Labor has not been an organized, tightly knit, autonomous force in Paraguay. The firms have traditionally been small, workers were not politically active, and personal relationships between employers and employees prevailed. As in other Southern Cone countries, the paternal state anticipated demands of a growing labor force, granted some benefits, and impeded the formation of strong labor organizations. When Stroessner came to power, most of organized labor belonged to the Paraguayan Confederation of Workers (Confederación Paraguaya de Trabajadores-- CPT), an unstructured amalgam of trade unions. Despite its loose association with the Colorado Party, the CPT declared a general strike in 1958. Stroessner crushed the strike, dismissed the CPT leadership, and appointed a police officer as its head. Consistent with these actions, the government, and not the workers, continued to determine the confederation's leadership in the late 1980s.
The CPT remained the only legally recognized large labor organization; it contained 60,000 member, and claimed to represent 90 percent of organized labor. The CPT's refusal to endorse strikes after 1959 reflected the government's dominance over it. In 1985 the CPT lost its membership in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) after an ILO delegation to Paraguay determined that the CPT was neither independent nor democratic. Nonetheless, the CPT's existence allowed the labor force some access to government officials.
The first attempt to reform the labor movement came in 1979 with the emergence of the Group of Nine trade unions. The group, which included bank workers, a sector of construction workers, and the outlawed journalists' union, unsuccessfully attempted to take control of the CPT in March 1981. Several unions of the group subsequently broke away from the CPT and in 1982 led a successful national boycott of Coca Cola in order to reinstate trade union members at the bottling plant. From this effort emerged the InterUnion Workers Movement (Movimiento Intersindical de Trabajadores-- MIT) in 1985. The MIT received recognition from both the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Latin American Central Organization of Workers (Central Latinoamericana de Trabajadores--Clat), both of which sent representatives to express their support for the new movement. In the late 1980s, the MIT remained small, and its members were subject to harassment and imprisonment; nevertheless, it was still the only independent labor movement since Stroessner took power.
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