Uruguay: The Challenges Workers and the Left Face After the Elections

By Danubio Trujillo and Federico Martínez

The year ends with a significant rise in the class struggle headed by popular movements in Latin America and strong clashes in various countries, with political experiences lasting less and less time as a result of the needs of the weakest not being met by government policies. The old austerity recipes are no longer accepted and are increasingly being resisted by the peoples of our America.

Chile was presented as a role model by one of the candidates in the last elections in Uruguay. However, today it is a country whose people have woken up and are struggling. We could name several countries with different processes, but in a situation of struggle.

Uruguay emerges as an island in the midst of all the ongoing processes in our continent.

The exhaustion of “progressivism” after 15 years, economic stagnation, the loss of 70 thousand jobs and a mistaken policy on security issues with significant growth in crime and drug trafficking gangs, were the focus points of the campaign of the opposition party that ended up winning a majority in parliament in the first round (see note). In the second round, with the Multicolor Coalition made up of the five main parties on the right, they managed to make National Party candidate Luis Lacalle Pou our country´s new president elect.

Broad Front rally on 18 de Julio and Yaguarón.

In a scenario that was totally unfavorable for Socialist Party candidate Martinez, with all polls placing him 6 or 7 points below the opposition, the Broad Front managed a comeback and lost by just over 1% of the votes. Several aspects have come together to explain this comeback, but mainly it can be explained by a change in their campaign strategy. They reactivated their base with the slogan “head to head”, with the speech against a return to the 90 and the possible ascent of a philo-fascist party – in reference to Cabildo Abrierto, which integrates the coalition and is headed by Guido Manini Ríos, former commander in chief of the army under the Broad Front government who was fired from his position for defending the military responsible for human rights violations during the last Uruguayan dictatorship. The latter, augmented by the alleged statement of the Barneix Command (clandestine right-wing “group”) that threateningly ordered the military to vote for Lacalle, the Military Center statement urging to “throw Marxism out of power” and a video of Manini himself calling on the military to vote for Lacalle against the “left”.

That small difference in votes meant that we had to wait 4 days before the elected president could be proclaimed. This, coupled with the internal differences in a coalition of so many parties, marks the weakness of the coming government, which will have to deal with sectors that have philo-fascist elements (Cabildo Abierto), a traditional liberal right-wing (Colorado Party) and centrists (Independent Party). And this is without taking into account the internal disputes of the National Party itself. These differences were already shown before the elections when both the Colorado and the Independent parties refused to have any reactionary security measures similar to those that had been plebiscited and rejected by the population in the agreement between the parties. Or also in the fact that they were the only two parties in the coalition that criticized the aforementioned video of Manini, taking distance from it.

Beyond the marked differences that the elected government may have and the political influence that Cabildo Abierto may have (it should be noted that its legislators are necessary to have a parliamentary majority), both the election of the cabinet and the meetings and statements that have been expressed in these days, clearly mark the political and economic lines that the next government will have. A cabinet full of well-known conservative figures, former members of the Atlas Network (non-profit organization funded by the US Department of State) and even a member of the Opus Dei.

It is extremely significant that the first meetings held by the elected government were with the business chambers and the IMF. The chambers have come to support the future government with statements such as “from the business sector this is a moment to support, to reach out, encourage and see what the elected government will do” (Gerardo García Pintos, President of the Confederation of Business Chambers). The head of the Exporters Union, Teresita Aishemberg, also showed total harmony with the future Executive. This is not surprising, since the Multicolor Coalition campaign was always marked by a speech focused on foreign investment, fiscal austerity and packages of pro-business measures.

Faced with this future panorama, the Broad Front is not only presenting itself as a future “responsible opposition”, but has paved the way for the right to carry out its agenda. This last Broad Front government has carried out clearly pro-business policies and aimed at foreign investment. Among them, we can mention the Irrigation Law, the contract with Finnish paper mill multinational UPM or the attempt to sign several free trade agreements. Thus, even during the electoral campaign, clear deals were signed with the right-wing opposition regarding the need for a reform in social security (of which they did not give more details) or that among the education advisors of both campaigns there were representatives from Eduy21.

This is the degree of collaboration that existed between the right and the Broad Front government, which is currently actively involved in the elaboration of the “Law of urgent consideration”, the package of about 500 articles that Lacalle will propose as soon as he takes office, asking for the inclusion of, for example, the draft Law of the current government regarding the National Fund of Resources (body that solves high-price medical treatments for those who cannot afford them and restricts the conditions that medicines have to have to be delivered.

Although the current labor minister says that the wage councils will worsen with the future minister, referring to their flexibility, it is forgotten that it was his administration that sent a law to parliament adapting the councils to the ILO guidelines, doing exactly what the future minister wants, that is, make salary councils more flexible.

In this way we enter a situation in which workers are going to have to fight to maintain acquired rights such as the wage councils or against the imminent repeal of decree 165/006, which enables the occupation of workplaces as part of the right to strike. Or the attempt to introduce aspects of the recently plebiscited and rejected constitutional reform that undermine democratic freedoms in the articles of the “Law of urgent consideration”.

In this electoral process, Rumbo Socialista integrated the list 565 of Socialist Commitment with several candidates. We value that experience positively; it allowed us to contribute to the important growth of a new force that appears as a humble novelty in the Uruguayan left, proposing a position far from reformism but unitary when it comes to building broadly with the rest of the left.

In this new stage, in order to defeat the right strategically, it is necessary to bet on a new political unity of the left that fights for truly revolutionary transformations. That unity should not only occur at the electoral level, but in all areas of struggle of our people and should be made up of all those organizations and militants who are willing to move away from the possiblist variants that continue to reproduce this system and to overcome dogmatic and sectarian positions in the perspective of a socialist Uruguay.