Remember how, a few years ago, Sebastián Piñera was hailed by a gullible world media as a hero for the rescue of a group of miners who were, in fact, rescued by their own resourceful comrades? Well, today we see hard evidence of just how much of a miners’ hero Piñochetera ain’t. This is major, folks:
Workers from the National Copper Corporation (CODELCO) and private mining companies in Chile have decreed a 24-hour strike for today, to reclaim workers’ benefits and what they call the “renationalization” of the industry.
The strike was called by the Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), and the Miners’ Federation of Chile (FMC), a work-stoppage that they consider historical, in that it synchronizes the actions of one of the unions at CODELCO and the syndicate active in the private industries.
On March 15, the FTC announced that the national strike would be carried out in all of CODELCO’s facilities, in rejection of a process of “covert privatization”, among other reasons.
According to the union, the 24-hour work stoppage was decided “as a result of weariness over the arrogance, high-handedness and blatant inefficiency of the executives towards the workers and the country.”
The call to strike was announced after the closing of an extraordinary congress of the syndicate, which made the determination in order to repudiate and demand changes and rectifications to a conjuncture of situations which affect the workers of CODELCO.
“When they don’t respect you or the collective agreement you signed, when there are problems with the governance of the business that affect workers, there is no doubt that measures must be taken,” said Raimundo Espinoza, president of the FTC, a union consisting of 16,000 workers.
The syndicate opposes the continued out-contracting of CODELCO functions, a process considered to be a covert privatization of the activities of the state company.
In contrast to that dynamic, the union considers it necessary to make substantial changes to the mining politics of the land, a process they call renationalization.
For their part, the Copper Workers (CTC) expressed solidarity with the FTC strike, after deeming it necessary to hold a large short-term nationwide strike in the copper sector.
Cristian Cuevas, the president of the CTC, announced that the union, which brings together more than 30,000 contract workers for the state company and another 10,000 from the private sector, shares the demands of the FTC, and the call to mobilize, even though they have their own agenda.
The minister of Mining, Hernán de Solminihac, issued a call to dialogue, and noted that the contribution of the mining sector to the national budget is considerable.
With the pressure on CODELCO, which is the largest copper producer in the world with some 5.6 million tonnes per year, one-third of the world’s copper supply is now at stake.
Along with the work-stoppage in the state company, the strike includes the Minera Escondida, operated by the Anglo-Australian corporation BHP BIlliton; Collahuasi and Anglo American Sur, administrated by the Anglo American corporation; and the Chilean company, Antofagasta Minerals, among others.
Copper is to Chile what oil is to Venezuela, but Chileans haven’t seen the benefits trickle down because, thanks to Pinochet and the Chicago Boys and their ironically named “miracle”, the government has seen fit to slash the public sector to the point where, like the average working-class Chilean, it’s all but dead. Education and healthcare and even pensions are privatized, and unless one is awfully rich to begin with (with an inherited copper mine to one’s name, perhaps), they are all terrible. It’s not just the Chilean miners who are on strike; the Chilean students have been striking for years already for a better education system, a public one which is free and of good quality (as opposed to the expensive, shitty private system they have now.)
It’s not hard to see, given that Chile produces one third of the world’s total copper, how a proper nationalization of the industry, with proceeds going toward social programs as oil money does in Venezuela, would make all the difference…and work a REAL economic miracle. I hope these workers are ready to bunker down, though, because it’s going to take much more than just a one-day strike to make real changes in this ghastly situation.