Why Labor Day Is the “Day of Resistance” in Ecuador

Supporters and opponents of the government of President Rafael Correa will demonstrate in the streets of Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca and other cities in Ecuador on May 1. (Plan V)
Supporters and opponents of the government of President Rafael Correa will demonstrate in the streets of Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, and other cities in Ecuador on May 1. (Plan V)

EspañolThis Labor Day in Ecuador can be described as intense, to say the least. On Friday, May 1, two opposing demonstrations will take to the streets of the major cities in the country.

On the one hand, it will be a “day of resistance” for civil-society organizations, labor unions, and indigenous groups, against the oppressive regime of President Rafael Correa. On the other, it will be an opportunity to defend the Citizens’ Revolution promoted by the government.

But what reasons have led Ecuadorians to initiate nationwide, large-scale demonstrations?

Law on Labor Justice

On Monday, April 20, the Law on Labor Justice entered into force, replacing three previous laws on labor and social security.

Passed with 91 votes (out of 137) in the National Assembly and followed by President Correa’s immediate approval, the new legislation establishes several changes that have been rejected both by workers and retirees.

The document establishes a ceiling or cap on corporate profit sharing with private workers. Earnings that exceed the stipulated amount – more than US$8,500 per year — must be delivered to the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS), in what amounts to a 100 percent marginal tax. The new law also expands the social-security system to include those not engaged in formal employment, such as housewives — although participation is voluntary for the time being.

The point that has caused the most controversy, however, is that the law eliminates the central government’s obligation to cover 40 percent of retirement pensions, as the previous Social Security Act established. This amount had to be delivered annually to the IESS.

Between 2006 and 2014, the debt that the state held with the IESS grew to over $1.7 billion. Nonetheless, according to Correa, this is a “fictitious” and “unconstitutional” debt, so his government has no obligation to pay it.

“Here, with the retired teachers preparing for the May 1 mobilization. The elderly and ill people are going out. What about you?”

Several labor unions, indigenous groups, and associations of retirees, such as the United Workers Front (FUT) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), have prepared themselves to join and demonstrate against what they describe as the “misnamed Law on Labor Justice,” which “condemns social security to bankruptcy and leaves the retirees unprotected.”

Civil Resistance

Civil-society organizations have also led the call for action. Representatives of Resistencia Ecuador told the PanAm Post that for them “it is the duty of citizens to peacefully express their disagreement when the government fails to meet its obligations, or when it surpasses its limits.”

“Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m, respectable and fed-up constituents will go out and march.”

The organization, formed by “free citizens, with no political affiliations, and aware of the urgency of resisting an authoritarian regime,” aims to “empower constituents to use their sovereign power to curb the abuses of the regime.”

“We work for a country where people of diverse ideologies can live together in harmony, and that, despite their differences, they agree on one thing: to live in a republic,” they said.

There has also been a great deal of support for this particular nonpartisan drive on social networks, especially under the hashtag #ResistenciaEC.

What about Women?

For Natasha Rojas, from the Popular Unity party, the aforementioned law is “unconstitutional and illegal,” and violates workers’ rights.

However, she explains that this is not the only reason to protest. According to Rojas, women have particular motives to attend the demonstrations on Friday.

Rojas brands the law as a “a mockery of women,” arguing that it “has manipulated the aspirations of a key sector” for the purported development of the country, “the women who do unpaid work in their homes.”

“If they assault one, they assault us all. Tomorrow 9:00 a.m.”

Furthermore, she states that a regression in the rights of women is taking place in the country, since “58 women are being prosecuted for having had abortions.” In addition, Rojas asserts that there have been “permanent aggressions against women who think differently than the regime, such as Janet Hinostroza, Mery Zamora, Tania Tinoco, Rosaura Bastías Lucia Sosa, among others.”

The “Revolution of Labor”

President Correa has personally called on his supporters to take the streets and defend the “Revolution of Labor.”

According to Correa, his administration has on net benefited the workers, and the opposition are merely seeking to “make the world believe” that his government is unpopular. Therefore, he said, they will demonstrate on Friday to show “whom the vast majority support.”

“We will not let them steal May 1 from us,” Correa stated, adding that for each person from the opposition, there will be eight government supporters.

Interior Minister José Serrano announced that 8,000 policemen will safeguard public order at a national level, of which between 1,500 to 2,000 officers will be concentrated in Quito.

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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