September 25, 2007

But by this time the once vigorous mass movement had lost its autonomy. The earlier alliances made by the various popular leaders left the masses defenseless when the impact of the world capitalist crisis on Panama's economy forced the state to undo the progress of earlier years. In January 1977 the government passed an amendment to the 1972 Labor Code, titled Ley 95.4' This law took away or seriously diminished all the important benefits and guarantees labor had won in 1972. It lengthened from two to five years the period during which new workers could be arbitrari- ly dismissed, and left them no effective legal redress. It also required compliance with cumbersome grievance procedures before unions could take other action-such as a strike or boycott-against offending employers. Finally, it imposed a two-year moratorium on wage increases, the formation of new unions and the pursuit of new collec- tive bargaining agreements, and allowed previously negotiated wage increases to be deferred if a business could claim economic hardship. Ley 95 was accompanied by a new round of economic concessions designed to relieve the stress of the economic crisis on the bourgeoisie. Regressive tax breaks lessened further the business sector's contribution to the national budget, and in turn required compensating increases in revenues extracted from the wage sector through taxes on per- sonal income, consumption and use of public services. Wages were even further reduced by increases allowed in the price of essential con- sumer goods such as beef. Finally, the govern- ment poured lye on a smarting wound by shifting expenditures away from social ser- vices to already well-endowed infrastructural projects serving the reproductive needs of private capital."4 The state became simply another conduit for capital accumulation by transnational finance and the export-oriented bourgeoisie. The combined ravages of unemployment, inflation and drop in real wages, have stripped the average working class family of any comforts or security. In many homes meals are becoming irregular; in some meat is no longer eaten. Hardship is worst among peasants and ur- ban workers, but it has also touched the lives of the urban middle class. These sectors- of- fice workers, professionals, technicians and bureaucrats-are seeing their hopes of up- ward mobility frustrated by persistent stagna- tion and the economy's incapacity to absorb the growing number of high school and col- lege graduates entering the labor force each year. Meanwhile, increases in the cost of im- ported goods, such as cars, gasoline or ap- pliances, have placed beyond reach many of the amenities middle class families were just beginning to enjoy. These setbacks have heightened their long ambivalence toward the regime. They still view the government's pro- gram as their best alternative, but they have become more receptive to criticism of the government coming from petit-bourgeois op- position groups or oligarchic formations such as the newly-formed National Opposition Front (FRENO). UNREST CONTAINED BY ACQUIESCENT LEADERSHIP This is not the case among workers. Grow- ing hardship has bred popular discontent directed straight at the government's regressive policies and its increasing iden- tification with the bourgeoisie. No amount of government or business propaganda-and millions have been spent - has dispelled this. Their mounting restlessness was, however, contained for a long time by the reformist leadership's efforts to maintain peace within the student and labor movements until the treaties were signed. This much was admitted by Angel Gomez, Secretary General of the National Confederation of Workers and a leading member of the Partido del Pueblo: "We were careful not to sharpen the struggle 30SeptlOct 1979 at home because the principal objective in our program was passage of the treaties.""' These economic blows have been accom- panied by the steady erosion of what little political influence labor still held within the government. Political appointees sympathetic to labor have been either coopted entirely or replaced by officials who squarely identify with new government policies. Union leaders who once felt they were part of the "process" have ceased to be consulted about policy, cabinet appointments or the implementa- tion of laws affecting their members' intersts. Sometimes they are not even informed. Two reasons account for the acquiescent conduct of the union leadership. The first is that many of the popular leaders saw themselves as part of the reformist process identified with the state, and accepted the legitimacy of that system. They saw the cur- rent reversal as a temporary setback after which the process would continue along the same path. This perception made them believe they could maintain enough influence within the government to eventually recover the benefits labor had just lost. Even today they invest their hopes for social transforma- tion on the expansion of the state sector, alliances with the liberal bourgeoisie, a share in the administration of the state and gradual reforms. They would sooner rely on their leverage within such a framework than on the masses' readiness to defend their independent interests. The second reason, applying primarily to members of the Partido del Pueblo, was the Party's adherence to a two-stage thesis of revolution which, in the case of Panama, posed a dichotomy between the struggle for sovereignty over the Canal and class struggle. It was deemed necessary, in this view, to subordinate workers' demands to the maintenance of the class alliances required to achieve sovereignty.46 SO MUCH FOR CLASS ALLIANCES The treaties were finally ratified in April 1978. Their final, mutilated contents amounted to far less than what the govern- ment had originally promised. Government spokesmen explained that this was the best deal Panama could get, but the masses were clearly disappointed, especially after they realized that the government had no intention of fulfilling its earlier pledge to use the Canal for social benefit. Instead, the lands slated for recovery were already being carved up among the various fractions of transnational finance and the export-oriented bourgeoisie. It soon became evident also that the onerous condi- tions workers had endured during the preceding three years would remain un- changed, if not worsen, unless the workers challenged these themselves. This realization was confirmed by the com- position of the cabinet formed by the new ad- ministration that took office in October 1978, when pursuant to the 1972 constitution Torri- jos relinquished many of his powers. Almost all of the posts related to economic policy- Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Housing, Trade, the lot -were taken by representatives Workers go back to the streets to defend their interests. Banner says, "A Minister who doesn't listen to the workers is a Minister who falls. " 31NACLA Report of the bourgeoisie, displacing the petit- bourgeois technocrats who had figured so prominently a few months earlier. The new president, Aristedes Royo, made. clear in his early speeches that the government would give the priority to the special needs of the private sector. OYDEN WHO? As far as labor was concerned, the govern- ment showed its regard by not even consulting union leaders about who would head the ministry most immediately affecting their in- terests. Oyden Ortega, the new Minister of Labor, was a virtual stranger to the union leadership. Union leaders responded to these successive setbacks with fitting outrage. They complain- ed that the government had betrayed the masses, asking for their sacrifice and abnega- tion only to give the fruits of these efforts to the bourgeoisie. At a conference of the Con- federation of Workers of the Republic of Panama (CTRP), Secretary General Phillip Butcher declared, "In 1972 there was more unity between the government and workers because the government had not yet esta- blished good relations with the capitalist class. So it needed support from the working class to stay in power. The bosses are now on good terms with the government and have im- posed their terms on the workers."' 4 Fortunately, the masses had always kept a healthy skepticism toward the government's policies. Their support was quite effusive at times, but as soon as benefits were taken away, disaffection seeped in. By October 1978, workers had endured so many blows and disappointments, disaffection swelled beyond restraint. Their long acquiescence turned to militance. In discussions of a joint labor strategy to repeal Ley 95 held in late 1978 this militance came into heated conflict with the concilia- tionist approach still persisting among many labor leaders. The two-year moratorium on wage increases, collective bargaining and the formation of new unions imposed in 1977 was set to expire in January 1979. The strategy sessions were held to determine what could be done to: 1) assure that these provisions would not be renewed, as the bourgeoisie was demanding, and 2) recover the rights won in the 1972 Labor Code that would still be denied by Ley 95 after January. Some of the more militant unions urged a concerted national campaign aimed at the defeat of Ley 95. They argued that this was the only way labor could marshall the strength required to meet the private sector head on. The reformist union leaders, however, saw this approach as a dangerous challenge to government policy and, afraid of what could happen, derailed it. As an alter- native they settled on a strategy of raising the issue of Ley 95 case by case, incorporating demands for the restoration of the rights denied by this law into each union's respective negotiations. This of course means that the labor movement is fragmented at a time when the bourgeoisie and the government possess a coherent labor policy.4 8 WORKERS GO TO THE STREETS Despite the ambivalence and timidity of some leaders there has been a spate of strikes since last October. Among the major ones, two are worth mentioning. The first was a na- tionwide strike by public and private school teachers, demanding higher wages and in- creased participation in educational reforms. The strike lasted over a month and mobilized thousands of people who until then had re- mained on the sidelines. Nevertheless it failed to win its demands because of the middle class leadership's reluctance to form alliances with other labor groups and students, and impart a more political character to the strike. 4 9 The second important strike occurred in the months of December and January and in- volved one of the country's most militant in- dependent unions, the Union of Construction Workers (SUNTRACS), in a long and bitter struggle against an oil refining company, Tellepsen & Co. The union demanded that the company pay $80,000 in unlawfully withheld wages, reinstate several workers who had been arbitrarily fired and abide by prior collective bargaining agreements that had been established with government sanction. Tellepsen & Co. refused. Its refusal con- stituted a clear violation of the government's own guidelines but the government conven- iently chose to overlook this fact and interven- ed with troops on behalf of the company. The government's harsh tactics were ob- viously intended as a warning to other unions 32SeptlOct 1979 which had threatened to go on strike this year unless minimal demands were met. The state's intervention succeeded in breaking the strike but it also reminded workers that they could no longer expect the government to provide protection or even serve as an impar- tial adjudicator in labor-capital disputes. 5 0 The stretch from January of this year to now is probably the most tumultuous period Panama has experienced since 1967, the year before the coup that put Torrijos in power. Strikes, riots, protests of one kind or another have become almost a daily occurrence, bely- ing government efforts to project abroad an image of stability. The mounting restlessness has further strained the new government's vaunted ability to maintain order without recourse to violence. It became glaring last June, when the social discontent that had been brewing all these months burst anew. On Monday, June 11, 1979, the bus and taxi drivers of Panama City went on an illegal strike to protest recent increases in the price of gasoline. The strike, which received broad popular support, snarled traffic throughout the city and disrupted business and govern- ment activities. The drivers' bold action, in defiance of government labor regulations, is another sign that rank and file members are rejecting submissive leadership. The government reacted to the strike violently, as it had to others this year. This time it backfired. The strike spread within hours after news of the government crack- down got around. By dawn of the second day bus and taxi drivers in the Atlantic city of Colon, the second largest, had also gone on strike. High school students soon joined in solidarity and by noon over 10,000 people, drawn from the workers and unemployed of this hard pressed city, were out in the streets. The strike snowballed into a generalized protest against economic conditions and government policies- price increases, chronic unemployment, frozen wages, regressive taxes, oppressive legislation, police harass- ment and repression. Traffic stopped, business and government offices closed, the entire city was paralyzed. Before the day end- ed, several important government offices lay shattered and three protesters had been killed by National Guardsmen." 5 The fury and amazing spread of these events reveals the depth of popular discon- tent. The masses are tired of waiting for the Militant construction workers' strike against an oil refining company and Ley 95 in December 1978, 33NACLA Report government to answer their grievances. The appeal for "national unity" no longer inspires abnegation. June's protests, latest in a series of mounting demonstrations, marks a resurg- ence of the mass movement. It is regaining its strength and initiative, though it still lacks organization, direction and an independent alternative. CONCLUSION 1. Conflict Between the Empire and the Nation The Carter-Torrijos treaties decolonize the Canal Zone in so far as they recognize legal Panamanian sovereignty over its territory; neverthless, they do not resolve the historical contradictions between Panama and the United States. Not only does the United States retain ef- fective control over the administration of the Canal, but it reserves the "right" to build a new sea level canal in the future which would continue, as the present one, to operate on a "non-commercial" basis. The implication of this reality has serious economic consequences for all sectors of Panamanian society, to the extent that neither the working class nor the domestic bourgeoisie will be able to benefit from the economic enterprises of the transit route. The Neutrality Treaty, in conjunction with Article 4 of the Canal Treaty, legalizes the U.S. military presence in Panama, subor- dinating Panama's National Guard to the U.S. military. The United States further re- tains the "right" to intervene unilaterally in Panama any time before or after the year 2000, guaranteeing access to the waterway. After 133 years of North American presence (1846-1979) and 33 military interventions in Panama, U.S. imperialism remains reluctant to give up the prerogative of colonialist-type military intervention. The consequences for organizing labor are especially disturbing, since even a strike against Canal authorities, seen by the U.S. as obstructing access to the waterway, may prompt such intervention. The Panama Canal treaty provides that on October 1, 1979, some 55% of the Canal Zone reverts to Panama. However, as part of the U.S. constitutional process, any properties to which the United States may have claims must be dispensed with by Congressional ap- proval. Articles of Implementation to the treaties constitute the legal instrument for such approval before the transfer of jurisdic- tion can occur. Adversaries of the Carter Ad- ministration, who until the bitter end op- posed the Carter-Torrijos treaties in Con- gress, are now withholding approval of these Articles, hoping to further frustrate Carter's electoral chances by demanding unreasonable economic and political concessions from Panama. As this report goes to press, the U.S. Congress has yet to approve the Articles of Implementation. Torrijos has promised to lead the masses into the Canal Zone with or without these articles. The popular masses, on the other hand, promise to be there on Oc- tober 1 with or without Torrijos. 2. Limits of Torrijos' Reformist Populist Project After ten years, Torrijos has managed to secure, through his populist alliances, the modernization of the Panamanian economy. Both the transnational bourgeoisie and some elements within the Panamanian industrial sector have benefitted from this process of ac- cumulation. But the limited redistribution of income and political participation that was gained by the workers, peasants and middle sectors, in return for their support of the regime, are being lost as the economic crisis and the imperialist treaties compel a new cor- relation of forces. The rural classes, especially those who benefitted from the agrarian modernization projects, have suffered economic reverses as world sugar prices steadily declined and the regime halted the incorporation of more "asentados" to the Asentamientos Campesinos and small rural producers to the Juntas Agrarias. The petit bourgeoisie, especially those pro- fessionals and technicians who were rapidly absorbed into the state bureaucracy, has ex- perienced serious employment problems and "a decline in real income. The proletariat has been the hardest hit. As "a result of the economic crisis workers have had to endure high levels of unemployment, inflation and repression, This has led to a relative resumption of their independence "from the Torrijos regime. Their right to col- lective bargaining, job security and other benefits secured by the 1972 Labor Code have been eroded by Decree Law 95, the repressive amendment to that Code. All this has resulted 34Sept/Oct 1979 in their disaffection from the regime. Since 1978, after workers' organizations supported the National Unity necessary for the approval of the Carter-Torrijos treaties in Panama, the workers have used the strike consistently to regain lost benefits and union rights. For this they have been severely repressed. 3. The Class Struggle The economic crisis, the Canal negotiations and their economic and political conse- quences provide a new battleground. The decomposition of Torrijos' populist alliance, whose life was briefly extended by his call for National Unity (a unity of opposites, ex- ploiters and exploited), now ushers in the raw confrontation of classes. As stipulated in the 1972 Constitution, and under pressure from the oligarchy's collabora- tion with Carter's "human rights" call for "democratization and stabilization", Torrijos has relinquished some executive powers. The emergence of President Aristides Royo and the launching of a government party, the Par- tido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD), in October 1978, constitute a transitional ad- ministration toward civilian rule. While the PRD sponsors the project of transnational finance capital, two other major political par- ties have emerged as potential contenders in the 1980 elections: Frente Amplio Popular (FRAMPO) and Frente Nacional de Oposi- cion (FRENO). The FRAMPO, as the first mid- dle class party in Panama's history, institu- tionalizes the petit bourgeoisie's aspirations of leading the struggle of the majority and, tac- tically, supports the continuation of the populist "process" its leaders administered under Torrijos; however, it lacks a viable economic alternative to Panama's dependent capitalist development.64 The FRENO, on the other hand, emerges aggressively to repre- sent the old oligarchy's interests in an economic project favoring domestic-based capitals. Thus, the interbourgeois contest of forces appears in the contradiction PRD vs. FRENO, with FRAMPO in the margins seek- ing an administrative, mediating role. The electoral success of either bourgeois fraction will depend on its ability to rally the exploited to its own sacrificial stone. The workers and the masses, still with a low level of class consciousness or organization and lacking a coherent vanguard, are courted 35 by the contending fractions of the bour- geoisie. Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie's own present division is a timely opportunity for the masses to raise their banners of economic and democratic rights. Three tasks face the popular masses, their organizations and the Left: First, to insist that the resources of the Canal and Canal Zone be recuperated for the social needs of the masses, eliminating U.S. "rights" to interventionism; second, to strengthen their economic demands for improved living conditions and respect for the democratic rights of workers, peasantry and all other popular sectors; and third, through the progressive and revolu- tionary forces to demystify the false choices presented by the bourgeois fractions creating, in the long run, an independent, revolu- tionary, popular alternative. Panama- Winning the Canal but losing the country? About the Authors: - The contributing authors to this issue are all Panamians currently living in New York. They are members of the political organiza- tion, Nueva Alternativa Popular Panamena (NAPP), formerly called Union Nacional de Panamenos. WINNING THE CANAL 1. See Marco Gandasegui, Jr., Concentracion del poder economico en Panama (Panama, 1967). 2. Octavio lanni, Laformacion del estado populista en America Latina (Mexico: ERA), 1975, 3. Julio Mariduley, Panama: Acerca de la estructura, la coyuntura y las perspectivas (Panama: CELA, 1978), p. 12 4. Xabier Gorostiaga, "Las inversiones extranjeras en Panama y su impacto en la estructura economica del pais," in Rafael Menjivar, ed., La inversion extranjera en Centro America (Costa Rica: EDUCA, 1974), pp. 324-325. 5. Ibid., See Table A on "Comparative Benefits," p. 316. 6. See "Contra Informacion," in Revista Che Guevara, No.3 (no date), for a discussion of military bases in Panama and their impact on Latin America. 7. Marco Gandesegui, Jr., "Industrializacion e inve- siones extranjeras: El caso de Panama," Tareas, No. 27 (Dec. 1973-May 1974), pp. 23-69. 8. Simeon E. Gonzalez H., "Industrializacion y reproduccion capitalista en Panama," (Panama: CELA, 1977) p. 11. 9. Anonymous, Cinco Ensayos (Panama, 1962). 10. Walter LaFeber: The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 155. 11. Cinco Ensayos. 12. Charles Denton, Interest Groups in Panama and the Central American Common Market (Washington, D.C., 1967). 13. Gandasegui, Concentracion del poder economico. 14. Carlos Ivan Zuniga, "Las elecciones presidenciales de 1968," Tareas, No. 28 (June-Oct. 1974), pp. 57-69. 15. Denton, Interest Groups. 16. Zuniga, "Las elecciones." 17. Felipe Escobar, Arnulfo Arias o el credo del Panamenismo. See also Adolfo Alberto Benedetti, Ar- nulfo Arias, El Caudillo (Panama: Editora Humanidad, 1963), for a right-wing view of the subject. 18. Ruben Dario Souza, Formacion de la lucha anti- imperialista en Panama y el papel de los comunistas (Panama: Ediciones Momento), p. 25. 19. Ibid., p. 22. 20. See J. Conte Porras, La rebelion de las esfinjes, Historia del movimiento estudiantil panameno (Panama: Impresora Panama, 1977). 21. Omar Torrijos, La batalla de Panama (Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 1973), p. 29. 22. Ibid., p. 34. 23. Robert Looney, Economic Development of Panama (1976). See Chapter 7 on monetary policy. 24. Ibid. See table 8.1. 25. Cuarta Reunion Interamericana de Ejecutivos de Reforma Agraria: Panama, Mayo 14 a 20 de 1972 (Panama), p. 54. 26. Marco Gandesegui, Jr., "La reforma agraria en Panama, 1968-1978," Dialogo Social, No. 105 (oct. 1978), pp. 31-33. See also by the same author, "Estruc- tura agraria en el desarrollo nacional," Tareas (April- Oct., 1972), pp. 5-22. 27. Renato Pereira, Panama: Fuerzas armadas y political (Panama: Ediciones Nueva Universidad, 1979). 29. See Comite Interamericano para la Alianza para el progreso (CIAP), Domestic Efforts and the Needs for Ex- ternal Financing for the Development of Panama (August 1973). 30. Ministerio de Planificacion y Politica Economica, Direccion de Planificacion Economica y Social, Informe Economico 1977 (Panama, 1977), pp. 10-11. 31. Ibid.; see p. 48 for details of Panama's commercial balance for 1974-76. 32. Orlando Nunez Soto and Carmen Guevara, "Desarrollo y contradicciones en el proceso Panameno," Tareas, No. 41 (Jan.-March 1978), pp. 25-64. 33. Juan Jovane, "El centro financiero internacional de Panama," Tareas, No. 36 (August 1976). 34. Ibid., p. 51. 35. Guillermo Castro Herrara, Panama 1977 (Panama: CELA, 1978). For a more detailed study of Panama's public external financing see Salomon Padilla and Hugo Vargas, Elfinanciamento publico externo en Panama y sus implicaciones economicas (Panama: CELA, 1978), p. 27. 36. Salomon and Padilla, Elfinanciamento. See table 24 and Informe Economico 1977, p. 8. 37. Ibid. See graph on p. 22 and p. 37. 38. Speech by Omar Torrijos, "Declaracion de Bo- quete," November 1974. 39. Ruben Dario Caries, Jr. Constitucion de Panama, Articulo 29 (Caracas, 1976). 40. Analysis of the September events provided by Nueva Alternativa Popular Panamena (formerly UNDEP), Denuncia (September 1976). 41. Guaykucho, FER, Liga Socialista. However, the government repressed and jailed a number of indepen- dent labor leaders from CATI. See ALAI (Toronto), August 31, 1979. 42. Manduley, op. cit. 43. Dialogo Social (January 1979). 44. Informe Economico 1977. 45. Dialogo Social (Nov, 1978), p. 11. 46. Carlos de Leon, "Significato de los tratados 1977," Dialogo Social (October 1977). 47. Dialogo Social (November 1978). 48. "Sindical," Dialogo Social (January 1979). 49. "Sindical," Dialogo Social (December 1978). 50. "Sindical," Dialogo Social (february 1979). 51. For other accounts of June events, see "Organica- ciones populares," Dialogo Social (July 1979) and Critica (June 13-14, 1979). 52. Interview with President Aristides Royo, "El primero de octubre estaremos en la Zona," in Cuardernos del Tercer Mundo, Vol. 3, No. 31 (July 1979).

Tags: Panama, Canal Zone, Omar Torrijos, mass movement, workers

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