The strike has led to Costa Rica’s largest mobilizations in years, and it has left the government isolated and on the defensive, even from its own supporters in the National Assembly.
The strike, called by a coalition that includes teachers and the workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (I.C.E.), is set to last indefinitely. Hundreds of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in all the country’s major cities, and their protests have been repressed by the Fuerza Publica, the national police force.
After the International Monetary Fund and the Inter American Development expressed concern about Costa Rica’s growing public debt, the newly installed government of Carlos Alvarado announced last August that it would exercise “fiscal discipline” by imposing new taxes on the working class and by cutting public-sector workers’ pensions and benefits.
The workers of the national trade unions have rejected this plan and drawn up an alternative plan that would establish a progressive income tax system, cut the unfair value-added tax, close tax loopholes for the wealthy and impose a modest tax regime for the industries located in the Zona Francas (maquiladoras).
Struggles against the imposition of an IMF-style adjustment program are not new for Central American countries. What is new for Costa Rica is that the struggle is being waged on a class basis. The general slogan of the struggle is “The workers will not pay for their crisis, let the rich and big capital pay.” This slogan became predominant in April during a one-day warning strike, in which 150,000 workers took part, and again at the annual May Day demonstration.
Reinforcing this slogan is the counterposing of the two plans—one in which the workers will bear the brunt of the crisis, and the other, in which the rich, who have benefited in myriad of ways from the looting of the national treasury, will bear the cost.
The combination of the workers’ slogan and their alternative plan has been instrumental in breaking through the facade of “solidarismo,” the key ideology of the Costa Rican oligarchy and imperialism, which in better times was used to hide the class divide by promoting the idea that “we are all in the same boat.”