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Trade union opposition to Duarte grows. Concern over economy rises among many Salvadorean unions

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Disenchantment with President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's economic and political policies is growing within many of El Salvador's trade unions. A sharp rise in prices over the last three months has pushed these unions, many of which supported President Duarte in the 1984 presidential elections, to call for a four-hour work stoppage today and a large labor demonstration on May 1.

Three months ago, Duarte instituted a United States-backed economic austerity plan, which he said was necessary to pay for the government's costly six-year civil war against left-wing Salvadorean rebels.

Although many of the trade unions are most concerned about price increases, they are increasingly arguing that there is a link between the country's economic crisis and its civil war. Earlier this month, they called for a national referendum on whether to continue the war or to seek a negotitated solution.

The government says that it favors ``honest dialogue'' with the rebels, but says that the time isn't right for negotiations. These unions contend that the government, under US pressure for victory over the guerrillas, has not seriously pursued negotiations.

The average Salvadorean, however, is more immediately concerned with prices in the marketplace -- many of which have doubled since January.

``The rumbles of labor discontent reflect concern about prices,'' says one Western diplomat. ``And the price pressure is there. What UNTS [National Unity of Salvadorean Workers] is concerned about is that prices are going up and nothing is being done to control it.''

UNTS is a broad-based labor coalition composed of centrist unions that formerly supported Duarte, and the more left-wing unions that never supported Duarte and considered him a fa,cade for continued military and US domination. UNTS opposes Duarte's new economic measures, which include currency devaluation, increases in gasoline prices, import taxes, import restrictions, and price freezes on basic goods.

El Salvador traditionally has had an active labor movement, despite the repression that it has suffered from a series of right-wing, military-linked governments.

In the 1970s, the labor movement, seeing that the electoral routes to change had been closed by the military's alleged electoral fraud, moved to the left as did other sectors of society.

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