Nicaraguan Strike--Victory, Coming Showdown

David Finkel

“THE STRIKE IS really well organized, well carried out (with a high) volume of participants. Actions are taken to help each other out, not cause repression. Water, transportation and phone lines (direct dial) are still available. Although the INE (the electric utility) is closed, the payment office was left open so people could pay their bills before the cordoba was devalued again?”

This was part of report from the Nicaragua Network’s Managua office on July 5, during a mass strike movement that ended in victory a week later.

The report continued, “The impression many people share is that the mood is similar to what happened during the 1979 insurrection … calm by day and heating up by afternoon /evening.

But while workers, peasants and students were mobilizing as part of the second mass strike wave in Nicaragua since Violeta Barrios de Chamorro’s United Nicaraguan Opposition (LINO) coalition took office, ominous signs were also appearing that the barricades and street battles, in which six people died, might be a dress rehearsal for a future bloody confrontation.

Reports circulating in the U.S. soli-clarity movement during the strike spoke of troop alerts at Fort Ord, California and at Fort Bragg North Carolina — home of the 82nd Airborne.

A Sign of Things to Come?

“The regular traffic at Fort Ord is too heavy for us to be able to confirm these reports just by watching the activity,” a Los Angeles activist told ATC But the right wing of UNO, led by Virgilio Godoy and increasingly hostile to Chamorro, was openly advocating such U.S. assistance.

Observers in Nicaragua directly linked U.S. Ambassador Shlaudeman, a close ally of Godoy and the extreme right, to the organizing of anti-strike mobs that attacked workers at government buildings and other sites Shortly before the negotiations that ended the strikes, armed contra units were being assembled near Masaya and other sites, horn where they were brought into Managua.

United Nations vehicles, in the Nicaraguan countryside as part of the contra demobilization and peacekeeping process, were used in the transport of these contra units. Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez made tough statements backing Chamorro’s government against the strikers, giving rise to fears that Venezuelan peacekeeping troops would be deployed as a first step in an outside intervention that could culminate in a U.S. invasion.

The Venezuelan president may have softened his line following a telephone discussion with Sandinista leader and former president Daniel Ortega, shortly before the all-night government meeting that led to the negotiated settlement.

But the most important statement was made by the Nicaraguan workers, drawing a line beyond which the new regime wouldn’t be allowed to go. And the next round may begin where this one left off.

No Surrender

Anyone who might have thought that Nicaraguan workers, peasants and students were broken and demoralized by UNO’s accession to power will be revising that opinion in the wake of the strike’s victory. More important than the 43 percent wage increase—which will be rapidly destroyed by inflation and must soon be fought for again – the strike achieved the termination of the government’s Decree 10-90, under which state farms were to be rented out to their for-flier owners, often Somozistas.

Farmworkers had begun seizing land in June to fight these rental agreements. In addition, the Nicaraguan Federation of Workers (FM, a relatively new formation including but broader than the Sandinista union federation) won the right to participate in a commission that will examine economic restructuring. Civil service workers flied since April received severance pay and guarantees were made against future mass dismissals.

Most significant, however, is the fact that this victory was won by a larger mass strike movement – involving as many as 100,000 workers and 40,000 students – than any that occurred even during the anti-Somoza revolution.

Among the groups of workers and their allies participating, as reported by the Nicaragua Network’s Managua office and other observers, were: Ministry of Social Security and Welfare as well as Ministry of Agrarian Reform workers, bank employees; many bus drivers; supermarket workers; state farm coffee workers; health care workers (who continued, however, to provide emergency services); university and high school students; telephone workers; teachers; an estimated 80 percent of energy utility workers; airport and customs workers.

A major victory was registered on July 10, after Chamorro issued a threatening statement ordering the army to put down the strike. That day, both the San Antonio sugar refinery (a pro-UNO stronghold) and the Flor de Cana bottling plant, which has always been conservative, joined the strike.

In the course of the mobilization, strikers occupied the university, numerous government offices and the National Assembly building. The national television station was occupied briefly as well. The strike was not only in the capital but nationwide: Leon, Esteli, Bluefields and numerous other cities, including very conservative Granada.

Anti-strike actions ranged from the absurd to the sinister the burning of Sandinista authors’ books by the director of the Leon Library in celebration of July 4; death threats against farmworkers’ union leaders; the killing of 18-year-old Marvin Antonio Ponce in a Managua barrio when men on a motorcycle fired into a support rally; an assault by several hundred armed right-wingers on the occupied Ministry of Labor, and dozens of other violent attacks by organized anti-strike goons.

Itis now clear to all —the Nicaraguan workers, the right wing, the U.S. embassy and the CIA — that the strength of the popular movement in Nicaragua cannot be broken by anything short of murderous physical force. All concerned, including the North American anti-intervention movement, will draw their own conclusions.

September-October 1990, ATC 28