Thousands of Costa Rican workers have on strike since 10 September against proposed government tax reforms*. The proposals will increase the price of the basic food basket and convert sale taxes into a valued added tax (VAT), which will undoubtedly raise the cost of living for the entire population. The major unions in the country (public sector) also decided to strike as the new tax reform will not tax the country’s richest financial sectors such as the pineapple exporters, free trade zones, catholic and protestant church, and dairy industry.
by Camila Polgar
The current government of Carlos Alvaro (Citizens’ Action Party – PAC) which took office on 1 May is blaming public sector workers’ wages for the country’s financial crisis. However, the “economic crisis” in Costa Rica is not a recent development. Previous governments, Oscar Arias Sánchez, 2010-2014 (National Liberation Party – PLN), Laura Chinchilla Miranda, 2010-2014 (PLN), Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, 2014-2018 (PAC) are responsible for increasing the national debt, misuse of public funds, and severe cases of corruption that led to the current financial crisis.
For approximately four weeks in a row public sector workers have maintained picket lines, street blockades, and massive demonstrations all across the country. Workers from the private sector, who are not allowed to protest and attend demonstrations during working hours, also joined the national strike on weekends. This incredible national movement was met with aggressive retaliation from the government (e.g. use of tear gas, beatings, jailing of teachers and other peaceful protesters). Such misuse of power has only strengthened the strike and its national support. The government has declared the strike illegal and it has been threatening workers to such an extent that some of them have been forced to return to work.
Even though the strike is no longer as strong as in its first four weeks, it has shaken up workers’ consciousness. They understand that the so called “financial crisis” was caused by previous governments; and that therefore, they shouldn’t have to “pay for it” now through higher taxes. In addition, it has raised awareness of the relevance of belonging to a union to demand better conditions, and this opens up the discussion and possibilities of creating unions for workers in the private sector.
The Costa Rican national strike has shown that the country’s richest industries do not pay taxes due to their political alliances and that the current government of Carlos Alvarado, whose main campaign motto was in favour of human rights, has in fact behaved like a dictatorship, gassing and jailing teachers and peaceful protesters for opposing its ideas. Most importantly it has shown that only workers’ organisation and solidarity can fight for better living conditions for all.
No to the tax reform! The crisis has to be paid for by the rich! Tax big business!
*The tax reform is still under examination in the Costa Rican National Parliament.