Support for Oscar Olivera

Oct 22, 2003

Many activists and friends of GR will know Oscar Olivera. Oscar has spoken at many GR platforms in the UK and is one of the most renowned trade unionists in Latin America. His life is constantly under threat from the death squads organised by both the government and multi-nationals with concerns in Bolivia. Below we publish a letter from his sister, Marcela and a statement about Oscar’s current situation. Oscar would, we are certain, love to see the friends he made in London and around the country do what they can to provide solidarity for his cause and the millions fighting back in Bolivia right now.

From: Marcela Olivera F.

Friends. As you may know the situation here in Bolivia is really hard at this moment..

The last three weeks more than 40 people died on the streets and the fields. More of them are indigenous and migrants in El Alto city.

As part of this situation it started a campaign against the Social Movement leaders. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is accusing the leaders to try to kill the democracy. They still don’t want to see that now is the people who took in their hands the situation.

We want to ask your help. We want that you call Bolivian embassies in your country to tell them that they have to stop to kill the people here.

As part of this campaign against the leaders, the factory where Oscar works 25 years ago, decided not to pay his salary anymore. In attach you will find a letter explaining better the situation we ask your solidarity in both cases.

Un abrazo,

Friends and fellow activists,

Our friend and comrade Oscar Olivera is presently the object of a contemptible campaign of persecution. He has been denied his wages at Manaco Footwear Company without just cause or any explanation. Moreover, Oscar, his wife, and his children have been deprived of their medical insurance.

Both of these acts have stripped away two of Oscar’s basic rights as a worker: the right to collect wages earned, and the right to health care.

As happens to someone every day in Bolivia since we began to lift up our heads and fight, Oscar and his family are being robbed of their right to health and life. Oscar is one of the few social fighters in Bolivia who has supported himself and his family without any special privileges or extra income beyond that of an ordinary worker. It is our duty and collective responsibility to challenge, with dignity and with our heads held high, this latest arbitrary act of Manaco’s management.

One of the historic conquests of Bolivian workers is the right for locally elected union leaders to receive their regular salary and benefits from the company while they are performing full-time union work. This is not a favor generously bestowed by the bosses. Rather, it is a fundamental obligation of the employers to the workers who, with their own labor, support their union representatives.

In recent days, the General Manager of Manaco, Arturo Blanco, publicly accused Oscar of using Manaco’s workers to serve his personal interests. Sr. Blanco alleged that, under the pretext of protesting the impending layoff of 16 workers and the surprise announcement of a week of factory down time without pay, Oscar was seeking to incite workers to join his “organization..”

The truth, however, is that individual workers, and the Manaco Union as a whole, approached Oscar to represent them in the struggle against management ’s decision to impose an unpaid vacation on workers and to layoff the 16 co-workers. The Union considers that the fight is an important collective struggle because it views the unexpected scheduling of temporary down time as a possible first step toward the permanent closing of the factory.

Management has told workers that workers have received bonuses in the last three periods because the company has been losing money. Yet, evidently speaking out of the other side of his mouth, Sr. Blanco has been quoted as publicly stating that “our firm has achieved its highest level of economic performance of the last four years.”

What is certain is that the large transnational firms such as Bata, which owns Manaco, view the smaller factories, such as the one in Cochabamba, as nuisances. Or, to use management’s “technical” language, we are considered to be “a unit of production with very high costs.” It is clear that the factory will either be closed or will see its workforce reduced to a minimum—a process that has been underway for years.

What Sr. Blanco has contributed is to have accelerated this process through his incompetence and wastefulness—which is precisely what Oscar has criticized.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to help us organize a national and international campaign to denounce and repudiate Sr. Blanco’s arbitrariness.. We ask that every person who is outraged by what is being done to Oscar and his family, and that every organization, union, and private or public institution who disagrees with Manaco’s practice of persecution, raise their voice and express their indignation.

Please send letters of support for Oscar to the following addresses:

Arturo Blanco, Gerente General de Manaco
Fax (591-4) 4117305
Fax (591-4) 4263013

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