Contributed by: Don WinnerBy Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com - The SUNTRACS labor union declared a nationwide strike, to start this morning at 7:00 am.
Over the past few weeks SUNTRACS has been in negotiations with Panama's Chamber of Construction (CAPAC).
The SUNTRACS and the CAPAC regularly negotiate their collective bargaining agreement, and this year is no different.
However the big difference this year, is that there's an election coming up in just eleven days. And, Genaro Lopez is a leader in the SUNTRACS labor union, as well as an independent presidential candidate representing the recently created "Broad Front For Democracy" (FAD) political party.
The FAD represents the extreme left-wing of the Panamanian political spectrum. Lopez, the FAD, SUNTRACS, as well as all of the other left wing political elements in Panama have been receiving financial support from Venezuela from Hugo Chavez for years. Now that Chavez is dead, that support has continued from his replacement Nicolás Maduro, although in this election Maduro came right out and said he's supporting the PRD and their candidate Juan Carlos Navarro.
Back in the late 1990's - before the start of the economic explosion in Panama - SUNTRACS was a much stronger and more important political element. Back then they represented practically everyone who was active in the economy and working as a construction worker.
Howver over the past fifteen years or so, SUNTRACS' political power has waned due to the explosion of Panama's economy. Right now they only have about 12,000 members but there are hundreds of thousands of people working in the construction industry. The simple fact is that the SUNTRACS no longer represent a majority of construction workers in Panama. Not even close.
This morning the SUNTRACS representatives went on television and announced a "nationwide strike" while saying that "all of the mega construction projects will be shut down" by the strike. Well, not so much.
The fact of the matter is that most - a great majority - of the people working in construction today don't like the SUNTRACS. They won't go out on strike just because the SUNTRACS declares a strike. And, they know that Genaro Lopez is politically motivated, and he's really after the money from the dues paid by their members and Venezuela.
SUNTRACS collects $2.00 per member, per month. With 12,000 members that's $24,000 per month. Genaro Lopez and his closest associates spend that money as they see fit, with no oversight or controls. They do practically nothing for their members in return.
The bottom line is that this "strike" is really nothing more than a political rally designed to achieve headlines. The public school teachers union - also representing a minority and also not representing the grand majority of public school teachers - is part of the "FAD" crew. Again, there are extreme left wing elements in Panama, part of the long existing political spectrum.
The SUNTRACS will be able to make some noise. They might shut down a few streets. There might be some clashes between riot control police officers and striking construction workers. It won't last long. Martinelli will first try to hold back, to give the SUNTRACS some room to make their insignificant and unimportant political statements. The FAD has 0% chance of winning the election in May, and the election is all that matters.
But if the SUNTRACS becomes too much of a problem or a nuisance for the rest of the Panamanian people, then Martinelli will send in the riot control police officers. They will clash with the SUNTRACS guys, who normally like to throw rocks at the police. Then the cops will use tear gas and pepper spray, round them up, and throw them in jail for a few days.
This exact same scenario has played itself out on several occasions in the recent past. For me it's like going to see a play you've already seen in the past. The details will change, the exact way the drama will unfold might be slightly different, however the bottom line is wholly predictable.
The SUNTRACS is looking to score some political points on their side of the equation, and Martinelli is trying to defend or improve his political position on their side of the equation. It just happens to be unfolding with the streets of Panama City as the stage, a construction labor union strike as the backdrop, but with the same actors and final act.
It would be a good day to stay home, make some cool adult beverages, and watch how things unfold on television. Avoid any large crowds or demonstrations. The protests and roadblocks will cause traffic jams. If you just wait a few days, all of this will go away...