Chile: It’s Been One Month Since the Miner’s Strike Began

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Workers of La Escondida on their second day of strike
Workers of La Escondida on their second day of strike

By: ALBA Movements / EFE / The Dawn News / March 13, 2017

The 2,500 organized workers of the Chilean mine La Escondida, the biggest copper mine of the world, reached the first month of strike today, in the middle of the talks paralyzation and of the radicalization of the conflict.

“We’re no longer fighting for the 2,500 workers, what we stand for here is the future of mining in the country, we’re creating a precedent for all Chilean workers”, said today Enrique Thenoux, leader of the Syndicate Number 1 of the mine to Efe Jaime.

Since the past February 9, the 2.500 organized workers of La Escondida mine, that employs 4,500 people, paralyzed the extracting work in repudiation to the collective agreement proposed by the company.

The workers sustain that the company, operated by the Australian BHP Billiton, offers them a new agreement that reduces in a 14,5% their salaries and benefits, and implements discriminatory terms in the contracts of new workers.

According to the company executives, the measures respond to the necessity to adjust the productive costs to the new reality of the sector at Chile, characterized by the fall of production and the diminishment in the pure metal proportion at the mines.

Until the moment, the conversations between the company’s direction and the syndical leaders are frozen, what could convert this strike in one of the most conflictive of the Chilean miner history.

“We are fine. Our comrades are still energetic and our unity is as solid as ever”, said today to Efe the spokesman of the syndicate, Carlos Allendes.

Allendes and his colleagues have been camping for a month in a territory near to the mine, located at 3,300 meters over the sea level, in Atacama’s desert.

During this time, according to calculations of the syndicate, around 95.000 and 100.000 tons of copper could have been produced, which traduces into a loss of 500 million dollars for the company.

The strike provoked a decrement of the 12% in February’s production and could result in a fall of the Chilean economy by 1,1% according to experts.

“The low growth of the Chilean economy added to the paralyzation of La Escondida will probably disgorge on a really bad February and March and on an negative trimester”, explained today to Efe the economist Guillermo Pattillo, of Satiango’s University.

The workers demand an increment of the 7%, besides a bonus of 25 million Chilean pesos (37.800 dollars), versus the 7 millions (10.600 dollars) that the company offers, in exchange of putting an end to the conflict.

But the main claim has to do with the extension of the benefits of older workers to the newest ones.

The syndicate’s leaders assure that the negotiations are “dead” and that they are still waiting for an “approach of the company that never happened”.

A communicate disseminated by the Escondida Miner on the afternoon of last Friday, invites “publicly and formally” to the Syndicate N° 1 and the authorities to have a meeting in the next days.

It also points out that the company is evaluating going back to production after the 30 days of legal strike, just as the law indicates. “The company is evaluating day by day the possibility of realizing this measure after the fulfillment of the 30 day term of Syndicate N°1 legal strike”, says the text.

This Friday 10, when the 30 days of strike were reached, is a milestone for the conflict, since the term self-imposed by the company to stop its production expires.

This Friday, all the access points to the port where the Escondida’s copper is loaded and exported, were guarded by a group of 80 organized workers camping by the road.

The workers that escort the entrance to the port, nowadays surrounded with tires and fences as a form of barricades, said today to Efe that they will not allow the entrance of any contractor, “we will persevere until we win or until we die, that is our slogan”.

“Here we are writing the history of the Chilean Workers. With what faces shall we look upon our children if we accept the removal of our rights? NO. From here we will not move.”, assured union leader Jaime Enrique Thenoux.

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