Decolonizing RUNASUR: Trade Unions Challenged by Plurinationality

Ollantay Itzamná
Mirada Abya Yala

Plurinationality is related to political cultural identity, territoriality, Mother Earth. Trade unionism, to a large extent, are modern actors (associated individuals) who seek to improve their working life conditions, and to a large extent assume that this welfare is achieved within the framework of the nation state (lethal with the original peoples).

The assembly of RUNASUR, held in Buenos Aires, left us with several concerns regarding the interaction in the popular field of the actors/drivers of plurinationality, and in that sense, of the very nature of the RUNASUR space.

The first interesting fact that we observed in the RUNASUR assembly was that the hosts/organizers of the assembly were the most important workers’ unions in Argentina. The organizers did not include representatives of peoples, or other social movements. There was a presence of indigenous people in the assembly, yes, but most of them were Andean migrants residing and organized in associations in Argentina.

Another striking element was the methodology of the assembly. After the speeches of the organizers, group work proceeded in the different commissions (5), each commission drafted and presented the documents prepared. There was no time to debate these documents in the assembly, and to reach a consensus on a Plurinational Declaration with quantifiable and measurable commitments. Neither was it established where and when the next assembly would be held.

Differential nuances between union and peoples

Unions, as the expression of the sum of individual wills of workers who organize to demand labor rights, are genuine. But, communities or native peoples are not the product of the sum of individual interests. What unites peoples is belonging to a collective identity, to a territoriality that shapes them psychologically, histories, languages, spiritualities and dreams of emancipation from their condition of coloniality.

In this sense, unions (modern actors) and peoples (ancestral actors) are very different. The former fight for their immediate livelihoods. The latter fight for identity, territories, defense of Mother Earth, Life in a broader sense. The peoples are where the idea of plurinationality as an aspiration or desire is nucleated. Not in the unions (which to a large extent would be comfortable in modern colonial nation-states, if they functioned well).

History of a difficult relationship between trade unions and peoples

In the Andean region, in the case of Peru and Bolivia, the relationship between unions and indigenous peoples has not been at all pleasant for the indigenous peoples.

For example, it was through the imposition of the logic of peasant unions, promoted by Velazco Alvarado (agrarian reform), that the native peoples and communities were converted into “peasants”. The agrarian unions never respected the identity, territory, nor the organizational dynamics of the indigenous people. Today, in this country, there are no unions, nor native peoples. Only peasant communities.

Bolivia is another emblematic case of the difficult relationship between the Bolivian Workers Confederation (COB) and the native peoples or organizations. To the extent that native peoples and peasants were forced to create their own organizations because the COB never recognized them as revolutionary subjects capable of presiding or holding high positions in this confederation of workers’ unions.

For the traditional left, the native peoples and peasants were never recognized as revolutionary subjects. And of course, in order to be a unionist, the native had to stop being an aborigine. They had to aspire to be modern subaltern subjects (workers). In this sense, unionism and nation states were highly racist.

Plurinationality is related to political cultural identity, territoriality, Mother Earth. Trade unionism, to a large extent, are modern actors (associated individuals) who seek to improve their working life conditions, and to a large extent assume that this welfare is achieved within the framework of the nation state (lethal with the original peoples).

Can unions be or promote plurinationality?

Plurinationality, as a transmodern political category (which surpasses the nation state and its national citizenship) necessarily implies a process of decolonization and openness towards intersubjectivity with those who are different.

In this sense, some decolonial challenges for trade unionism could be:

Transition from association to community. As we have already said, the union is an association of individuals that pursues union welfare. The peoples who dream and promote plurinationality assume the community as the center and referent for the coexistence of people, families, etc. “In the welfare of the community is the welfare of the runa (person)”, is the ethical imperative. In this sense, the union, if it aspires to plurinationality, must be less of a guild and more of a commune.

Transition from union demands to territorial defense. The awareness and sense of territoriality is what permeates the proposal of plurinationality. Plurality does not refer to the “accumulation” of individuals with diverse cultures, but to peoples with political consciousness, cohabiting in different territories, which in turn injects them with identity and political-cultural belonging.

Plurinationality requires that trade union struggles transition to struggles for the defense of territories. Plurinational struggles are not only trade union demands, but above all they are struggles for the defense of Life in its different forms. And these struggles are necessarily projected as struggles for self-government.

Re-enchantment with the Earth. The processes of modernization not only depopulated the countries, but the Earth was assumed as a “pantry” to be plundered, dirty, a cause of incivility. Unionization, as one of the vehicles for modernization, is also loaded with this process of alienation, contempt, of the Earth identity. Plurinationality assumes the Earth, not only as a being with rights and dignity, but as Mother Earth. Without the Earth identity, one cannot be plurinational. And this does not necessarily imply returning to the rural area.

From union democracy to plural democracies and lifestyles. The trade unionist, as a modern subaltern subject, assumed formal liberal democracy as the only way of decision making. In this sense, with liberal union representative democracy, the representatives elected as a board of directors make decisions on behalf of the union they represent, without listening to the assemblies. This situation replicates the centralism and verticalism that nation-states suffer from.

Plurinationality, in terms of the forms of decision making, necessarily implies promoting democratic community, participatory and assembly practices.

RUNASUR Officially Established in Buenos Aires to Manifest a Plurinational America

Buenos Aires Declaration of RUNASUR: Integration of the Peoples for the Peoples