Miners striking against Codelco, Chile's state owned mining corporation are celebrating a victory. After a solid 37 day strike by some 13,000 workers the company made a revised offer. The strikers, subcontractors in the CTC union federation, voted by a large majority to accept the offer and end the strike.
The new deal offers significant bonuses and improved conditions to subcontracted workers.
This public display of real democracy is likely to have a wider long term impact. It establishes a precedent for unions to negotiate for all workers subcontracted by a “mother” company at the same time. Previously this was illegal under labour laws dating from General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.
Codelco employs some 28,000 contract workers, compared with about 17,300 regular employees.
CTC union leader Cristian Cuevas says that the next step is to organise subcontracted workers in the huge private mines which now dominate Chile’s copper mining industry. “This is a victory for all subcontracted workers”, he said to great applause on Tuesday.
Last week Codelco sat down with leaders of the CTC, after being more or less ordered to negotiate by the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
During the negotiations Codelco made a more generous offer to groups of workers who had not gone on strike. According to the main employers’ newspaper, El Mercurio, there was a confrontation between on the one hand the neoliberals that run Codelco and the economy ministry, and on the other the Minister of Labour, who wanted to offer better conditions to the strikers.
Meanwhile, the CTC looked for support from all sides. Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz spoke in favour of the CTC position, saying that there were great differences in the conditions and wages between direct and subcontracted workers who do the same job, and that Codelco, as a public company, should show a good example of how to do away with this inequality.
In spite of all this political manoeuvring, the CTC-led strike, continued and neoliberals in Codelco and in the government who insisted in “not giving in to violence” felt pressure on them mounting.
Codelco made a revised offer on Monday:
- Overtime to be paid on total pay instead of on the basic wage
- A bonus of 450,000 pesos (two months wages) with no limit on attendance – previously bonuses had only been offered to workers with a 97 percent attendance record, which would have excluded all strikers
- Pay for eight of the 36 days on strike (initially no pay was offered)
- No sacking of strikers (except those prosecuted for damage)
CTC members voted in favour of the deal in mass meetings on Tuesday afternoon. Though not all their initial demands were won, the situation for subcontracted workers has improved, perhaps for good.