Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 79 | Enero 1988



Sandinista Unions Take Stock

Envío team

The fifth National Assembly of Unions was convoked in Managua December 12-13 by the Sandinista Workers Federation (CST), made up of the largest unions in Nicaragua. Participating in the national assembly, on behalf of 300,000 workers, were 1,200 representatives of the CST, the Farm workers Association (ATC), the National Employees Union (UNE), the Nicaraguan National Association of Educators (ANDEN), the Nicaraguan Journalists Union (UPN), the Health Workers Federation (FETSALUD) and the National Confederation of Professionals "Heroes and Martyrs" (CONAPRO).

The fourth assembly was held in January 1985, and in the intervening three years much has happened in Nicaragua. Most important has been the military decline of the counterrevolution, to which the efforts and the blood of Nicaraguan workers have contributed so much. The most obvious change in the daily life of the country has been the economic crisis, caused principally by the war; the effects of this crisis are felt in multiple ways.

Ninety thousand workers in coffee, cotton, sugar, bananas, cattle raising, mining, fishing, metalworking, textiles, construction, chemical industry, rice, tobacco, basic grains, energy, transportation, food industry, health, education, communications and government and other services have been involved since October in political discussions of these and other aspects of the national reality. This process culminated in the fifth assembly, the broad outlines of which are contained in the official document presented here.

Like most published proceedings, it may seem a bit dry, but a careful reading of the figures and the problems presented will give a fairly precise assessment of the reality that the working and salaried classes are living through in Nicaragua—which is anything but dry or boring. Between the names and numbers (which we have synthesized at various points for our non-Nicaraguan readers), between the rather stiff language of this kind of document and the critical self-evaluation, the achievements and challenges, limitations and problems facing Nicaraguan workers may be found, perhaps more systematically and critically than ever. In the context of the current internal political debate, it is also interesting to see how the majority unions of the country evaluate the main factor in the current political situation—the Esquipulas II peace accords.

"Deepening the Revolution Toward a New Society"


Knowing that military defense is the leading edge in the defense of power, we workers have been a constant part of the defense revolution’s system.

1) In 1986 over 47,000 workers were mobilized in various forms of defense, and in 1987 the figure came to over 31,000. We are becoming more efficient in our defense efforts to the extent that we gain greater technical skill and improve our military organization. The participation of workers with a variety of qualifications shows that our economy is making an extraordinary contribution to the nation's defense and that the defense of the revolution rests primarily on workers’ shoulders.

2) Beginning in May 85, health workers have been mobilized continuously to reinforce the German Pomares [Military] Hospital in Apanas and since May 87 extended this reinforcement to the Alfonso Núñez Hospital in Region V. The workers of Regions II, III and IV have stood out in their attention to the combatant compañeros, with 74,984 worker/days. The mobile brigades in the war zones have been exemplary in their attention to the BLI (Irregular Warfare Battalions), BLC (Light Hunter Battalions) and BAO (Operational Support Bases).

3) In 1986 we contributed 32 million córdobas and in 1987 81 million in material support for our "adopted" Irregular Warfare Battalions. Over 15,000 agricultural workers gave 90,000 hours in voluntary defense work.

4) During this period war correspondents kept the people informed about the course of the war through reports in the TV, radio and print media and through visits to the war sites.

5) We have also taken many initiatives in the unions to support those in military service and their families. In particular, they are assured of keeping their jobs, and we will continue to guarantee this; also, we have taken up the slack in the work of those who have gone into military service.

6) While there has been some evasion of active military service, this has been offset by volunteers from the ranks of youth and workers who are beyond the age for active service—for example, workers who have joined the Pancasán Battalion. This shows that there is an inexhaustible reservoir for the defense of the revolution, since the primary factor in this regard is not age, occupation or gender, but patriotism and the development of anti-imperialist consciousness .

7) We also want to highlight the participation of working women in the Artillery Brigade of the Voluntary Active Military Service.

Production: Maximum savings and efficiency

Since 1984 and particularly in we noticed a tendency toward decreasing production, so in early 1986, under the banner of "producing more with the few resources we have," we made the following proposals:

1) Knowing that production is a vital and essential bulwark of defense, we will involve working women more in the life of the unions. We will also promote ideological-political participation to empower us in the different sectors of the economy.

2) We will return to a full work day in agriculture, with the productivity we used to have. In the 1985-86 agricultural cycle, the work day consisted of 4.67 hours; thanks to the example of vanguard workers, we raised this to 6.28 hours in 1986-87.

[In this subsection, the report analyzes in detail the workers' collective and individual achievements in various sectors. In sugar cane, for example, the workers notably increased their work day, particularly during the harvest in which they extended it from 5.5 hours to an average of 8 hours, allowing them to more than achieve the set norm of 6 tons a day. The report singles out several exceptionally productive workers for special mention, in particular the 456 workers organized in 25 "economic brigades" who were especially outstanding in surpassing their work norms, with some brigade members cutting a daily average of 11 tons of cane.

Special mention is also given to workers in the cotton and coffee sectors. In cotton, the 26,500 pickers more than met the norm of 150 lbs., reaching in one case 451 lbs. in an average 9-hour work day; in coffee the average picking day reached between 9 and 10 hours, and 19% of the total traditional work force (13,418 pickers) surpassed the daily norms. In total, the 70,000 workers picked more than 90% of the export-quality beans programmed.]

3) [Here the report includes an account of workers' achievements in nonagricultural sectors, such as construction, where productivity was increased 70%, both by redesigning the tasks to make them more efficient and by extending the work day and working weekends; textiles, where the main effort went into raising the quality of the work turned out; metallurgy, highlighted by innovations to maintain growth in output despite the obsolescence of the machinery; and energy, in which the workers have had to organize to repair electrical towers destroyed by the contras. One outstanding worker was particularly praised as a promoter of the Economic Brigades: "mobilized as a reservist 10 times to different combat missions, in which he has also been recognized as Vanguard of the Company and of the Artillery Battery, and also a worker who knows no hours. During eight years he has never failed to show up or arrived late, and is a living example of labor discipline."

In health, the report notes that the number of workers has been reduced from 23,000 to 21,000 by the flight of personnel to other sectors, but that "the efforts to provide better quality in this service has been increased with the exemplary Brigadistas Movement." In education, the creation of the Pedagogic Movement was highlighted, the goal of which is to overcome existing limitations such as weaknesses in training, empiricism, and lack of school texts and educational materials in general. In particular, praise was given to the delegate of the Ministry of Education in the Río San Juan department and to the brigade operating in that remote, war-torn area, whose work contributed to freeing that zone from illiteracy (winning it a UNESCO award in 1987). Finally, in journalism, special attention was given to the Movement of Grassroots Correspondents, made up of workers in different sectors, who receive training from members of the National Journalists Union and students of the school of journalism.]

4) By the end of 1986, we had organized 134 economic brigades, with 6,552 workers participating. This year we have 742 brigades with almost 35,000 workers involved. Thus the ideological army of the working class fills in for those serving in the army on the battle front. [The Benjamin Linder Brigade is given special mention together with three others.]

5) We have also organized ourselves for voluntary work. In 1986 such work came to 500,000 worker/hours and in 1987 over 785,000 worker/hours. This reflects a new attitude toward work, showing that the [US economic] blockade is not breaking the workers' will to struggle.

6) The Innovators Movement, started in 1982, had 100 members in 1985. This year we have 1,297 workers involved. [The organizational and technical development of this movement is attributed to a methodology based on cooperation and sharing of experience among the "innovators," particularly through the Specialized Brigades, which carry the accumulated knowledge from one branch of production to another and help develop workshops. In some cases, where planning is advancing, innovation work has become part of an enterprise's technical-economic plan. The report recognizes that there is a need for still better sharing of knowledge and for incentives in keeping with efforts made. Special recognition is given at the end of this section to the coordinator of the transport section of the Innovators Movement for outstanding service toward a solution to Nicaragua's transportation problems by reconstructing buses and trains given up as hopelessly worn down.]

The work of the Economic Brigades, volunteer workers and the Innovators Movement have given rise to workers' initiatives, strengthened growth in production and stimulated periodic evaluation of the achievement of production goals. This has consolidated the workers' contribution to production.

The union movement calls upon the directors of enterprises to strengthen their operational control to better direct technical and economic plans and make better use of the rich resources the workers have entrusted to them. [In this regard, special recognition is given to one director, who increased the production of medicines in the factory he manages by creating close links to the whole collective of workers and showing particular sensitivity to their problems.]

7) The advanced positions of the working class are influential and ideologically powerful, and with them we are confronting and defeating the backward attitudes that undermine worker unity and militancy. Some of the worst examples of such attitudes are:

—loss of production through excessive negligence, such as in the San Antonio plant, which lost about one hundred million pounds of sugar in 1986;

—the flight of products to the speculative market;

—theft of agricultural and industrial products, machine parts, office supplies, medicines and other goods for production and services;

—inefficient work habits and absenteeism;

—low output;

—failure to comply with work schedules and norms.

This kind of conduct reflects the individualistic attitude of those who try to resolve their problems with private rather than socialist ideas of production and service.

—We also note with concern the speculative mentality of officials and administrators who want to be efficient by selling products at elevated prices or through the "black market," or worse, who sabotage official channels by selling products through the speculative system. [Examples are given of specific enterprises that do this as a practice.]

There are also businesses that have a high ratio of executive-level and other non-productive employees, such as EMEMSA, which has one administrator for every productive worker, or the banana plantations, which have one service worker for every three productive workers.

There are state institutions serving production with excessive bureaucracy. We offer as one example, PROAGRO [a branch of the Ministry of Agrarian Reform and Agricultural Development]. A peasant who goes to PROAGRO to buy articles has to go through nine steps with nine different people. If one of those people doesn't show up to work that day, the peasant has to go back to his village and return another day, thus wasting valuable time that could be used more productively.

We understand that there is a high level of inflation due to the war. Nevertheless, we find unacceptable the lack of foresight on the part of those managing the national financial system to provide the necessary money in circulation to protect workers and the formal sector of the economy from the accumulation of cash in the hands of the speculative system. Economic measures must thus be brought to bear against speculators.

The situation of our currency is extremely alarming. People have lost confidence in its buying power and its meaning as an exchange value. The responsibility for this situation is in the hands of the central government, which must make a statement on it. Any economic measure implemented must be to defend the workers and the fundamental forces of the resolution, for we are the pillars of the country’s defense.

Managerial negligence in some state enterprises and institutions continues to be seen in delays in clearing spare parts and raw materials for production through customs in ports of entry. Heading the list are the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Reform and the Nicaraguan Energy Institute.

It is unacceptable that there are still administrators and business owners who blame third parties for their failure to carry out their basic commitments to meeting the workers’ vital needs, such as food, health and occupational safety. An example of this are enterprises that have agricultural cooperatives nearby but do not buy food from them for their workers.

9) Theft, administrative and government negligence, bureaucracy, absenteeism, inefficiency and other vices observed in production are one way private enterprises resolve problems. This goes against the socialist approach of the workers, who, with honesty, efficiency and assertiveness look to social solutions and strengthen workers' unity throughout the different sectors and levels, struggling to socialize the revolution even more. We unions will struggle to make the positions of the working class prevail.

10) In general, the workers' movement has developed experience in the organization of enterprises and branches of production to confront limitations imposed by the economic embargo, bureaucracy in the technical and material supply system, and disinformation about the financial state of enterprises. Workers have also gained experience in how to evaluate the achievement of technical and economic plans.

Salaries and Production—Price Controls

Many producers have taken advantage of scarcity to produce low quality goods at production levels below their capacity. They are, practically speaking, sabotaging the struggle for survival.

Many speculators have great material resources and liquid assets to enrich their own families without producing anything. It is these same people who are calling loudly for free market prices and private ownership of the mass media. They want exploitation of the workers to be legalized, so they also talk about unregulated salaries.

Through free prices they have taken away our buying power in the market, and with unregulated salaries they are seeking to divide workers of different branches. They want to divide the workers of the various enterprises, and particularly seek division and confrontation between higher qualified and less qualified workers. In this way they are trying, if possible, to stop production and starve us into submission.

We workers know that we will win the war through organized and social solutions to problems. Private ownership of production and services raises the cost of living for the majority and especially for workers, and private ownership of the mass media robs workers of their freedom of expression and organization.

The extolling of free prices and wages is a way to give complete control over business to small groups to the detriment of all workers. While we support the National System of Organization of Work and Wages, we also want the flaws in the system to be corrected, and we are going to develop initiatives for organizing work by enterprise and branch within the economic adjustment policies.

We are aware that in this survival stage we are now in, an emphasis on moral incentives combined with material ones brings out the workers’ best fighting spirit. This moral law also influences other sectors of society, in particular the peasants and other producers, with whom we have developed ways of working together for mutual benefit in the context of survival.

Economic adjustments to save the value of the córdoba are under pressure due to the real shortages of material goods. Improving workers’ access to goods for every hundredweight of food produced requires excellent organization to keep the products out of the hands of speculators, who will necessarily be affected.

1) An attitude and a praxis has emerged that "the one who works more, contributes more, and the one who is more qualified earns more." The fact that we have advanced in setting norms for work and in applying incentives demonstrates this fact. In the long run, this will allow us to achieve greater stability in the social economy and, therefore, in each worker’s economy, which is now impossible in the midst of the war of aggression.

2) Throughout this period, we have maintained an agreement with the government whereby workers can obtain basic survival necessities [at subsidized prices] with an average salary, but in reality we have not always been sure of getting the needed amounts. This has forced us to buy products at free market prices.

3) Official channels (Commissaries, Workers' Supermarkets) have played a role in supporting the real value of the worker's salary, but with the latest price adjustments of basic products without salary adjustments, we workers have been unable to find these products or to buy them.

4) This high rate of inflation, the fundamental cause of which is the US aggression and the world economic crisis, has affected the buying power of our currency, to the extreme that our wages do not allow us to buy even the products we need to reproduce our labor power. In this assembly we must deepen our understanding of this phenomenon in order to come to realistic solutions.

5) The economic adjustment policy has had the support of the workers and has allowed us to become aware of the difficulties the country is living through and to begin to transform them. For this reason we have supported, among other things, the suspension of subsidies and of payment in kind, elements that cover over inefficiency and lack of productivity.

6) After the second evaluation, we unions were able to control prices of some industrial products, reducing commercial profit margins and unnecessary steps in distribution (for example. intermediaries). It is a fact that prices were contained and some, such as shoes and clothing, went down temporarily.

Now the union movement faces a new situation introduced by the need to free prices of agricultural products and thereby promote agricultural production. For example, a hundred weight of beans costs 800,000 córdobas in Estelí. [The exchange rate at the time of this report was 15,000 córdobas to the US dollar.] Given this situation, price and market controls become very complex, even though a territorial link between production and food supply has been developing. [This refers to pilot projects in local self-sufficiency of supply and demand.]

7) The national salary scale is currently facing the contradiction of providing inadequate stimulus for higher qualification and greater responsibility. For example, the difference between groups 1 and 2 was 60%, while between groups 28 and 29 it was only 14%. We must change this limitation in the system.

8) The correct organization of production and services allows us to consolidate our wage strategy. For example, the concentration of resources in construction projects noticeably improved the workers' survival prospects because, in the first place, they could work. In other cases, such as in the Cecalsa shoe company, if raw materials ran out, the workers were able to pick coffee and still survive on their productive labor. This practice is in keeping with the strategy of defense of the revolution and is a contribution of the union.

9) The preceding examples contrast with those of some other businesses and institutions which, whether they are producing or not, use their subsidy, their budget and/or their special consumer prices to survive. This practice obstructs the development of defense of the revolution, because it transfers the burden to other wage workers. It also weakens our ability to fight inflation.

The Working Class and Esquipulas II

US imperialism has tried to de feat the Sandinista Popular Revolution because of its democratic, popular and anti-imperialist nature, and because of the influence of its example on the peoples of the Third World and particularly of Latin America.

1) The Sandinista Popular Revolution is putting into practice and developing the doctrine of liberation designed by General Augusto César Sandino; it has generated the social, ideological, moral and organizing force to strategically defeat the mercenary forces, thus defeating US policy on the battlefield. It is with this same doctrine that we are making strides in defeating US policy in the ideological, political, economic and diplomatic arenas in whatever form that policy might take, including an invasion of US troops.

As a result of the strategic defeat of the counterrevolution in Nicaragua, and also as a result of the Latin American nationalist position of the Contadora and Support groups, the Central American governments that have been waiting for the success of the counterrevolution found themselves obliged to sign accords with the revolutionary government of Nicaragua while desperately seeking the counterrevolution’s survival in the political arena—as a continuation, by another route, of the imperialist strategy for defeating the Sandinista Popular Revolution. If we are an unbeatable social force on the battlefield, where you have to give your life, it is even more true on the ideological and political front.

2) Moreover, the counterrevolutionary project directed by US imperial ism has nothing to offer workers. On the contrary, its goals are the following: dismantle the cooperatives, return the land to the big landowners, destroy the economy’s Area of People's Property, divide workers by means of a certain kind of wage policy, privatize health and education services, and, by means of privatizing the mass media, fight against the freedom to organize. In a word, destroy our power as workers, in both the factory and the field.

3) It is very sad that political parties calling themselves socialist, communist, etc. and claiming to be defending the power of workers actually confirm and ratify the counterrevolutionary project—just as in 1978, when they ratified the notion of "Somocismo without Somoza." We urge the labor federations identified with these political tendencies to
take up the workers’ project, even with all the risks that may entail.

4) Because the Nicaraguan people have clearly shown their desire for peace,
we demand faithful compliance with the principle of simultaneity as found in the Guatemala accords. That is, that the other Central American countries, especially Honduras, expel the mercenary forces from their territory and stop letting it be used by Yankee troops practicing an invasion of Nicaragua. That Costa Rica stop letting its territory be used by the
contras for their political activities. That the Reagan Administration recognize the peace accords, suspending its request for $270 million or more for the mercenary forces. Unless this principle of simultaneity is observed, there can be no peace in Central America.

5) The Esquipulas accords permit the development of better conditions for the exploited and oppressed in the rest of Central America to gain greater political space for the revolutionary struggle for social change.

International Work

By deepening our relationships with labor forces on the international level and building on those contacts generated by the International Labor Meeting for Peace in 1984, we have strengthened our international work in the political, economic and material areas. Our international work has taken the form of effective participation in the "Nicaragua Must Survive" campaign and our continual denunciation of imperialism in various international forums.

1) We have empowered our organizations on the international level to exchange experiences and to make known the Nicaraguan people's struggle. Among these we can point to:

CST: Member of the bureau of the World Labor Federation.

ATC: Observer participation in various international forums.

FETSALUD: President of the Federation of Health Workers of Central America and Panama; Latin American and Caribbean representative of the International Federation of Public Service Worker Unions.

ANDEN: President of the Confederation of American Educators (CEA); president of the Federation of Teachers ' Organizations of Central America (FOMCA); member of the Committee of Latin American Women (CEMOPE).

UNE: Observer in various international forums.

UPN: Vice president for Central America and the Caribbean of the International Organization of Journalists; Vice president for Central America and the Caribbean of the Latin American Journalists' Federation.

2) Material solidarity was shown by the mobilization of workers of the international workers’ movement to obtain the following: work tools, safety equipment, raw materials, medical equipment, uniforms, food products, printing equipment, photo lab, office equipment, sites for worker training, homes, financing for technical and labor training, toys for workers' children, etc. The following unions were outstanding in this campaign: Canadian unions, the CGT of France, the FGTB of Belgium, Worker Commissions of Spain, the Railroad Unions of Austria, SAK of Finland, CORSO of New Zealand, Teachers and Metallurgical Workers Unions of West Germany, and unions in England, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland (Worker Aid), Denmark and Norway.

3) Our international work has also taken the form of solidarity events with peoples in struggle, carried out jointly with the Friendship, Solidarity and Peace House. We have also opened the Benjamin Zeledón Central American Labor School, which has organized two seminars with the participation of 55 labor leaders from all political tendencies and different sectors of Central America. It is clear that the sharing of experiences strengthens the struggle of workers and peoples.

Worker Unity

Worker unity has developed around the defense of revolutionary power and is made secure by the vanguard movement of the working class.

We have strengthened the freedom of organization, mobilization and union democracy in the top-priority task of the workers, which is the military and economic defense of our revolutionary project.

Our unity revolves around the following ideological and action considerations:

1) Defense of peace, care of social property and right to work.

2) The socialist character of the Area of People's Property, because its earnings do not end up in the pockets of a private owner but rather go toward the costs of defense and social programs and assure economic investment for the future.

3) Practical and legal action by workers to clear up logjams in the supply of raw materials, replacement parts, transportation and whatever else is needed to meet production goals.

4) Salary and improvement of work conditions in keeping with the country’s economic situation.

5) Equality of rights and opportunities between men and women.

6) Salary according to skill and to quality and quantity of work. This debate produced criteria for fairness among workers and has made it possible to apply work norms. It has also led to greater unity among and dignity for machine operators, administrative workers and leaders of production.

7) Salary according to experience, on-the-job learning and seniority.

8) A salary differential between the streamlined worker and the slow worker.

9) Recognition of the moral prestige of better workers and protection of their rights and incentives.

10) Rejection of undisciplined workers.

11) Rejection and shame toward theft and unjustified absenteeism.

12) Changing the right to strike into the right to military and economic defense of the revolution against aggression.

13) Development of workers' socialist initiatives to resolve problems: Economic Brigades, the Innovators Movement, etc.

With these criteria and political directions, working class consciousness has become stronger and is moving forward, eliminating timidity, insecurity, fear and the vices and divisions that the enemy wants to introduce to demoralize us.

While the counterrevolutionary project directed by US imperialism seeks to push us back into the past, we workers will continue with greater force to deepen the revolutionary changes toward socialism.

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