May Day in El Salvador: Workers and FMLN Unite in Struggle

Blogpost

At eight in the morning on May 1, 2011, crowds began to gather at the Salvador del Mundo monument in San Salvador under the already intense sun.  Buses transporting people from other zones of the country—some who had left their homes as early as 3:00 AM—began to arrive.  As more and more people arrived to commemorate International Workers Day, the rally organizers helped the gathered masses into bloques that would lead the march to the Civic Plaza in downtown San Salvador. The rally and march were organized by the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), the Coalition for a Safe Country without Hunger (CONPHAS), the Workers’ Union Confederation of El Salvador (CSTS), the Homeland for Everyone Movement (MPT), and the Social Front for a New Country (FSNP), who invited the general public to turn out en masse for the march during a press conference on April 5. The organizations and coalitions then invited the leadership and bases of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party to accompany the march and rally. The invitations were met with a massive turnout of more than 100,000 workers, unions, campesinos/as, members of women's organizations, students, members of the FMLN, and other social movement groups.  International Workers Day, or May Day, is honored around the world as a commemoration of the four striking unionists who were executed in Chicago in 1886, a day for workers and others to unite and honor the struggles that have won so many benefits throughout history, and as a day to take to the streets and demand greater changes to benefit the working class. The march in San Salvador was led by a banner that read: “To expand the change for the people, we continue forward in the popular struggle.”  The use of the term “seguimos de frente” – or “we continue forward” – also has the dual meaning of “we continue with the Frente” or with the FMLN. According to Francisco García of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), the popular and social movements of El Salvador must not fall prey to the right wing’s current strategy of trying to separate grassroots movements from the FMLN.  “The FMLN is the only party that works in favor of the working class, of the great majority of Salvadorans,” said García as he marched behind the lead banner at the head of the march. The leading bloque of thousands of unionists represented workers from all sectors: government, municipal, autonomous public institutes, the private sector, and the informal sector.  Hundreds of workers from the Social Security Workers’ Union (STISSS) marched alongside drum crews and dancers. Over the sound system, a STISSS unionist told her fellow workers that this was a day to commemorate the Chicago martyrs, “but martyrs are not for crying over, they are for imitating.” She called on all workers to continue in the struggle for workers’ rights, reminding the crowds that the enemies of El Salvador’s working class have not changed. The primary demands of the marchers were for businesses to stop tax evasion and start paying taxes, for the Funes Administration to create a new, progressive tax structure and for ANEP, the Salvadoran National Business Association, to raise the minimum wage to equal the public sector minimum wage, which President Funes recently raised to $300 per month.  Other social movement groups carried their demands on banners, including: a law to ban metallic mining in El Salvador, the need for the government to address the high cost of living which has recently spiked as gas prices have reached almost $5 a gallon in some parts of the country, for corrupt judges to be removed from office, and to oppose the ratification of a pending free-trade agreement with the European Union (known as an Association Agreement—or AdA). Tens of thousands of base members of the FMLN followed the social movement organizations. Elected officials like Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and President of the Legislative Assembly Sigfrido Reyes along with party leaders marched with the base of the party, creating a sea of red that accompanied the organized workers,campesino/as, students, and communities. As they reached the Civic Plaza, marchers gathered to enjoy historic music celebrating the Salvadoran struggle along with some newer revolutionary anthems by local rock groups. The march was so massive that as the first people were arriving at the Plaza, the end of the march was still leaving from the starting point. Finally, representatives of the social movement took the stage alongside Sanchez Cerén FMLN Secretary General Medardo González and the rally began with a full minute of applause as balloons were released into the air in commemoration of the Chicago martyrs. Francisco García of the Union Front spoke on behalf of the workers, reaffirming that their strategy must be one of class struggle, focusing on the wealthy oligarchy and business class as the true targets. He said that the oligarchy is represented by ANEP and the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES), “their so-called ‘think tank,’ which actually just provides the justification for their neoliberal [economic] measures.” García pointed to past positions of ANEP and FUSADES to show they were the enemy of workers, having recommended the economic measures that did away with well-paid work in El Salvador, destroyed the agricultural sector and driven the speculation that increases the cost of basic goods.  He accused ANEP and FUSADES of driving a partisan political agenda so they could return to the days when they were given special privileges by the government, including not having to report property holdings for tax purposes.  He called for a fiscal reform “in which whoever earns more pays more and whoever earns less pays less” and for workers and the greater social movement to unite with the FMLN to continue fighting for systemic change. After García, Sanchez Cerén spoke on behalf of the FMLN, reiterating the party’s commitment to serve as the political movement of the working class and acknowledged some of administration’s achievements – such as public sector workers’ raises, measures to lower the cost of living, and new agricultural credits. He recognized, however, that this isn’t nearly enough. Sanchez Cerén spoke about this moment as a transition in a longer process of democratization: “The true transformations are just starting and in this moment of transition it is time to create and cultivate the bases of a new, truly democratic society of a new generation that enjoys equality of conditions and underpin the foundations of change.” The historic leader of the FMLN and Vice President called for a change from the neoliberal economic model to one that responds to the workers’ demands, stating, “In the Government of Change, we are committed to your labor rights and to a more dignified and humane social policy,” and proclaimed that, “This May 1st, we make your demands as workers our demands.”

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