Because of the government's strong regulation of the economy
and direct control over wages and prices, organized labor directed
its challenges against the government rather than against the
private sector. Even disputes between labor and government,
however, lacked the acrimony or frequency found elsewhere in Latin
America, largely because a succession of populist governments
curried favor with low-income groups by conceding economic benefits
and expanded worker rights. With little struggle, workers gained
the right to organize, to strike and bargain collectively, to
withhold union dues from paychecks, to work a forty-hour week, and
to receive minimum wage and social security benefits. Thus, while
the legal framework favored union development, government
endorsement of benefits undercut the power of union leadership.
High underemployment and rising unemployment in the 1980s also
moderated aggressive bargaining
(see Political Forces and Interest Groups
, ch. 4).
Labor-government relations became more strained during the
Febres Cordero presidency, however, because of that
administration's free-market philosophy. Labor called two national
strikes in 1987, a one-day stoppage on March 25 to protest rises in
gasoline and transportation prices and a second strike on October
28 to demand the ouster of the minister of government and justice.
The first stoppage was highly successful and showed an
unprecedented degree of unity among Ecuador's divergent labor
groups. The second, more political in nature instead of being
focused on monetary issues, had much less impact on national
In contrast to growing tension between organized labor and
government, the number of conflicts and strikes centered on
collective bargaining issues with the private sector declined
during the 1980s. Analysts attributed the decline to the increasing
reluctance of the average worker to risk his or her job in the face
of rising unemployment and a deteriorating economy. The most
serious strikes during this period involved work stoppages by
public-sector employees, usually teachers or university personnel.
Short strikes by petroleum workers and employees of the state
electric utility also occurred.
Data as of 1989