Small Farmers and Rural Workers
Although they accounted for only about 5 percent of Uruguay's total land, small farms were common in the littoral and the south. Owners of medium-sized farms were able to approximate the living standards of the urban middle class, but for tenant farmers and proprietors of smaller areas, life was a constant struggle. Particularly poor were the small producers of Canelones Department who grew vegetables for the capital.
Because the rural economy was not at all labor intensive, Uruguay had very few rural workers. One exception was the department of Artigas, where large sugarcane plantations had grown up. The very low wages of the cane cutters caused them to form a union in the 1960s and to bring their protests to the streets of the capital. Apart from this, however, Uruguay's few rural workers and small farmers had not managed to form organizations to defend their economic interests. In particular, the Ruralist movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which began as a protest by the small farmers against government taxes, soon fell under the leadership of large landowners. In the late 1980s, a rural workers' union claimed a membership of only 4,000.
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