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Labor Leaders Blast Rise in Tortilla Prices

May 23, 1986

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Labor leaders reacted angrily today to the government’s decision to nearly double the price of tortillas, saying the increase will cut sharply into a scheduled 25 percent rise in the minimum wage.

Tortillas, the mainstay of the Mexican diet, rose in price Thursday from 45 pesos a kilo to 80 pesos. That translates to a jump from about 8 cents to 15 cents for 43 tortillas, or 2.2 pounds.

The price of bolillos, small breakfast rolls, were also raised by half a cent to nearly 3.5 cents. However, local newspapers reported some vendors were illegally charging up to 24 pesos each for bolillos and as high as 130 pesos a kilo for tortillas.

The government news agency Notimex quoted Rafael Riva Palacio, president of the 10 million-member Labor Congress, as condemning the rise in tortilla prices as a punishment to wage earners.

Faustino Alba Zavala, former Labor Congress president and now a federal senator, told the news agency labor leaders would have to re-examine their strategies for protecting workers’ earning power.

″We can only await the consequences, because the workers are already at the limits of survival,″ Notimex quoted Alba Zavala as saying.

Mexicans typically consume a half-dozen or more of the flat, round tortillas a day, either plain or wrapped around meat or cheese.

The government said the increase was part of its effort to trim subsidies in the bloated federal budget. Tortillas are made of corn or wheat, and the Commerce Department said the costs of those grains had risen sharply.

Mexican consumers are struggling with double-digit inflation that is expected this year to surpass the 63.7 percent reached in 1985.

Earlier this week the government agreed to raise the minimum wage 25.1 percent, starting June 1. With the increase, unskilled workers in Mexico City will earn 2,062 pesos a day, or roughly $3.82, up from the current 1,650 pesos a day, or about $3.05.

The prices of tortillas and other food staples have increased periodically since the outset of the economic crisis here in 1982.

The government is negotiating a new financial aid package with the International Monetary Fund. The two sides have not reached agreement on an austerity goal for reducing the federal budget, according to a well-informed analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The IMF technicians are pressing for a sharper cut than Mexico has been willing to make, he said.

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