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Peru's guerrillas exploit economic troubles. Shining Path joins labor strike in first attempt to build political front with leftist parties

By Barbara DurrSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 28, 1988

Lima, Peru

The Peruvian government today faces its second national strike since coming to power in 1985, a sign that its increasing economic difficulties are breeding wider social discontent. But for the first time, President Alan Garc'ia's government confronts a serious complication to the problem of labor unrest: a Maoist guerrilla group is supporting the strike. The group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), has ruthlessly waged war for nearly eight years in Peru. Many worry there could be violence during today's strike.

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Sendero Luminoso's backing for the 24-hour strike marks a shift in its tactics. Previously, the radical group - which wants to totally restructure Peruvian society - regarded labor-union activity as merely reformist and condemned the relatively moderate left-wing labor leadership.

The general strike has been called by the Communist Party-led General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), Peru's largest and most powerful union federation. The CGTP also headed a 24-hour general strike in May.

Now, in a document published earlier this month, the guerrillas say that union struggles are legitimate terrain for political agitation and that Sendero Luminoso must play a leadership role.

It is feared, however, that Sendero's support is the main reason the strike could be bloody. Luis Arce, editor of the pro-Sendero daily newspaper El Diario, says the guerrillas ``want a combative strike.''

According to Ra'ul Gonz'alez, one of Peru's top analysts of the Shining Path, ``Sendero wants to expropriate the strike politically. They want the government to have blood on its hands and to be able to say that the masses have superseded the old union leadership.''

The Garc'ia government has declared the work stoppage illegal because officials say it is a political strike rather than strictly an action for wage demands. The CGTP says the strike is a political protest against the government's economic and labor policies, but that it is no less legitimate for that reason.

Given the bleak panorama of Peru's economy, further social upheaval is likely, and Sendero is poised to take advantage of the situation. In its new document, called Bases for Discussion, Sendero says for the first time that it is seeking to form a broad political front that would include not only workers and peasants but the middle class, specifically small and medium-sized business. It also puts new emphasis on its work in urban areas, in contrast to its traditional concentration on the country side.

With this new tactical twist, it seems to be aiming to attract the constituencies of the legal, electoral left. Peru's electoral left, the largest in South America, is joined in a coalition of some six parties, called United Left.

The coalition has been limping along with considerable internal differences. Some of the differences focus on its divergent views of Sendero and Peru's second most important guerrilla group, the Tupac Amar'u Revolutionary Movement (known by its Spanish initials MRTA).

As the United Left has fumbled over the last year and a half - having lost the Lima mayor's office to the ruling party in the November 1986 election - its more radical wing has increasingly pressured for a tougher stance against the Garc'ia government. Thus, in recent months some radical-left sectors have had a ready sympathy for MRTA, which, with much the same agenda as the electoral left, began its armed rebellion in 1984.