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Fight back against the co-operative miners and the MAS

Urgent: Solidarise with, and mobilise in support of, the workers of Huanuni Huanuni is in flames. The clashes, including exchanges of dynamite, are continuing, with a current toll of 11 deaths and 65 injured since Thursday October 4th, when hundreds of co-operativists tried to occupy the Cerro Pososkoni, threatening the territory and installations of the […]

Left Voice

October 16, 2006
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Urgent: Solidarise with, and mobilise in support of, the workers of Huanuni

Huanuni is in flames. The clashes, including exchanges of dynamite, are continuing, with a current toll of 11 deaths and 65 injured since Thursday October 4th, when hundreds of co-operativists tried to occupy the Cerro Pososkoni, threatening the territory and installations of the Huanuni Mining Company, as well as the trade union Radio Nacional transmitter, and were pushed back by workers defending their workplace. After years of heroic struggle, the Huanani workers achieved the nationalisation of Bolivia’s principal tin mine, which had been handed over to a multi-national during the nineties. Now, the local co-operatives are trying to prevent the consolidation of an important victory achieved by the workers and peasants of the region – the introduction of a new production plan which would allow the creation of 1500 new jobs for the impoverished Huanuni region, and mining in Huanuni to be developed under the control of the Bolivian state.

The co-operatives feel that they are being encouraged by the mine privatisation agenda of the MAS government, in which they have an important political ally in the cabinet, Minister of Mining Walter Villaroel, a businessman/co-operativist who comes from one of the Huanuni co-operatives. While the government plays down this tragic situation and lets its co-operativist allies do as they please, various groups of workers, students and the poor have declared their solidarity with the salaried workers at Huanuni and their just resistance. The COB has called an emergency action in Oruro, and the FSTMB has instructed its affiliated unions to send delegations to Huanuni. Union leaders, like those of SITRASABSA and others, have declared themselves ready to serve their class brothers in Huanuni.

The agreement to create 1500 jobs – a great victory

Last week, after several days of workers’ and peasants’ blockade of the roads into Oruro and Cochabamba, the government agreed to sign a deal which contained several important points, including the creation of 1500 new posts in the Huanuni Mining Company for the unemployed and poor of the region. This new workforce will allow greater development of the mine, such as at Cerro Posokoni, and the government is committed to provide the necessary finance. This important victory was not only an achievement in itself, but also has important consequences, among them a step forward in the worker-peasant alliance at a local level. Equally important is the barrier placed against the co-operativist onslaught, which for a long time has threatened Huanuni – and which, weeks after the take-over of bits of state property in Viloco, Colquiri and Caracoles, provides a way for the workers to respond, pointing to the restructuring of the state mining company COMIBOL and the nationalisation of the mine.

The Huanuni workers defend the national interest against the co-operativists allied to the MAS

In fact, the mobilisation of workers goes much further, and confronts head-on the mining policy of the Evo Morales government, which always boasts about “nationalisation” and “recuperating natural resources”, while in the field of mining it supports private interests and foreign intervention, and has signed important political and strategic deals with co-operatives and bosses in the sector.

The government privatised the strategically important iron and manganese plant at El Mutún for the benefit of the Indian multi-national Jindal Steel, and offered concessions and guarantees for projects of the multi-nationals, such as at San Cristóbal, San Bartolomé, and so on. It will continue selling-off in other districts like Amayapampa (in the interests of Luzon Minerals and other companies), well known since 1996 when miners and peasants in the area fought with dynamite and stones against the incursion of police and army forces ordered by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, during his first term. The government guarantees the “legal security” of COMSUR, the biggest mining firm, which belongs to the mass murderer Goni, Inti Raymi and other groups favoured by neoliberal governments which have wracked up concessions and privileges of every kind.

The co-operatives’ offensive objectively serves as the vanguard for the interests of big capital, an enemy of state intervention in mining activity which wants to put itself in control of the richest tin mine in the country, which has potential for many years of intensive production. It rests on the ambitions and needs of its supporters, many of whom are poor, who are promised prosperity by taking power over Posokoni and other areas. But the leading, well-off section of the co-operatives is composed of businessmen – small or otherwise – who have accumulated a certain amount of capital, who exploit the workers and who are linked by multiple commercial and financial relationships to big capital in Bolivia and mining multi-nationals, an important part of the ruling bourgeois elites in Potosí and Oruro.

The co-operativists present themselves as workers, but admit to employing 10,000 salaried workers whom they pay miserably and deny the right to organise in unions (up to the point of sacking those who want to be unionised, as happened recently to four workers at a co-operative in Potosí).

The Huanuni co-operatives even went to the extreme of negotiating, in agreement with foreign bosses, the purchase of mining shares which belonged to Allied Deals (the British concession-holder of Huanuni which went bankrupt following fraudulent activities in 1999) in a crass attempt to “legalise” its agenda.

The government has a serious political responsibility

The government tries to play down the dramatic situation in Huanuni and to wash its hands of the affair, while its Minister Villarroel every day makes declarations hostile to the workers and their demands. The government Minister Alicia Muñoz “feels sorry for what has happened” and stammers that “this problem has been coming for a long time. The police and the army have been overwhelmed”.
But the truth is that the government has given guarantees and encouragement to the co-operativists’ offensive in the last few weeks, ignoring the attacks on Caracoles, Viloco and Colquiri, and making severe concessions, such as stopping short of changing the current Mining Code, which allows industrialists and cooperatives in the sector to pay barely 11 million dollars in taxes and mining royalties, while they make about 500 million dollars in exports thanks to high global prices.

No to the co-operatives’ attacks! Fulfil the deal now!
It is vital to force the government to fulfil immediately the deal agreed in Huanuni, beginning now by implementing the plan to create 1500 new jobs, developing the necessary plans and projects and getting the promised funds from the government.

The government doesn’t have the resources? No, it’s lying – if it can afford to let COMSUR, Inti Raymi and its friends in the co-operatives continue exporting with minimal taxes and royalty payments, if it can subsidise the co-operatives by several million dollars, if it can give more than 12 million dollars’ worth of subsidies to the bosses of the La Paz exporters, etc., it must be perfectly able to provide funds for the development of Huanuni, covering first of all the wages of the new workers.

The technocrats and functionaries of the MAS government argue that this will affect the “rationality” and yield – on the capitalists’ terms – of the Huanuni Mining Company. It is not going to be junked for that reason, but it can be brought down by the co-operativists.

Firstly, the most important thing is to defend the mine’s workers and their families, on a societal level – for it is a bastion of the whole Bolivian working class, and must be defended at all costs, for its productive and numerical strength, but also for its socio-political role, traditions and importance in the popular consciousness – it represents the heroic miners of Bolivia and was an advanced “workers’ guard” in the uprising of October 2003.

Besides, fighting for the fulfilment of the deal is vital for consolidating the alliance with the unemployed and peasant communities, which, together with the mobilisation of the mineworkers and the whole country can defeat the co-operativist onslaught with a counter-attack of the workers, peasants and poor people nationally.

Deepen “social control” with workers’ collective control!
What allowed the recuperation and development of Huanuni after Allied Deals left was the achievement of social control, that is to say, the participation and oversight of the workers in the decisions and operation of the company, first with court intervention and then under a management named by COMIBOL. Thanks to this, no attempt to re-privatise the mine could succeed and the company produces profits from the effort given by the workers, whose initiatives generated proposals to develop production and now create jobs in alliance with the unemployed and peasants.

The Huanuni miners are showing that the only solution to the great problems of the day is the workers taking control in their own hands.

It is necessary to develop “social control” as a step towards workers’ collective control, that is, direct workers’ control, under the control of the assembly and representatives accountable to it.

Workers’ defence and co-ordination to protect Huanuni – for workers’ unity!

The co-operatives’ aggression and governmental complicity show that we can’t have confidence in the police. It is vital to strengthen workers’ self-defence, constructing permanent organisations for this purpose with the necessary technical support. Nowadays a group of workers oversees and protects the Huanuni Mining Company’s installations and area of operation. The Company and COMIBOL must provide funds for this important task, paying for equipment, training and amenities for a permanent workers’ guard. But this alone isn’t enough: it is necessary for the Huanuni miners to call for the establishment of a real workers’ force to unite and organise all those workers who are fighting on different fronts. In this task, we must base ourselves on the recent experience of unity with impoverished peasants.

For a workers’ plan to rebuild COMIBOL and nationalise mining

How to recuperate Bolivian mining? In the hands of private capital, as MAS and the co-operatives want? Or through genuine nationalisation? The Huanuni miners have marked out a path not only for defending and developing this (currently) nationalised company, but also for rebuilding COMIBOL and nationalising the whole mining industry, thus placing our underground mineral resources at the service of industrialisation and the interests of the workers and the people.

The mobilisation at Huanuni can be the turning-point in reconstructing COMIBOL, under workers’ control, through reverting to state ownership the important Vinto smelting plant and the concessions given to multi-nationals and big companies. The business of the Sánchez de Lozada family, COMSUR, must be nationalised without compensation and put under workers’ control, and give part of its income for treatment costs and compensation for the numerous victims of the clashes of February and October – they are still awaiting justice and aid.

The state must impose its monopoly over the sale and export of minerals, which would allow rapid investment in COMIBOL and would free small mines and poor co-operative members from the control of banks, mineral traders and big companies.

Such a plan would ensure regular, productive work for thousands of unemployed workers, and would offer rational production, with good technology and planned management of mineral resources in the interest of the working-class and the people. It would also allow technical and financial support to be devoted to the poor co-operative members who work for themselves, satisfying their basic needs and offering them the chance to submit voluntarily to nationalisation, as workers and technicians with better working and living conditions than they can count on today.

5th October 2006

LOR-CI Liga Obrera Revolucionaria por la Cuarta Internacional

(Workers’ Revolutionary League for the Fourth International)

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.


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