Government Offers Strikers 30 Percent Wage Hikes
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Warning that the nation’s general strike could provoke a military takeover, the government has offered labor a 30 percent wage hike in an effort to end the walkout that has virtually paralyzed the country.
The Bolivian Labor Confederation called the walkout Thursday night in support of tin miners who walked a day earlier demanding more pay, price controls, nationalizations and the resignation of President Hernan Siles Zuazo.
Information Minister Mario Rueda Pena warned that if the strike doesn’t end, it would create conditions favorable for a military takeover.
″This would mean turning the government over to right wing forces who will impose their will with force. The losers will be the workers,″ Rueda Pena said.
The strike has affected government and private businesses, public transportation, schools, airlines, hospitals and long distance communications. Farmers, meanwhile, said today they would begin blocking major highways on Monday.
The Labor Confederation, meanwhile, issued a statement today describing the government as ″insensitive for not satisfying the painful demands of Bolivians aflicted by misery.″
At the end of a cabinet meeting Friday night, Siles Zuazo said ″all Bolivians should make an effort to reach an accord based on unity and peace. We are always open to dialogue, it is labor that has interrupted dialogue.″
He offered a 30 percent wage hike to raise the minimum monthly wage to $37. The official dollar exchange rate is 50,000 pesos to a dollar, but with the black market exchange rate at 110,000 pesos, the minimum wage amounts to much less.
Labor leaders met today to discuss the government’s offer. They were expected to reject it.In addition to Siles Zuazo’s resignations, miners want a wage bonus of $62 a month, price controls and nationalization of banks.
Bolivia’s tin mines produce 49 percent of Bolivia’s export earnings, according to the state-run Mining Corporation.
Behind the labor unrest are harsh economic measures ordered by the government Feb. 9, including an 81 percent devaluation of the Bolivian peso and a 450 percent increase in the price of food, gasoline, transporation and utilities.
Rueda Pena said any wage increases above the $72-a-month bonus included in the Feb. 9 program would aggravate the country’s critical economic situation.
″A general strike condemns the people to not have anything to eat,″ he said.
Siles Zuazo’s government represents one of the few civilian administrations in a history of military coup and counter-coup that has produced more changes of government than Bolivia’s 160 years of independence.
Interior Minister Federico Alvarez Plata said his office has evidence that miners armed with dynamite are planning to surround the presidential palace and prevent anyone from leaving or entering the palace.
Some of the estimated 7,000 miners who are in La Paz tried to march to the presidential square Wednesday and were turned back by police throwing tear gas.
Alvarez Plata said that if the strikers became violent the government would declare a state of siege, which is just short of martial law.
Bolivia, an impoverished country of six million people, is suffering its worst economic crisis in recent history. Inflation last year was 2,700 percent, according to Bolivian economists, and is expected to climb this year unless the center-left government’s austerity programs are carried out.
Last year, the country was paralyzed for 35 days by strikes, resulting in a loss of at least $350 million to the economy, according to Planning Minister Freddy Justiniano.
In response to pressure from opposition political parties, Siles Zuazo decided last November to call general elections for June 16, a year ahead of schedule.