Two International Labor Day marches, one sponsored by the government and a second opposing the government, are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in Cuenca’s historic district.
The United Workers’ Central (CUT), a government-affiliated organization, begins its march in Parque Calderon while the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), which claims the government has curtailed the rights of workers, will gather at the San Blas plaza and march west of Simon Bolivar.
Both groups commemorate events of May 1, 1886, in Chicago, known as the Haymarket Affair, considered the birth of the international labor movement. Following a bomb explosion which killed a policeman, six other police and four protesters were killed and dozens more were injured in a gun battle. The Haymarket protest, which began peacefully, demanded an eight-hour work day. Ironically, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that does not recognize May 1 as Labor Day.
CUT president Maria Soledad Villacís says her members are dedicated to the cause of the first labor protesters. “We remember the martyrs of Chicago, their bravery and struggle, just like our brothers and sister do around the world,” she says. “We march every year because the rights of workers are still not respected in many parts of the world. We are the voice of workers who have no voice.”
Villacís also voiced her support for President Rafael Correa. “Workers have much stronger protections today because of the work of this government.”
Edison Déleg, Cuenca vice president of the General Union of Workers of Ecuador (UGTE), an affiliate of FUT, also said his group will march to honor those who died in Chicago. “They can never be forgotten and they remind us that the fight goes on.”
Déleg says FUT also marches to oppose the policies of Correa. “In the last 10 years, Ecuador workers have been deprived of their rights and unions have been shut down,” says. “Through laws and decrees, ministerial agreements and labor reforms, the government has have been subtracting rights of workers one by one. The struggle must continue against the oligarchy that has controlled Ecuador for centuries.”
Déleg added: “Those who march for the government are imposters, most of them government employees who are forced to march for fear of losing their jobs.”
The national police command says that hundreds of police will be deployed throughout the historic district to keep marchers in the two protest separated. Tensions between labor groups remain high following the recent presidential election.