Uruguay lacked a large industrial labor force by the standards of the developed world. Indeed, urban employment was dominated by the service industries. Only 23 percent of the total labor force was employed in industry in 1988. Skilled manual workers nevertheless had tended to form unions quite successfully and hence maintained a relatively comfortable standard of living, at least until the military takeover in 1973. Since 1985 they have fought to restore the former level of their wages in real terms, but statistics suggest that in 1990 these were still lower than in 1980.
Many workers made only the official minimum wage, which fluctuated according to inflation, the exchange rate, and government policy. In the 1980s, it was under the equivalent of US$100 per month. As of June 1990, it stood at US$76, although it must be remembered that the cost of living in Uruguay was on the whole much lower than in the United States. Overall, the economic position of urban blue-collar workers was far superior to, and much more stable than, that of workers in the informal sector, which was variously defined to include domestic service, street vending (particularly of contraband goods from Brazil), homebased piecework, sewing, laundering, recycling, begging, and even prostitution and crime.
In 1964 Uruguay's labor unions came together to form a single federation known as the National Convention of Workers (Convención Nacional de Trabajadores--CNT). In 1973 the military declared the CNT illegal; labor union activity virtually ceased during the following decade. In 1983, however, a new labor federation, known as the Interunion Workers' Assembly (or Plenum) (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores--PIT), was formed. The PIT later changed its name to PIT-CNT to emphasize its historical links to the pre-1973 labor movement.
About 15 percent of the economically active population was employed as domestic servants, most of them women. In terms of status and income, their class position was between that of bluecollar workers and the poor.
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