The dirty, stinking city of Montevideo with over 7.000 tons of several-days uncollected garbage was slowly returning to normal Sunday after the Army was sent out to the streets to clear the mess and fearful municipal workers promised to return to their jobs.
The conflict has been dragging on for weeks with the population of Montevideo at the mercy of strikers and lenient left wing municipal authorities who have been unwilling to proceed against the unionized comrade workers.
However since the uncollected garbage was becoming a health risk amid summer rains and opinion polls showed residents in Montevideo fed up with strikers and furious with the non-action of the Communist mayor Ana Olivera, the government decided to consider the task “essential services” which means an end to the right to strike and an immediate return to work.
However since the union’s first reaction was to ignore the mandatory back to work order, the government ordered the troops to remain in barracks and a few hours later organized a clean-up organization.
Given the quick response of the military, the public opinion support and Uruguayan president Jose Mujica and the First Lady personally checking the operation, plus the fact that under the “essential services” regulation those non complying can be fired, the union yielded and promised to return to work.
Strikers are demanding a 1.000 US dollars monthly salary for 30 hours a week plus benefits which are equivalent to another 50%, a privileged sum for non specialized labour in Uruguay.
However the conflict is not limited to compensations and benefits since municipal workers in Uruguay enjoy above average working conditions.
Montevideo’s municipal union, traditionally a stronghold of the Communist party, after twenty years of city rule by the catch-all coalition Broad Front (from former guerrillas to Christian Democrats) which in 2005 also won the central government, has been loosing unions to extreme radicals.
It seems that as union leaders move into city or central government posts the second/third line has been unable to keep control of the different organizations.
This has happened in several important unions in Uruguay but the most notorious case is that of the city of Montevideo workers organization which has been taken over by ‘extreme radicals’ and have had the three previous ‘left wing’ administrations on its knees.
For several days President Mujica in his daily broadcast has been warning that the extreme left only plays to the hands of the worst of the extreme right and called for prudence.
He went further and said that the ‘radicals’ were intent in making the left wing coalition fail, in sabotaging its achievements, but this ‘will have to be stopped’.
“Playing the extreme left in Europe only brought about Hitler and his horrors, let us not forget”, said Mujica.
Currently the garbage collection and sanitary risk situation seems under control. The next scenario is when essential measures are lifted and sanctions imposed as has been anticipated by the Mayor Olivera.
Will the union lick its wounds and wait for the right time to again attack or will it continue with its radical stance alienating Montevideo residents and helping improve the strong authority image of the central government.
After all the current Uruguayan government has a no love attitude towards the Armed Forces since many of its members as urban guerrillas, including President Mujica fought the Army in the sixties and seventies and were defeated having to spend years in jail, and there are still human rights violations’ pending demands.
Certainly not a replay of that time in other roles, but ironically that same Army was called in for the “dirty job” of helping clean the city, and indirectly to break the backbone of the ‘radicals” who are playing to the temptation of other extremes and impeding a good administrative performance.