Building a New Class Consciousness: El Movimiento Juvenil del Campo in Nicaragua
By ATC intern Matthew Bridges
Editors’ Note: In collaboration with the ATC, Friends of the ATC facilitates a small internship program for learners (usually university students or recent graduates) who are committed to solidarity with social movements. Each intern has a unique experience and brings a unique perspective and contribution to the ATC while they are in Nicaragua. In this post we share with you an article written by ATC interns from July 2017, Matthew Bridges.
Youth in the Past
While every social movement is born from a different context, youth participation tends to be fundamental to the success of social movements. Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution, which triumphed in 1979, relied heavily on the participation of youth in political and social programs. The Sandinista front was made up almost entirely of youth. Upon winning the revolution, it was these youths who were tasked with redefining and rebuilding their country. Notably, in 1980, a nation-wide literacy campaign was launched, where the ministry of education facilitated 100,000 educated, urban youths to stay in the countryside and urban outskirts, teaching literacy skills. This movement proved successful, as the country’s illiteracy rate plummeted from 50% to 12%.
Today in Nicaragua, a youth is defined politically between the voting age of 16, and 30, while within the ATC, one is considered a youth between the ages 16 and 35. In the countryside, youth have distinct challenges. If they can attend school past the junior-high level, attending university is often rarely attainable without scholarships. If this is not an option, youths will seek formal and informal employment without higher education. Informal employment is any kind of work which does not include the benefits of a salary and social security. Some examples include selling tortillas and produce in the streets, as well as services such as handy work and taxi-driving, when not affiliated with a cooperative. Another option for rural youths is emigration. During a rural community visit near Somoto in northern Nicaragua, community members stated that youth from their communities have migrated to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and the USA to find work and send money to their community.
Gender is one of the most important aspects of the youth struggle. Just as in the rest of the world, in Nicaragua the culture of machismo remains strong, a word which describes a general patriarchal attitude among men as well as women, especially in rural communities. Machismo, combined with a general lack of sexual education, and limited availability of contraceptives has led to one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Central America. As a result, women, especially in rural areas may be limited in their career and education opportunities.
Recognizing the situation youth are facing, the government is actively working to support youth development. For example, they have passed Law 392: Promotion of Integral Development of the Youth. This is promoting youth employment in public and private businesses, demanding a minimum of 30% youth employment in each business, as well as integrating more technical agriculture training, as well as other types of vocational training into over 600 schools in the nation.
ATC and the Movimiento de Juvenil del Campo
The ATC, with its revolutionary foundations and ties with the international peasant movement, La Via Campesina, is fostering the youth generation by working to re-build a youth class consciousness. This means that the young leaders who are active in the ATC are aware that they are taking part in lucha (struggle) against patriarchal, neoliberal, and consumerist national and international forces.
The ATC’s youth articulation, the Movimiento Juvenil del Campo (MJC, or Peasant Youth Movement) is composed of youth from the various organizational branches of the ATC. In a general sense, the work of the ATC can be divided into three parts: farmer cooperatives, individual producers, and labor unions. The MJC encompasses each of these foci, with an overarching theme of gender representation. In each region of Nicaragua, there are currently five MJC coordinators, including two youths (one man and one woman) representing labor unions, two representing the cooperative sectors, and one representing the producers sector (campesinxs who are not affiliated with cooperatives). The ATC is currently looking to double the number of youth coordinators in every region, as a part of a strategy to further strengthen their organizational raíces or roots.
If the leaders of the MJC are successful, then they are charismatically transmitting their experiences, and thus spreading the movement to others in their communities. As the founder of the ATC, Edgardo García put it, “We are not fighting for future generations, without fighting for the present ones first. In this sense, our commitment [as youth leaders] has to be tangible.” The ATC actively promotes the presence of this type of leader, in large part, through their formación trainings, which take place during fifteen day periods at the Escuela Francisco Morazán in Managua. These trainings focus strongly on building class consciousness in each youth present. Political and social learnings take place using a pedagogy which facilitates “the development of an identity in practice”, which is seen by the movement as more important to long term movement building than specific skills or knowledge drawn from the training (McCune 2016).
A thriving example of the MJC in action is the tabacalero (tobacco worker) unions in the Estelí region of Nicaragua. In Estelí there are around 33,000 workers in the tobacco industry. 70% of these workers are youth under 30, and 65% are women. Only 2,000 are affiliated with labor unions or sindicatos, as many of the tobacco businesses prohibit workers from being involved. Working to promote unions in Estelí, which support fair wages and healthier working is ATC’s Escuela de Oficios (School of Trades) located in Estelí’s city center where youth can become certified in cigar rolling. Most of the students in the ATC’s school are young women, often single mothers, for whom paid work is a necessity. With a foundation of skills to enter the workforce, these young women and other youth in Esteli are set on a more secure path to employment.
Women in cigar factory CubaNica work sorting and preparing tobacco leaves.
Providing youth with mobility is a prominent theme in the formación, or holistic education offered by the various schools of the ATC. In Nicaragua’s most prominent coffee growing region, Matagalpa, the ATC operates the Rodolpho Sanchez Bustos Northern Agroecological Institute, one campus of IALA Mesoamerica which is part of a growing international network of agroecology schools organized by La Vía Campesina. In this school, rural youth can become Agroecological Technicians after participating in a bi-monthly practical course for three years. As Agroecological technicians, the youth are able organize for food sovereignty and security in their communities. They might also have a better chance at securing one of the few paying jobs available on more industrialized coffee and cacao farms.
Youth at the Rodolpho Sanchez Bustos Northern Agroecological Institute participate in a practicum planting a garden bed.
Students participate in theoretical aspects of agroecology in the classroom.
Empowering youth to lead their movements is a strong theme within Vía Campesina. In 2016, representatives from the MJC, as well as other affiliated youth organizations in Nicaragua attended the International Meeting of Youth Engaged in Struggle in Brazil. This Via Campesina event was hosted by Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST). The meeting was focused on building capacity and alliance for resisting imperialist, neoliberal, as well as patriarchal forces alongside a youth presence from forty countries. Youth, women, peasants, farm workers, laborers, indigenous people, and other historically marginalized peoples are fighting against the same structural and ever encroaching forces worldwide. Only with a strong emphasis on the involvement of youth in these movements, will they succeed in representing their members and fighting back.