General strikes in Costa Rica and Argentina

Workers protesting in San Jose; pic: AP.

by Phil Duncan

The past few weeks have seen two nationwide strikes in Latin America, a region that in recent years has been playing a pivotal role in the resurgence of working class struggle and revolutionary left developments.

While workers in New Zealand usually shie away from even striking for just a day, workers in Costa Rica workers are now into the fourth week of an ‘Indefinite National Strike’.  The strike began on Monday, September 10 and on Sunday, September 30, workers’ assemblies across the country rejected the preliminary agreement reached by union leaders with the government.

The main issue is a proposed fiscal reform which would impose new taxes on workers and cut pensions and benefits.  As against these right-wing reforms, workers are demanding that the burden of taxation be moved more towards the rich and that there be reductions to the Costa Rican version of GST.

When the strike began, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets.  They were often attacked by  the police, fuelling further workers’ anger.

Costa Rica has long had close ties with the United States.  One of the results has been the development of a local version of the ideology of ‘the American Dream’.  The idea was that the way to a better life was through hard work an not rocking the boat.  This ideology has taken something of a battering; workers, especially the younger generation, are increasingly now seeing that it simply binds them to their exploiters.

As AP reporter Javier Cordoba put it on September 15, “Thousands marching in the streets. Flaming barricades. Clashes between demonstrators and riot police in darkened streets. A semi-truck hollowed out by fire.

“Costa Rica has been rocked this week by the kind of protests rarely seen in the country in comparison with its more tumultuous Central American neighbors.”

In other words, in place of docility, radical class politics are coming more to the fore.

Moreover, the workers have been joined by thousands of students.  The students have also grown more irate as police invaded a campus in the capital, San Jose, and beat people.

This radicalisation of workers and students has clearly taken the government and wider ruling class by surprise.  However, at present, this new movement wants to reach a negotiated settlement with the regime, rather than question the economic fundamentals of the system.

Nevertheless, these events are providing something of a hothouse education in class struggle.  While union leaders are playing their usual role of attempting to mediate between the working class and our exploiters, class consciousness is growing.

This was reflected in comments made on national television by Lenin Hernández Navas, the leader of the nurses’ union: “They have their plan, we have ours. Ours represents the Costa Rican working class. There are many more of us than them.”


On Monday, September 24, Argentinian workers took part in anti-austerity protests across the country and then, the next day, launched a nationwide strike – the fourth such national stoppage since Mauricio Macri’s administration was formed at the end of 2015 and the second in just four months.

Workers have faced years of austerity policies, undermining living standards.  Unemployment is currently running at 10 percent, the annual rate of inflation has risen to over 40 percent and the Argentinian peso has been devalued by 100 percent, pushing up prices on many items that are essential for workers’ existence.

This is all a far cry from Macri’s promise to end both poverty an inflation.

The capitalist economy has had to rely on IMF bailouts which have come, as usual, with the demand for more austerity.  This has been imposed at both national and local state levels, regardless of which set of politicians are in power.  In practice, it is now largely the IMF which is running the show.

Although the main union federation, the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) talk a lot about opposing austerity, its leaders have proven reluctant to initiate anything like the level of struggle required to push back the government-IMF assault on pay, conditions and living standards.  A layer of more left unions, along with bodies of rank-and-file workers, have been to the fore in organising a fightback.

The Argentine Left and Workers’ Front (Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores), a coalition of revolutionary organisations, is calling for assemblies in the workplaces, schools and universities, assemblies whose role would be to prepare a general strike.