Nicer ways to do it? Bolivian miners fighting back

vrijdag 26 augustus 2016

First published on my blog on The article has problems, als I mention in the edit at the beginning. But I will let it stand.

Struggle, repression and contradictions in Bolivia

Edit, 18 47 hour on 26 August, fine-tuned 2034 hour: I have seen information that these cooperative miners’federation also is against union recognition and so is somewhat more reactionary than I thought. I still think we should never be on the side of government and its repression. My basic position has not changed. But the article below is defective. I will let it stand as it is, however; it was my honest effort, and it is dishonest to pretend that I thought otherwise than I did.

“There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail”. That was what I found myself thinking (and humming) after I heard about the killing of a deputy minister by miners in action in Bolivia. The quote is from a Malvbina Reynolds civil rights song, It Isn’t Nice(1). The anger behind the ministers’ death has reasons. And nicer ways to make their point had not led to very noticeable results. What is the fight about?

Bolivia, since 2006 under left-nationalist president Morales’ leadership, has nationalized the mines in 2006. Proceeds of the exploration – mining provides essention exports for the Bolivian economy – partially went to welfare programmes and so on, helping toe maintain the popular base of the government. Of course, ministers and buraucrats did not forget their own welfare in the process. So far, so business-as-usual with these kinds of governments

Many miners, however. work in their own cooperatives, assembled in a union: the Natiojnal Federation of Mining Cooperatives in Bolivia. This used to be a Morales ally, but no more. Minesrs in their cooperatives now demand, according to Al Jazeera, “less stringent environmental rules, the right to work for private companies, and greater union representation”. (2) The first two demands look problematic. If private companies – multinational corporations – deal directly with separate cooperatives, one can imagine these cooperatives easily being played off against each other, and pushed around by their much more poweful ‘business partners’. It can fit in with neoliberal policies. Less strict environmental rules are also not, in and of themselves, something to be applauded.

The thing here is, however, hat, apparently, miners think they get a better deal if they trade directly with companies than when they operate through a central government which has the state’s – not necessarily the miners’ – interest at heart. The thing is also that it is al very well to have good environmental standards if you are strong and rich. If you have a big profitable company, you can conform to the rules and still make a profit. If you are a small cooperative, conforming to such standards may just push the participating miners beneath the poverty line. Further below, that line probably, because these miners are not rich to begin with.

So both grievances, both demands, for the right to do deals directly with compan ies and against stronger environmental regulation, express workers’ interests, though in contradictionary and problematic forms. Besides, if the government would be serious about the environment, they could at least offer financial compensation for all extra costs workers ‘ cooperatives would make in order to fulfill the rules. If the government would be seriously worried about private companies making neoliberal inroads, they could offer the cooperates such good contracts that no miner would ever dream of dealing with private corporations. As it is, the state, in opposing the cooperative miners’ demands, thereby enforces an accumulation stragegy in which it sees itself as motor of economic develepment, as a kind of overall capitalist.

The government may express ist policy as e defence of the national patrimony against neoliberalism and environmental degradation It may even believe ist own rationalizations. And it can always blame the CIA, that favorite bugbear for ‘progressives’ when things happen that do not fit neatly in their ‘anti-imperialist’/ ‘progressive government good/ opponents always bad’ pattern. But at heart this is the state/ capitalist interest and locic clashing with workers trying to defend themselves through direct action. Justice, for pro-revolutionaries, lies at the side of the struggling miners. Not at the side of the government, however left wing it preternds and believes itself to be.

The struggle has taken the forms of a militant road blockade. Before the depity minister went to the fighting miners to negotiate a deal, there was heay repression. Riot police shot two protesting mindners in an effr ort to break the action The miners died – a death that caused considerably less concern in Western media than the killed deputy minister. I only read about it now that the deputy minister is dead. His death is now being presented as a terrible atrocity. The BBC (3) cited the minister of interior affairs who called the killing a “brutal and cowardly” deed.. The minister of defence, quoted in the Dutch newspaper The Volkskrant (4) even said that the deputy minister had been “tortured to death”. We should be careful here what to believe. When a government is fighting with miners, the judgements of members of that government should not be consedered objective non-partisan accounts, but part of the propaganda wing of the class war. We do not know how the deputy minister was killed. We do know that police has been killing miners before the deputy minister met his death. I don’t have too much trouble to know which side I am on.

The struggle will not be over after these confrontations. After negotiations failed, the federation alreadt announced “indefinite protest”. Already, 100 people were arrested in connection with the confrontations. The defense of the mining communities against the state will go on, and will have violent episodes, with police repression meeting ferocous self-defence. There may be nic er ways to do it, for sure. But the nice ways tend to fail. Solidarity to the striking miners in Bolivia.

1 Malvina Reynolds, ‘It ‘Isnt Nice’, youtube:

2 Al Jazeera, ‘Bolivian minister Rodolfo Illanes ‘killed by miners’ ‘,

3 BBC, ‘Bolivian minister killed by miners’,

4 Volkskrant, ‘Stakende mijnwerkers ontvoeren en doden Boliviaanse onderminister’,

Peter Storm

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