Since March, entire sections of El Salvador have been in a
virtual state of civil war. El Salvador has been ruled by a
military dictatorship for decades and the government has
systematically and violently attacked every effort by the
people to improve the condition of their lives. In direct confrontations with government troops and pro-government vigilante groups, dozens of peasants have been killed or wounded. The country is an armed camp.
The two sides in this class struggle are sharply drawn. On
the one side is a right-wing military dictatorship supported
by the Salvadorean ruling class, by U.S. corporations and the
Carter Administration. On the other side are the country's
several million peasants and workers, who are sick and tired
of repression and misery. They are demanding higher wages,
lower rents, the right to own land, and the right to organize
their most basic rights as workers. (Most Salvadorean peasants
are workers, since most of them own little or no land and work
for others harvesting coffee, cotton or sugar.)
In mid-March, when more than a thousand peasants defied
government orders and demonstrated in San Salvador, the capital city, police opened fire on them. The march was organized by two peasant groups directed by the Popular Revolutionary Bloc, a front of revolutionary peasant, student, and labor organizations. During the next week, in several towns, peasants and farmworkers organized by the Bloc confronted government troops and para-military organizations. One of these organizations, ORDEN, was created ten years ago and is paid by the government to operate as a shock force against peasant organizations. During March, these pro-government vigilantes killed 29 peasants, wounded 50, arrested hundreds more, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.
These are the latest in more than a year of mobilizations
against the government by workers and peasants, supported by
students and priests, since the fraudulent presidential election of February 1977. When tens of thousands of people gathered peacefully in the central plaza of San Salvador to protest the fraud, government troops fired on the crowd, killing more than 200 and wounding hundreds, according to eyewitnesses.
Since that massacre, Salvadorean peasants have been mobilizing continually. In the countryside they have been moving to occupy land and to form peasant organizations (which is legally forbidden). In these actions and in confrontations with the Army, they have been supported by local priests and even high officials of the Catholic Church - a stance which has resulted in the assassination or exile of dozens of priests.
Since July 1977, urban and agricultural workers have been
demanding higher minimum wages. In November 1,500 workers occupied the Ministry of Labor for three days and held more than 100 persons hostages, including two cabinet ministers.
Their demand: that the government raise the minimum wage for farmworkers from $2.40 to $4.50 a day (from 301 to 560 an hour). Although their direct action forced the Labor Minister
to "review" wages, the Defense Minister stated that the demand
for higher wages (560 an hour ) was a Communist conspiracy.
The development of movements such as the Popular Revolutionary Bloc shows the growing level of organization among the Salvadorean workers. Moreover, they have links with armed
guerrilla groups which in recent years have staged a number of
actions against local and international businesses and the government.
NEW LEGISLATION AGAINST LABOR
In response to increasing popular organization, the Salvadorean government struck back last November with a new law for "Defense and Guarantee of Public Order," which in effect puts El Salvador under permanent state of siege. The law takes away basic constitutional rights both of individuals and of organizations, legalizes preventive detention, and prohibits "subversive" propaganda (anything critical of the government).
But the Salvadorean ruling class knows that the defiance to
its rule is coming from the workers and peasants, and that
their demands cannot be met under the existing system of dependent capitalism. So the real targets of the new law are
the working class and all labor organizations. The law makes it a crime "to plan or project, incite, or carry out sabotage,
destruction, stoppage, or any other action or omission whose
objective is to alter the normal development of the productive
activities of the country" - that is, anything which disrupts
profit-making. In effect, the law makes it a crime to strike or even to organize unions. It is a club over workers' heads - very much in the same way as H.R. 6869 ("son of S.B.1" now being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives). Even the language is similar!
Clearly, this law violates the human rights of every Salvadorean worker. But the U.S. ambassador, speaking for the
Carter Administration, endorsed it, saying that "every government has the right and the obligation to use all its legal powers to combat terrorism." What he really means is "to
combat the working class in order to keep up profits." These
actions speak much louder than Carter's talk about "human
rights," which led the U.S. to cut aid to the dictatorship for a brief period in 1977. Now the aid is flowing again.
The real meaning of U.S. official support for this law is
that the U.S. bourgeoisie as well as the Salvadorean ruling class can see the class struggle breaking out. They know the historical precedent in El Salvador. The last time there was a serious crisis in international capitalism in the 1930s, conditions in El Salvador were so bad that the peasants, hungry and desperate, evicted from their land, staged a major uprising under the leadership of Farabundo Marti and the
Communist Party. It was brutally crushed after a week by government forces, leaving 15-20,000 peasants dead. But the
revolutionary movement of 1932 remains a living example to
the Salvadorean people.
What makes the situation in El Salvador so explosive today is
that the contradictions are very close to the surface. A population of 4.2 million people is squeezed into 8,000 square miles - meaning 525 persons per square mile, and the population is growing at almost 4 percent a year.
One percent of the population owns 40 percent of the country's usable land; that same 1 percent controls the government and has no intention of redistributing the land. Forty-one percent of the families own no land at all. Meanwhile, 45 percent of the people do not have a decent job. At least 31 percent have no job at all - 50 percent in the countryside. Those who have jobs earn little more than 0.30$ an hour.
In short, El Salvador is a mass of unemployed, landless workers, who have nothing to lose but their misery. That is a
prospect which terrifies U.S. officials in Washington and investors on Wall Street. They realize that the only way they
can preserve "stability" in Central America is through military dictatorships of the kind they have been supporting for years in El Salvador.
INTERNATIONAL ATTACK AGAINST WORKERS
But the U.S. ruling class is concerned not only about keeping stability and making profits in Central America. In addition,
they need places like El Salvador in order to carry out the attack against workers in the U.S. Even though U.S. workers are higher paid than workers in El Salvador, their wages and their legal rights are currently under attack, and are further threatened by the existence of low-wage havens like El Salvador.
A population of unemployed workers whose best hope is a job
earning 301 an hour spells paradise for large U.S. companies.
They see in El Salvador a country where they can move their
shops and pay workers one-eighth of what they would have to pay U.S. workers. When U.S. workers strike and fight for
their rights, the corporations move to places like El Salvador, or they threaten to run away, in order to keep U.S. workers "in line" - that is, to discipline them, force them to accept real wage cuts, harsher working conditions, speed-up, and infringements on their right to organize.
So if things were different for Salvadorean workers, U.S. workers would feel the difference. If Salvadorean workers got the decent wages they are demanding, U.S. companies could not
run away there. If Salvadoreans had decent jobs, they would not be driven to the U.S. out of desperation, seeking any job, no matter how poorly paid; they would come here out of free
choice. If they had full political rights as workers, the giant multinationals would no longer be able to push them around or pit them against U.S. workers.
Thus, there is a real unifying bond between workers in El
Salvador and in the U.S. When the peasants and workers rise up
and take to the streets there, they are striking a blow for the international working class. And when the Salvadorean government uses U.S. advisers and U.S. tanks to keep down Salvadorean workers, it is a blow against U.S. workers. We in the U.S. have an interest in opposing not only runaway shops to El Salvador, but the system which is launching an attack against the working class of the entire capitalist, world.