The Bolivian cooperatives protests and their August 25 killing of the Bolivian Vice Minister of the Interior Rodolfo Illanes requires us to question our assumptions about cooperatives. What are the Bolivian mining cooperatives? Most began during the Great Depression as miners banded together to work a mine in common. However, like many cooperatives in the US that arose out of the 1960s, they have turned into small businesses. Regardless of their initial intentions, cooperatives existing in a surrounding capitalist environment must compete in business practices or go under.
The Bolivian mining cooperatives themselves underwent this process, and have become businesses whose owners hire labor. Roughly 95% of the cooperative miners are workers, and 5% are owners. It is common for the employed workers to be temps, or contracted out employees as we refer to them here. They have no social security, no job security, and no health or retirement benefits.
The mining cooperatives made ten demands on the government, and during the second week of August, they announced an indefinite strike if the government did not meet their demands, later adding another 14 to the first 10.
The three most significant demands included rejection of the General Law of Cooperative Mines, which guaranteed cooperative employees the right to unionize, since they are not cooperative co-owners. The cooperatives owners did not want their workers represented by unions.
Reuters, and the corporate press, true to form, falsely claimed the opposite, that the cooperative miners were protesting against the government and demanded their right to form unions.
A second demand was loosening of environmental regulations for the mining cooperatives.
The third key demand was to revoke the law disallowing national or transnational businesses from partnering in cooperatives. At present cooperatives have 31 contracts with private businesses, most signed before the Evo Morales era.
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