PANAMA CITY – Union officials and leaders of grassroots groups on Tuesday hailed the success of the first general strike in Panama during the rightist administration of President Ricardo Martinelli, while the business community said the impact of the protest was limited to the construction and education sectors.
The strike, called in protest against a law with anti-union provisions, included a demonstration in which about 1,000 people participated without incident on a square in Panama City, where shops and public transport was operating normally.
The general secretary of the Conusi labor federation, Gabriel Castillo, told Efe that the strike was a “success,” with between 80 and 90 percent of the workers in the construction and education sectors adhering to it.
“The impact of the strike was similar all over the country, although in the industry sectors, like manufacturing, its impact was less,” he acknowledged.
The strike was called last Saturday in support of banana workers in the western city of Changuinola, who took to the streets to protest Law 30, which, among other things, eliminates obligatory payment of union dues, allows employers to fire or replace striking workers and authorizes the use of police to protect the property of firms involved in labor disputes.
The president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Agriculture of Panama, Fernando Arango, told Efe that in the construction sector the strike was complete “but in general it has been sparsely followed.”
The business representative called on the unions and the government to sit down and talk about how to overcome the differences that led to the strike, which was called in protest against Law 30, called the “sausage law,” because it originated as legislation to reform the civil aviation sector but was stuffed full of unrelated provisions implying significant changes to labor law and Panama’s penal code.
In a related matter, Deputy Attorney General Angel Calderon announced on Tuesday the suspension of the arrest warrants issued for 17 union leaders after the disturbances in Changuinola, which left two people dead.
The secretary general of the powerful Suntracs construction union, Genaro Lopez, said during the rally in the capital that the strikers believe in dialogue, but they are demanding that Law 30 be overturned because it violates union rights.
He said that the decision announced by Calderon contributes to finding a solution and to dialogue. EFE