The youth of Peru have started 2015 by showing the country that a break from neoliberalism is possible. They managed, in the space of just over a month, to mobilize tens of thousands in five separate marches and to force the government to revoke the Youth Labor Regime Law, or, more popularly known as the ‘Pulpín Law,’ a controversial piece of legislation that would have slashed their labor rights.
The youth of Peru have started 2015 by showing the country that a break from neoliberalism is possible. They managed, in the space of just over a month, to mobilize tens of thousands in five separate marches and to force the government to revoke a controversial law that would have slashed their labor rights.
Law No. 30288, or the Youth Labor Regime Law, or, as more popularly known, ‘La Ley Pulpín’ [The Pulpín Law] was approved by Congress on December 11th, 2014 with 68 votes in favor, 12 against and 11 abstentions. Its official objective was to formalize employment and lower unemployment for young people aged 18 to 24 years old. Young Peruvians, however, did not see the law as the benevolent act the government wished to portray it as; instead they saw an attack on their labor rights that sought to satisfy the ravenous demands of big business.
Promoters of the Pulpín Law (the term pulpín derives from a drink specifically aimed at young people and has been popularly adopted to refer to the young and inexperienced) professed that it promised more stability – it stipulated a minimum contract of one year, and for this year the government would pay the worker´s health insurance. The government also offered tax credits for capacitation that the newly contracted worker would receive. However, accompanying these incitements came a whole host of cuts to labor benefits that workers currently enjoy under the general labor regime. The changes included a cut in vacation time by half, a drastic reduction of compensation for dismissal (just 22% of the previous rate), the withdrawal of compensation for overtime, family allowance, bonuses and life insurance; all signifying a substantial ´saving´ in labor costs for businesses.
The government claimed that this would make young people ´more attractive´ to businesses and thus generate more work. However, critics claimed that it would simply transfer the work from one section of the population to the (cheaper) other; the law prohibited the dismissal of workers in order to employ ´Pulpines´ but it did allow for the non-renewal of temporary contracts in order to employ younger workers – and given that seven out of ten formal workers are on temporary contracts, this would generate more job insecurity for workers over 25-years old. 
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) criticized the law, emphasizing that it is the quality, not the quantity, of employment that is the problem in Peru.  Unemployment in young people resides at 8% – not abnormally high compared to some European countries (over 51% of Spanish youth are unemployed as of December, 2014 ). Thus the Pulpín Law only serves to worsen the problem of unemployment, as it would reduce the quality of working conditions even further. Additionally, the ILO stated that the reduction of benefits does not lead to the reduction of individuals working in the informal labor market.  A national example of this can be seen in the government´s attempt to reduce the rate of informality of small businesses by reducing labor rights. Since the Law of Promotion and Formalization of the Micro and Small Business – Law 28015 came into effect in 2003, the number of individuals working in the informal labor market has stayed at 90% despite this slash in rights. 
The country´s youth, especially those living in the capital, also had their criticisms to share. They declared that the law represented direct violations of the right to dignified work and the right to non-discrimination (being as they were, discriminated against on the basis of their age).
Perhaps in order to really see who the beneficiaries of this law were intended to be, it is necessary to look at who was consulted, or rather, where the proposal came from. The young people, the official beneficiaries of the Pulpín Law, were not consulted at all.  Not one roundtable, focus group, survey or other method of consultation was carried out. So who, then, was consulted?
The Real Beneficiaries
On October 6th, 2014, ADEX – the exporting companies’ guild, presented proposals for labor reform to Congress´s Export Commission, using a presentation entitled ´The Reforms that Peru needs.´  It also met and discussed the same theme with Congress´s Work Commission. On October 13th, 2014, the National Society of Industries (SNI) met with the Ministry of Production to also present its reform proposals. Their suggestions, more than taken into consideration, were reproduced almost in their entirety in the Pulpín Law. The only visible difference being that ADEX´s proposal of seven days´ vacation was raised to fifteen. These powerful business lobbies, rather than being simple consultants, were the actual authors of the law.
The Work Commission, whose duty it was to approve the law before it went to Congress, also reluctantly met with the CGTP (the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers), which presented its reasons why the law should be rejected. Far from considering its proposals, the Work Commission didn´t even enter the participation into record.  The only official technical opinion that was placed on record was that of the Chamber of Commerce of Lima (CCL).
The Lima-based newspaper, La Republica, also reported that the Work Commission had approved the law in the space of a day and in a questionable manner. After the exposition by the CGTP, the commission voted to invite the Minister of Labor and Promotion of Employment of Peru, Fredy Otárola Peñaranda to give evidence, deferring their final decision for another day. However, after the decision was made, two congressmen who opposed the law retired to attend the Plenary that was taking place at the same time. Once gone, Agustin Molina, member of Ollanta Humala’s Nationalist Party, took advantage of their absence to present a reconsideration which, lacking the opposition, was approved.  In Congress, the law passed with similar haste. On November 5th, 2014, Humala presented the Pulpín Law as a Project of the Executive branch and classified it as ´Urgent.´ Without any discussion with the National Labor Council, the law was rapidly passed through a first, and then second vote (on December 4th and 11th, respectively) both lacking any serious debate. 
The Bigger Picture
The Pulpín Law is not a solitary, extra-ordinary law project, neither is its manner of imposition unique. It is, in fact, part of a series of ‘paquetazos’ (large packages) of laws that the Humala government has been implementing in an obscure and hasty manner  with the apparent aim of ‘reactivating the economy.’ In July of last year the ‘anti-environment paquetazo’ was similarly rushed through Congress with the aim of slashing environmental regulations, drastically reducing the powers of the Environment Ministry, giving huge tax breaks to big business and reducing labor rights . This law also did not consult with the communities and individuals affected. However, it unfortunately did not generate the same level of mobilization, and so remains intact. Perhaps because of this earlier success, the government felt confident in its ability to push through the Pulpín Law – but there it momentously underestimated the strength of feeling and mobilizing ability of the country´s youth.
The first mass mobilization took place on December 18th, 2014. Thousands of young people took to the streets of Lima with banners and slogans proclaiming ‘No a la Ley Pulpin’ [No to the Pulpín Law]. The National Police of Peru, directed by the controversial Interior Minister, Daniel Urresti  also came out in force, injuring 6 protesters and detaining 23 who were later released without charge . Three more marches followed in close succession (on December 22nd, 29th and January 6th), and sources put the numbers of participants at each march as reaching between 10  and 25  thousand. Marches also took place in the cities of Arequipa, Iquitos, Pisco, Tarapoto, Trujillo, Huraz, Piura, Huancayo, Cusco, Lambayeque and Cajamarca. 
It was marchers in Lima, however, who met with the heaviest repression. Various videos published and shared on social media sites captured the police engaging in inappropriate and violent behavior during the protests. In one video, a group of police surround and attack two youths with sticks before fleeing the area.  Another clip shows a group of youths facing off against a group of police. Both groups engage in tit-for-tat throwing of stones, sticks and whatever other objects were laying around.  The interaction appears to be a clash between rival mobs rather than a police operation.
A reporter was also beaten and his camera, in which he had captured images of police aggression, was confiscated. When he was later released and his camera returned he discovered the memory card was missing. After a two hour wait, he was given his memory card back, but without the captured images. Female protesters who were arrested also reported having been inappropriately touched by police. 
The police claimed that they were just responding to the violence of the marchers. However reports have emerged that, on various occasions, it was undercover police officers who were initiating acts of violence in an attempt to delegitimize the marches. One video circulating social networks shows a group of youths in civilian clothing receiving directions from uniformed police.  Minister Urresti denies these claims and instead places the blame on various worker organizations such as the CGTP and the CTP (Peruvian Workers Confederation). He also made accusations that Movadef, the political arm of Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path], the terrorist group prominent in the 1980s, was also present and inciting violence. No evidence was produced to validate these allegations.
The fifth march took place on January 26th, 2015. It was originally planned for January 28th, to coincide with the scheduled debate in Congress to reconsider the Pulpín Law. However, at the last minute, President Humala called an emergency session, moving the debate ahead by two days. The youth movement rose to the challenge and rearranged their march for the same Monday morning. The march had planned to arrive at Congress, to formally hand in their objections, however Urresti made clear that he “wouldn´t permit the march to complete its objective” and, to this end, closed the roads leading to and surrounding Congress. “We´ve increased the quantity of personnel substantially and we´re surrounding the ten thousand men,” he explained. He went on to say that the police were only there to defend themselves, but were also ready to throw tear gas bombs if necessary.
Despite the militarization of the city, Urresti and his officers were met with many thousand jubilant revelers singing, dancing and holding hands. The force of the youth and their sustained resistance had lead 42 Congress men and women who had voted in favor of the law to change their minds and vote in favor of its dissolution.
Social critics are debating whether this success was just a spontaneous surge to reach a specific goal, and thus will diminish and disappear now that that goal has been achieved, or if it marks the emergence of a movement that has the power to re-set the political agenda of the country. Raphael Hoetmer, historian and researcher, hopes for the second option; these protests, he states, were a result of the arduous organization of many formed or emerging groups or organizations. They included the participation of unions, student organizations, social collectives, political parties, human rights organizations, cultural groups and Zones – local neighborhood committees. The potential political power of the Zones is particularly interesting as it represents organizing on a territorial, rather than a sectorial, basis and they function as autonomous bodies, holding weekly assemblies to reach consensual decisions.
The diverse and decentralized structure of these united social movements achieved what Humala´s government and the business community weren´t expecting – they ´threw a spanner in the works´ and forced the government to backtrack on their neoliberal agenda. The question is now: Can this momentum can be maintained, and can these demands can be expanded upon? Hoetmer lists various possible directions the emerging movement could take: 1) Movements could demand a new General Labor Regime (another one of Humala´s unfulfilled campaign promises) that guarantees dignified work for all and a redistribution of the wealth of the country. 2) They could demand a stop to corruption and abuses of power; and a stop to the criminalization and repression of the protest; 3) They could protest for the dissolution of the previous anti-environment, anti-territorial, anti-labor ´paquetazos;´ or 4) Wider still, they could demand an end to the neoliberal extractive model of development that traps the country into an unsustainable future that destroys the environment and exploits workers and residents.
It is vital for its future success that the movement is not taken over by old, bureaucratic, centralized organizations with their own specific agendas. The strength and potential of this movement comes from this dynamic, decentralized and autonomous structure. However increased articulation and organization is necessary, both within the movement and outside of it, and synchronization with other movements across the country that are also fighting the imposed neoliberal agenda. One such movement is the People´s Movement for Living Well (Movimiento de los Pueblos por el Buen Vivir ) which brings together campesino and indigenous communities fighting to protect their territories from disastrous mega-projects.
Whatever the route of the youth movement, they carry with them a victory that shows the Humala government, and other governments which impose discriminatory, exploitative regimes, that the real power is with the people and that repression only breeds resistance.
Lynda Sullivan is an Irish human rights activist living in Peru. She previously worked in campaigns and communications for various human rights organisations in Ireland. Through this work she became interested in community struggles against the extractive industry. While travelling in Latin America she visited numerous community struggles, including the struggle of the people of Cajamarca against the mega mining project Conga. It is here that she has made her base for the past two years, supporting the struggle by writing articles in English and maintaining the campaign blog www.congaconflict.wordpress.com. She has a BSc in Psychology from Queens University Belfast and an MA in Development Studies from the University of Leeds.