Bolivia Table of Contents
Labor marchers in La Paz
Building a sheep-breeding facility at Lake Titicaca
Courtesy Inter-American Foundation (Kevin Healy)
Bolivia's official labor force reached 1.6 million in 1986, roughly half of the economically active population or about a quarter of the total population. Labor statistics varied widely because of methodological reasons and because of the large role of the informal economy, which contained both legal and illegal components (see Informal Sector , this ch.). Men made up approximately 75 percent of the official labor force and 64 percent of the economically active population. In actuality, however, women played a greater role than suggested by official statistics, particularly in rural areas and in the urban informal sector. During the 1980s, the growth rate of the female labor force was nearly double that of males. The labor force as a whole grew 2.7 percent annually in the 1980s. In the late 1980s, nearly half of all workers were in agriculture (46 percent), followed by services (34 percent) and industry (20 percent). Although services had grown since 1950 at the expense of agriculture, Bolivia still contained the second most agricultural economy in South America in the late 1980s, behind Paraguay, and the second least industrial economy, after Peru. The nation's unemployment rate, which averaged just under 6 percent during the 1970s, climbed to 10.9 percent in 1982, 13 percent in 1983, 15.5 percent in 1984, and 18 percent in 1986. It was estimated at 21.5 percent in 1987. Unemployment in the highlands tended to be about double that of the eastern plains (llanos) or lowlands (Oriente).
Workers were concentrated in the cities of La Paz (40 percent), Santa Cruz (20 percent), and Cochabamba (20 percent). Salaries varied considerably by location and sector. Urban incomes were much greater than those in rural areas, and the lowest official salaries occurred in the southern highlands. Workers in the banking and hydrocarbon sectors were among the best paid, whereas those in mining, education, and services received among the lowest wages, depending on shifts in the economy and wage negotiations. The average real wage declined throughout the economy during the 1980s. Skilled and semiskilled labor was scarce, and inadequate training persisted.
Organized labor had been the most important interest group in the Bolivian economy since 1952. The country's labor unions were some of the strongest in Latin America and were characterized by their activism, militancy, discipline, violence, and political influence. One knowledgeable analyst estimated that Bolivia had as many labor strikes, protests, and demonstrations in proportion to its population as any country in the world. The Bolivian Labor Federation (Central Obrera Boliviana--COB), an umbrella organization for the country's more than 150,000 union members, dominated the nation's labor unions. The COB routinely mobilized member unions to stage roadblocks, marches, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and work stoppages over wage demands, working conditions, political issues, and job benefits. The COB's most powerful affiliate was traditionally the Trade Union Federation of Bolivian Mineworkers (Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia -- FSTMB). Despite the power of organized labor in the mining industry, working conditions in the mines remained deplorable, and the average miner died of silicosis ten years after working underground.
NPE policies, particularly the Comibol layoffs, weakened the FSTMB. As a result, the General Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical Ünica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia -- CSUTCB) was challenging the FSTMB's traditional dominance in the late 1980s. Approximately 90 percent of all small farmers were members of organizations affiliated with the CSUTCB. The Túpac Katari National Federation of Bolivian Peasant Women (Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas de Bolivia Túpac Katari) was also widespread (see Political Forces and Interest Groups , ch. 4). Most nonunionized labor was in the informal sector.
Data as of December 1989
Bolivia Table of Contents