SUNTRACS, the militant construction workers’ union, staged brief road blockages, picketing and leafletting events around the country on January 13. The union and its close affiliates — the CONUSI labor confederation and the FRENADESO alliance of leftist and labor groups — is ratcheting up protests over the economic situation. An immediate trigger was the government’s decision to extend last year’s decree suspending labor contracts through at least the end of February. Some business groups to whom the president usually listens would just abolish labor contracts forever but there are too many legal and social consequences for the Mr. Cortizo to risk that. So far, however, other segments of the labor movement have not weighed in — the important ones being the been and soft drink, ports and banana workers in the private sector and teachers, PanCanal and government workers on the public side. SUNTRACS photo on the road from Chiriqui to Bocas del Toro.
Labor unrest with push yet to come to shove
by Eric Jackson
Everybody knows that the health situation won’t permit a lot of economic activities as usual. Those who demand the immediate and full reopening of the economy are generally business owners who would make their workers report to their jobs and risk contagion while they themselves are sheltered from all of that. Labor has been more supportive of the health decrees but insistent on more generous benefits for those put out of work by those measures.
But what was happening on the road from Gualaca to Chiriqui Grande was a bit different than that. The road was damaged in the hurricanes, but was slated for improvements before that. The COVID-19 virus is everywhere but in that area not so bad that it’s unsafe to proceed with the job. However, the Panamanian government is deeply in debt, more or less broke and juggling late payments to all of its creditors. Get the whole country vaccinated and the economic problems will remain. However, people are likely to expect and demand an end to the austere economic measures that have been passed during the epidemic.
SUNTRACS is demanding a restart on public works projects that can be done in relative safety. The government mostly doesn’t answer anybody’s questions or demands. However, its delay here is about difficulty paying for it.
“Down with the miserable policy that kills people of hunger.” For those laid-off working people who receive the benefits — and many get nothing at all — it’s $120 per month per family in food relief. SUNTRACS and FRENADESO are demanding $500 a month. There is widespread public support for a major increase in the benefit. Photo of an overpass banner in Penonome by Eric Jackson.
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