Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 29, 2006

Not Your Father’s Sandinistas
The 1979 Sandinista Revolution brought great hope to the working people of Nicaragua and inspired others around the world–especially those oppressed in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The bloody Somoza dictatorship, favored friend of U.S. and German corporate interests, was swept away. Holdings of absentee landlords were confiscated and redistributed to those who would work them. Militant trade unions won gains for workers. Significant advances were made by women asserting their rights. With the help of Cuba, giant strides were made in health care and education. Solidarity organizations sprouted throughout Europe and North America, sending volunteers and material resources to help build a new Nicaragua being run by workers and farmers.

But Big Business responded as well. Despite a significant mass movement against intervention, plans laid by the Carter administration to stem the tide of revolution in Central America were greatly sharpened and expanded when Reagan took office. Money was not only pumped in to Nicaraguan opposition political groups but also a CIA armed, trained and directed guerilla force known as the Contras. Thirty thousand died in battles with these cat's-paws for Washington. Nicaraguan trade was embargoed. As the Soviet Union went through collapse that alternative source of assistance was lost. The Nicaraguan revolution was slowly starved.

In 1990 a war-weary majority, hopeful of lavish promises by Bush I of aid once the Sandinistas were out of power, elected a pro-Bush president. After more than a decade of power, the FSLN accepted the verdict of the election and went into opposition.

The promised aid from Washington of course never materialized. With massive opportunities in China and Mexico opening up Nicaragua languished as a minor backwater in the flow of global capital. While there has been some Taiwanese investment in “Free Trade Zone” sweatshops —where Sandinista trade unions are effectively banned—Nicaragua today is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Another election is coming up in Nicaragua. Last week Ollie North, who gained notoriety for coordinating illegal U.S. warfare in Nicaragua during the Reagan era, was spotted in Managua. Former FSLN president Daniel Ortega is the front runner in polls. Dé jà vu? Not quite.

North has taken time off from his television acting career to sound the alarm against the Sandinista resurrection, bringing money and support for Ortega’s principal opponent. Unfortunately, his warning is hardly credible.

Ortega just concluded an electoral pact with Salvador “Little Jackal” Talavera, one of the most vicious of the Contra war criminals, now the head of the far-right Nicaraguan Resistance Party. Looking for values voters, Ortega also cut a deal with the religious establishment to ensure passage of the most restrictive abortion law in the “Christian” world, specifically banning the procedure even when it is the only means of saving the life of a pregnant woman. Neither Bush nor Jerry Caldwell appear to have much to fear from this erstwhile revolutionary.

Some will look at this tragic experience as proof that working class efforts to bring about fundamental social change are inevitably doomed to degeneration. That’s a convenient argument for those wanting to make their peace with the status quo without feeling guilty. I think a different lesson needs to be drawn.

Nicaragua confirms once again that any working class victories in what used to be called Third World countries will be temporary and tentative as long as global capital has the superpower force of the U.S. government at their disposal. The Nicaraguan Revolution succumbed to ruthless intervention by the government that speaks in our name, spending our money. The unsavory degeneration of the FSLN was tied to that U.S. victory, not a consequence of the revolution. And, it should be noted, there have been splits in the FSLN, some regrouping to fight on for the original goals of the revolution.

The triumph of such U.S. counterrevolutionary interventions strengthens our bosses, weakens the working class here at home. Victories for workers elsewhere cannot be secured as long as we allow these interventions to continue. Global working class solidarity is not an abstract ideal. Effective solidarity is crucial to the future of working people everywhere.

Our global masters are being courageously challenged on many fronts. The Mexican victims of NAFTA battling in Oaxaca deserve the support of U.S. victims of “Free Trade.” The trade unionists of Iraq merit the assistance of those of us governed by their oppressors. At the same time we rally around the Goodyear strikers and Justice for Janitors in our home towns we should also be paying attention to the campaigns of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, and US Labor Against the War.

Chairman Andy Thought
While in Cleveland to promote his new book SEIU president Andy Stern offered some thoughts about how to deal with the purported Social Security crisis and collapsing private pension funds.

“For most working people, their home is part of their retirement....We could create [tax subsidized] reverse mortgages so you could use your home as a way to add on to Social Security and other pensions and retire with dignity.”

When asked about prescription drug prices at a stop in Oregon Andy replied,

“That's why I wrote to the Fortune 500 CEOs to say that we're not going to find leadership in Washington D.C. We need particularly our business leaders, who have a very strong interest in creating good jobs and making their companies successful. They need to provide the leadership, because we've waited too long for the members of Congress to act.”

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, appearing Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

Correction Update—I work without a safety net of fact checkers and copy editors which leaves me vulnerable to embarrassing errors. My apologies to any Jerry Caldwells out there; I intended to refer above to Jerry Falwell, the extreme right evangelist.

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