new President Nayib Bukele, unions honored Febe Elizabeth’s memory by reaffirming their commitment to defending working class interests and advancing social justice. Two major labor coalitions, the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS) and the Popular Coalition for a Safe Country without Hunger (CONPHAS Popular) commemorated “Day of the Salvadoran Unionist” with a march to Confía, a for-profit pension administrator, where they expressed their opposition to the partially-privatized pension system by forming a human chain around the building.
Unions called on the new president to respect job stability, commit to protecting the 8-hour work day, increase the minimum wage, support the re-nationalization of the pension system, and end the intimidation of union leaders. They also called for the approval of the General Water Law, a bill presented by the environmental movement that seeks to prevent the commercialization of water.
Salvadoran labor unions have been raising alarms about Bukele’s use of the Ministry of Labor to attack his political opponents, including alternative media. The new Minister of Labor, Rolando Castro, has been carrying out a series of unusual labor inspections against progressive news outlets, including El Salvador’s only left newspaper, the Diario CoLatino. Unions have criticized the inspections as politically-driven efforts to censor the media.
Bukele has also shown a willingness to go after unions with long histories of struggle, including the Social Security Institute Workers’ Union (STISSS). The STISSS is the largest and one of the most powerful unions in El Salvador, having derailed repeated attempts to privatize the public healthcare system from 1999 to 2003. However, they are now facing a crisis after the Minister of Labor helped oust the democratically-elected leadership (Take Action here).
If Bukele’s strategy to weaken some of the country’s strongest unions as well as bottom out the social safety net by cutting subsidies succeeds, it would be a “blow to the poorest,” according to the FSS and CONPHAS.
In honor of Febe Elizabeth and countless other unionists who gave their lives to the struggle liberation, today’s labor movement remains committed to building worker power and winning economic justice.
Compañera Febe Elizabeth, ¡presente! ¡La lucha sigue!