Syndical Federation of Bolivian Mineworkers (FSTMB)

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Syndical Federation of Bolivian Mineworkers (FSTMB)

The FSTMB, a national union of mineworkers, was established in 1944 under the government of Colonel Gualberto Villarroel, a coalition of young military men and the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) that came to power in December 1943. The first permanent secretary was Juan Lechín, a white-collar employee of Patiño Mines, who was also a local soccer hero and former subprefect in the Catavi area. In 1945 Lechín was elected to the new post of executive secretary, which he was to hold for almost half a century.

During the Villarroel regime, the FSTMB became the largest and most powerful labor organization in Bolivia. However, in the six years following the overthrow and murder of Villarroel in 1946, there was continuing conflict between the federation and succeeding governments. During this period the MNR and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party (POR) were the principal groups within the union. With the Bolivian National Revolution in April 1952, which brought the MNR to power, Lechín became minister of mines, and the FSTMB became the most important part of the new Bolivian Workers Central (COB). The miners federation was given workers' control in the newly nationalized mining industry, with union officials having virtual veto power over the mine managers. This power virtually ended in the administration of Hernán Siles (1956–1960), and with the overthrow of the MNR regime in November 1964, the FSTMB opposed the government's efforts to raise efficiency and productivity in the mines.

During the administrations of General Alfredo Ovando (1969–1970) and General Juan José Torres (1970–1971), the FSTMB enjoyed a rapprochement with the government, but it was forced underground during most of the 1971–1982 period, when military regimes ruled Bolivia. By contrast, during the second administration of President Siles (1982–1985), the FSTMB was a major factor in preventing the enactment of an economic stabilization program. When Siles was succeeded by President Victor Paz Estenssoro (1985–1989), the power of the miners federation was largely destroyed. In 1986 Juan Lechín was defeated for reelection as executive secretary of the FSTMB. He also resigned as head of the COB. Subsequently, joining with other social movements, the FSTMB regained some political clout, successfully pressuring for the state-owned mining group, Comibol, to regain control of tin mining operations in Huanuni from foreign investors. Still, conflict between union affiliated miners and the thousands laid off in the 1980s, who then survived in mining cooperatives, remains. The struggle over Bolivia's important gas reserves was anticipated to further shape the FSTMB's future.

See alsoBolivia, Organizations: Bolivian Workers Central (COB); Villarroel López, Gualberto.


Robert J. Alexander, The Bolivian National Revolution (1958).

Guillermo Lora, A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Brown, Jonathan C., ed. Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930–1979. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

García Linera, Alvaro. La condición obrera: Estructuras materiales y simbólicas del proletariado de la minería mediana, 1950–1999. La Paz: Muela del Diablo Editores, 2001.

Grez Toso, Sergio, Francisco Zapata, and Moira Mackinnon. Formas tempranas de organización obrera. Buenos Aires: La Crujía: Instituto Torcuato Di Tella/Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, 2003.

Lechín Oquendo, Juan. Memorias. La Paz: Litexsa Boliviana, 2000.

Rodríguez Ostria, Gustavo. El socavón y el sindicato: Ensayos históricos sobre los trabajadores mineros, siglos XIX-XX. La Paz: ILDIS, 1991.

                                       Robert J. Alexander