Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hunger strike continues

Government workers who lost their jobs continue their hunger strike into its second month. An article on the Common Dreams web site puts the strike in the context of larger changes to the Salvadoran economy:

114 public employees lost their jobs in December 2004 when their contracts expired, the result of legal reforms implemented gradually over the past decade to create a more "flexible" labor force.

These reforms have eaten away at protections and benefits previously enjoyed by workers, making it more difficult to effectively unionize or pursue grievances against employers. Prior to the reforms, public workers were ensured a minimum wage, severance pay, and a range of benefits, and were not required to work under contract.

The workers mounting the hunger strike, many of whom were public employees for nearly 20 years, were given contracts of 6 months to 1 year after the reforms. When their contracts expired, the workers were hastily and arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs with only a two-day notice, and without the ability to challenge their dismissals. Severance pay was also withheld.

According to William Huezo, president of AGEPYM, the legal reforms which allowed the workers to be dismissed are a mechanism for downsizing the state. Part of a broader process of state restructuring often referred to as "neoliberalism" or "the Washington consensus," such reforms in El Salvador have also included cutting back state social security programs, privatizing state industries, and liberalizing the economy. When public workers loose their jobs as a result of such restructuring, they face the plight of millions of other Salvadorans: a lack of stable employment and a poverty rate of about 50%. Huezo views the hunger strike as a protest not only against the loss of jobs, but against an economic model that creates unemployment, job insecurity, and poverty.

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