A little solidarity, a little confusion at the youth protests in Lima

Last Thursday, I attended the tail end of the fourth of a series of protests against Law Nº 30288, or the Youth Labor Regime Law. The government passed this law in December, which reduced the labor rights of workers between 18 and 24.

I hesitate with that statement because I am not grounded enough in Marxism to make a statement so aligned with class warfare. I think it is an easy way to create divisive debate that sidetracks a dialogue.

Despite my apprehension, I do not know another way to characterize the effects of this law. The law makes young workers ineligible to receive severance pay when dismissed. Also, businesses are only required to offer this age group half the vacation that older workers receive. Finally, Peruvian law requires two standard annual bonuses of a month’s wages for all workers. Under this law, workers from 18-24 are not required to receive that bonus.

There are about the pros and cons of these benefits for any group of workers, but that is another conversation. Instead, I found myself distinctly upset by this clear discrimination. We have a set of rights not allowed to a section of society based on demographic characteristics.

On principle, discrimination is wrong. In this case though, I paused because it just seemed so blatant. There must be some harsh, but pragmatic justification.

I do not see that in this situation. Supposedly the goal is to save money because young adults in Peru often continue to live with their families or receive benefits as university students.

Of course, that is largely inference as I have seen no clear defense of the law other than an intent to save money. That justification is weak and ignores that there are a variety of experiences.

Admittedly, this is a complex situation. Peru is divided between the provinces and Lima in a way that seems unfamiliar to me as a citizen of the United States. Workers’ rights and incomes are critical in Lima, where life is centered on monetary transaction. Money is used in the provinces, but there is a distinct difference in the infrastructure and workers’ rights. Beyond that, I do not understand the nuances that go into Peruvian politics.

I do not need that knowledge to understand that some (probably many) youth need these benefits. Some do not continue living with their families and depend on being treated like an adult. It feels somewhat unnecessary to say that, but someone had to get this wrong to get the law passed.

Thankfully, many of all ages have responded by marching against the law and crying to have their voice heard.

Five thousand marched last Thursday. I was heartened to see so many making their voice heard, yet while on the ground I was a little concerned at the disorganization.

The groups did not meet in the central plaza for a demonstration against the government. Instead they seemed to mill about in clumps, each shouting its own chant. At some point, a major group lit two effigies of some rats, which they waved around. I am assuming that was something to do with symbolism related to the government.

It was pretty disorganized. That is not to say that this stops progress. There were some youth who were able to enter the Congressional building to have their voices heard by the lawmakers.

Instead, disorganization can trigger various dangers. Sometimes, a few protestors become violent, warranting an exaggerated response from police. The disorganization compounds the dangers of non-lethal responses from police as people run in terror. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see trampling occur.

Of course, the police should not respond by launching tear and pepper gas as occurred Thursday night, but the reality is that this occurs. David summed that up best when he turned to me with uncontrollable tears streaming from his bloodshot eyes and shouted as we ran, “Welcome to the manifestations!” (Manifestaciones is the word for protests in Spanish. His English is pretty good, but I couldn’t resist sharing that little false cognate, which provided some humor amidst the controlled chaos.)

Whether in Ferguson or Lima, tear gas is a common response to protests. The issue is it can quickly create more chaos in an attempt to restore calm and order. Luckily, enough folks at the march maintained their wits.

That is just so frustrating to see. Oftentimes, the cause gets sidetracked as people defend their right to protest instead of maintaining the cause they mean to defend.

I saw exactly that happen Thursday night. Eight thousand police officers responded to 5,000 protesters pushing them away from the central plaza where they protested using tear and pepper gas. Traffic stretched back for miles. A mall closed its doors as protestors streamed away from the central plaza seeking shelter. Uninvolved folks were diverted from their lives as the police forced everyone to channel away from the mall.

It is disheartening to see a protest spin out of control like that. My hope is that people will not respond callously to being “inconvenienced” by these protests, but rather be moved to recognize the plight of this law on society. Having watched the #BlackLivesMatter protests and responses in the U.S., I am not overly confident.

I don’t make that parallel lightly. For whatever reason, I have been let down by the responses to popular protests in recent history. Governments answer protests by shutting them down. The general public bemoans being inconvenienced. Media focus on the occasionally blurry line between protest and riot. The protesting group is ignored and no further dialogue occurs.

As I bring this post to a close, I admit that I’m not sure what my larger point is. I suppose this all aligns Dr. King’s claim that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

I have always felt he was referring to the need to organize and intentionally work for change. At the same time though, this quote explains why protests seem disorganized and ineffective. Progress is slow. A group of protests are not a magic bullet, but the sacrifice, suffering, and struggle of every protest are so necessary to creating lasting, progressive change.

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4 thoughts on “A little solidarity, a little confusion at the youth protests in Lima”

  1. Nice reflection. Nice tidy conclusions aren’t always forthcoming, but it helps to read your reflection. The media really skews how the general public perceives protests for sure. Public opinion can change pretty quickly depending on how news footage gets edited.

    1. Yeah, I know. This protest just seemed totally disorganized on all fronts, from the police to the students. A really scary part of that is how easy it then becomes to lose popular support.

      1. Do you think this is a means of eliminating these benefits for all workers, starting with the youngest? Some parts seem not unlike US system of granting more vacation time with increased years of service,etc. In the dark ages, when I began work at GE, new workers did not get any paid sick or vacation time until they had been working a full year. I’m surprised by the month’s pay bonus…why not just pay fifteen percent higher wages all year? Difficult to understand from afar. Sad that protests and violence seem to be preferred to dialog and compromise. Praying for you and Peru.

      2. I admit it’s very challenging to understand. It almost seems like the overall system is broken and this was a weird attempt to deregulate for a small subset of the population.

        In the end they voted the law down. Whether out of fear of more protests or having listened, I don’t know, but it was the best choice.

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