On August 2nd the teachers of Panama ended their nationwide strike that sparked strikes for construction workers, Indigenous groups, and regular people nationwide. The strikes began because of high prices on fuel, food, and medicine caused by the pandemic and U.S. and EU sanctions from the war in Ukraine, high unemployment, and political corruption. But as even Panama’s ex-president, Martin Torrijos noted “the social explosion we are experiencing is not the product of an isolated event… it is the accumulation of neglected demands… and deterioration in the quality of life of Panamanians.”
When the construction workers joined in on the strike, they used their trucks to form blockades across major roads and highways throughout the country, including the Pan-American highway, on which 80% of Panama’s agricultural goods are transported, and which is a major connection for goods throughout Central America. The workers had 32 demands including price freezes on fuel and medicine, and better investment in education among others.
A friend of Speak Out Now was in Panama when the strikes broke out and visited a blockade in the Chame district. They shared their impressions from the strike:
“Protestors held the blockade for the whole day but let emergency vehicles through. Around a hundred people were there, and even through the heat, there was a lively atmosphere at the blockade with music and food. Organizers held a rally and sang chants condemning the President and the government for their lack of action, and speaking on issues of gas and food prices, corruption, and solidarity. One chant heard throughout was “Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo” [Only the people can save the people].
The organizing done by the construction workers halted the economy and forced the government to respond to some of their demands, including promises to regulate the price of medicines and prevent their shortages in hospitals, and the promise to subsidize and put price caps on everyday goods. But, of course, the struggle is far from over. Many of their other demands have not been met, including an end to political corruption, capping the price of electricity and fuel, and investing more in public education. Even though the teachers have ended their strikes, other groups haven’t and many workers are ready to pick up the fight if the government doesn’t fulfill its agreement.
The actions of the workers in Panama show us the power workers have because they are the ones whose work runs society. And as their chant reminds us, ‘Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo!’ – Only the people can save the people!