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Workers of the world


This book is about the tin miners in Bolivia. Bolivia is a small country in South America. It is right in the middle of the Andes Mountains. Most of the people of Bolivia are poor. They work in the tin mines high up in the mountains. Or they farm small pieces of land in the lowlands.

Bolivia was ruled by the army for many years. But there were three very rich families who had all the power. They owned all the tin mines. People were not happy. The peasant farmers and the miners were suffering. Even the small traders and teachers were unhappy.


In 1941 a new political party was started by some lawyers and journalists. They called it the MNR. Workers didn’t join the MNR then. But when the army shot miners at Catavi mining village, the MNR stood with the miners. So many miners joined the MNR.


In 1952 some MNR supporters got guns. They chased the army out of La Paz, the main town in Bolivia. People in other towns also chased the army out. The army ran away and hid in the mountains.

Some miners caught a train full of guns and bullets. They took these arms and attacked the army from behind. After six days the army was beaten.

People could not believe that they had won. A new government was formed. The people in the new government were traders and educated people. But there were also three people in the government from the big, new trade union federation, the C.O.B.

Before only men who could read and write could vote. Now everyone could vote. The government chased out the mine-owners. They started the new government mining company called COMIBOL. Simple miners were part of COMIBOL. They had a say in how the mines were run.


But there were soon problems. People fought about what the new government must do. The C.O.B. people said that the government had not done enough for poor people. But the traders said that the government had done too much. And in the end the traders won.

There were also money problems. By 1956 Bolivia had no money. America said they would lend money to Bolivia. But then Bolivia must do what they said. They said the new MNR government must stop spending so much money on health and schools. They must stop the wages from getting higher. They must collect more taxes and they must put up the prices in the shops.


People were very unhappy about this. Miners went on strike. Everyone pro- tested. The government was very weak. It did not know what to do. So the army stepped in and took over again. This army was not like the old army. The new Bolivian army was very strong — from all the American money.

The next year the army cut the miners’ wages by half. The C.O.B. was banned. Strikes were against the law. And the army took over COMIBOL — the government mining company.

People were angry but they were frightened of the army. But the army rule did not last. The army was very crooked. They paid themselves lots of money but did nothing for the people of Bolivia. They also started buying and selling drugs. The country was in a very bad way.


In 1982 there was a total strike by workers. The peasants blocked roads so that no food could get into the cities. The army was forced to agree to elections. Today in Bolivia, the miners are running the mines — there are no mine managers any more — only workers’ councils. Workers in other factories want to do the same thing. The peasants came together. They want the government to help them with tools and seeds. They want to be better farmers.

People learnt lessons from before. This time they will not let the teachers and traders take over. They have won control over their own lives and they will fight to keep it.

ILRIG wrote this book about Bolivia. ILRIG have written five books so far. They call their books ‘Workers of the World’. Their books are about Botswana, Brazil, Bolivia, International Worker Organisations of the World and May Day. We chose their book on Bolivia because we cannot write about all their books now. ILRIG sell their books to workers for 50c and R2,50 to other people. If you want their books, write to: ILRIG P.O.Box 213 Salt River 7925

“We wanted to write books about workers in other countries,” says Linda of ILRIG. “That is why we call ourselves the International Labour Research and Information Group. We want many people to read our books. So we write in easy English.

“We feel people must know about workers in other countries. When we read about other countries in the newspaper, we never read about workers. But workers’ problems are the same all over the world. Workers in South Africa can learn from workers in other countries.

“Also big companies have factories in many different countries. Some workers in different countries have the same bosses. People must know about other countries. Then they can help their fellow workers.

“But we don’t only write booklets. We also have videos and slide shows about workers in other countries. We have slide shows on Brazil and Bolivia. We also have shows on Britain, women and big companies with factories in many countries. We lend these to organisations in the Western Cape. And if people from other places want them, we make copies and send them off.

“If unions want to know about other workers in other countries, we find the information for them. We are trying to build up a small library that anyone can use.


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