In March 1985, Sanguinetti abrogated laws and decrees issued by the military regime that had banned the labor unions, the immunity of labor union leaders, and the right of public and private workers to strike. He also restored the legal status of the primarily communist-led National Convention of Workers (Convención Nacional de Trabajadores--CNT), dissolved by the military regime in 1973; in 1983 the Interunion Workers' Assembly (or Plenum) (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores--PIT) adopted the name PIT-CNT to show its link with the banned CNT. The longrepressed labor movement took advantage of its newly granted freedom by staging strikes and marches during the first six months of democracy.
The communist-led Uruguayan labor movement, which claimed to represent about 300,000 of the 1.3 million Uruguayan workers, also called general strikes in the late 1980s, as well as strikes in specific job areas, mostly involving civil service workers or those in state enterprises. In 1986 Sanguinetti's government and the Colorado Party signed a "nonaggression" pact with the PCU. Under the Colorado-Communist Pact (the "Co-Co Pact"), militant labor members of the Colorado Party and the PCU formed alliances whenever the National Party promoted a movement within a labor organization. Nevertheless, the powerful main labor organization, the PIT-CNT, staged three general strikes in 1986.
The attitudes of the leadership of the Moscow-oriented World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which was affiliated with the PIT-CNT, were among the main issues discussed by candidates in the 1989 presidential campaign. The leading candidates endorsed proposals for legislation to require secret strike votes and other union regulation. Labor activity in Uruguay was virtually unregulated. The WFTU supported the PCU and other leftist political groups united in the Broad Front. In November 1989, the movement was preparing for a showdown with the mainstream political leaders over whether or not to espouse a more marketoriented economy with foreign investment. Although the PIT-CNT's leadership opposed increasing foreign investment, the organization was becoming fractionalized among those influenced by perestroika (restructuring) in the Soviet Union, those who rejected it, and non-Marxists seeking to challenge leftist domination of the movement.
Lacalle advocated regulating labor union activities, including the right to strike. In his view, the decision on whether or not to strike should be made by the workers in a secret vote, after the failure of obligatory reconciliation efforts. Shortly after Lacalle took office, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Carlos Cat, who ran for mayor of Montevideo in the 1989 elections, met with representatives of business organizations and the PIT-CNT but failed to reach an agreement. The PIT-CNT demonstrated its right to strike with a six-hour general work stoppage on July 25, 1990, to protest the government's austerity and privatization programs.
Despite Lacalle's efforts to regulate the sector, Uruguay's labor movement in 1990 had significant clout as an interest group, mainly with regard to its highly disruptive strike tactics. Like leftist political organizations in general, however, the labor unions' continued use of the same rhetoric and methods that got results during the military regime were seen by some Uruguayan journalists and sociologists as major contributors to both emigration and apathy among young Uruguayans.
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