Trade-Union Fascism Runs Amok in Uruguay


EspañolIt is widely believed that fascism and communism represent opposites sides of the political spectrum. But supporters of this idea forget that both political phenomena share a common origin. Benito Mussolini’s fascism in Italy and the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler were deeply rooted in collectivism.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler
Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. (Wikimedia)

Corporatism is a version of fascism. In its modern sense, often known as cronyism, it was developed by Mussolini as a means for social control. The goal was to obtain total power by taking over civil-society associations. Corporations were and continue to be a vehicle to achieve this takeover, giving the fascist state the tools to control the lives of workers, businessmen, and professionals. At the same time, these special interests collude with the state to control and profit from their own workforce.

This manner of organizing civil society and the state proves to be the ideal political arrangement for the emergence and maintenance of an authoritarian and corrupt political system.

Today, in Latin America we are witnessing the reemergence of these structures, mainly in those countries where “21st-century socialism” has been implemented. The progressive governments in Uruguay of the last nine years couldn’t fit the bill any better.

In Uruguay, the alliance between the ruling Broad Front (FA) coalition and trade unions developed long before an FA candidate was elected president. After years of strategic “power accumulation,” the FA and the unions were able to reach the top seat of Uruguayan government. Instead of being independent, unions actively supported the FA presidential campaign.

After the FA won the national elections in 2004, union and state control became united and solidified. When Tabaré Vázquez became president, he appointed union leaders to lead state-owned companies and utilities and gave the unions a large share of power. In addition, Vázquez restored the Council on Wages, reorganizing it so that each branch was composed of a union representative, a business representative, and the Uruguayan government. From the outset, the authorities have stated clearly that wage negotiations and working conditions will not be neutral. Rather, they are openly biased in favor of workers.

They also “created” a right to the occupation of workplaces as an extension of the right to strike. As if this wasn’t enough, Vázquez repealed a decree that permitted the police to evacuate an occupied factory.

Businessmen argued that such measures undermine property rights, but to no avail. At first, these norms were applicable in both the public and private sectors. However, in 2010, when progressive politicians began to personally feel the impact of their repression, President José Mujica passed a decree that would regulate occupations in the public sector, perhaps even giving the police the right to compel workers to cooperate in a strike if they did not choose to do so.

For the private sector, things remained the same. Responding to business owners’ complaints, the executive branch declared: “Regulated situations [public or private sector occupations] are not comparable.” The president states that while businesses only look to satisfy “personal interest,” the state seeks the “common good.”

As such, the fruits of the party-labor-state friendship have a left bitter taste in Uruguay. In many cases, union power has flexed its muscles by occupying businesses for long periods of time, causing some businesses to go bankrupt.

On top of that, under the pretense of “saving jobs,” the government has encouraged the strikers themselves to take ownership of the company, obviously with government support. That is to say, using public funds. In the majority of these cases, we already know upfront that businesses have usually ruined by their countries, but this doesn’t matter. What matters is that gradually, ex-worker cooperatives have assumed control.

Broad Front Party flag
Broad Front Party flag. (Wikimedia)

This dynamic has caused the unions to have impunity with their actions, which grow increasingly audacious. They sign salary agreements that include clauses promising “labor peace,” whatever that might mean.

The most recent case is taking place in a laboratory. A year ago, the company fired two visiting doctors, after reliably proving that they weren’t doing their jobs well, which in the medical industry can lead to grave results. Since then, the company has suffered many stoppages. The Union of Medical and Related Industries forced its affiliates that its power be wielded across all labs.

Along with the shutdowns, there has also been a sit-down strike to impede non-unionized workers from completing their work assignments, with risks to the health profession and the entire population. In other words, the union has laughed off what it signed, and ignores the rule of law and individual rights. All of this is occurring with implicit support from the government.

Meanwhile, Federation of Public Health Workers (FFSP) members have given themselves the responsibility of policing the area, and the power to “remove” bosses that they don’t like, or who aren’t affiliated with the union. Even official sources have noted the existence of an “unbridled union power,” in which union leaders can “name, take out, and put” directors, deputies and counselors in leadership roles. Those who do not agree with what the FFSP wants are then threatened with investigations or indicted.

But what has shaken public opinion most is the judicial ruling that confirmed suspicions about the misuse of power and union corruption in contract negotiations for janitors in public hospitals.

For two and a half years, opposition members in parliament asked for an investigation into the workers’ representative on the Board of Directors of the State Health Service (ASSE). They suspected collusion with the union director to reward certain workers groups while scamming Public Health. However, officials always rejected these investigations.

As has come to light, the maneuver was made through the companies in charge of cleaning public hospitals nationwide. The indicted high-ranking officers in the government were the real managers of these companies in disguise. They took advantage of their privileged positions to persuade the heads of public hospitals to hire the services of the companies they own. Meanwhile, they overcharged (for hours that were never worked), and in bidding processes they would transfer “relevant information” so they could compete with better prices. One union leader also accepted bribes to speed up payments and guarantee the “union peace.”

All of this was possible thanks to politicians turning a blind eye to avoid clashes with their political allies: the union leaders.

Of all the problems haunting Uruguay, the most serious is how fascist corporatism is putting down roots. Its pernicious effects spread through the institutional, social, ethical, and economic layers of the society. And this is the reason why many foreign companies are starting to leave the country; meanwhile, the Uruguayan… he shivers.

Translated by Laura Weiss and Adam Dubove.

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