After the battles of forestry workers in the Arauco region and copper miners working for the state owned Codelco company, subcontracted workers are targeting the private mining industry.
The current awakening of Chilean workers dates from August 2006, when unionised workers at the privately owned Escondida copper mine went out on strike for 25 days. They showed that organised workers can leave behind decades spent waiting for change and win their justified demands.
The Escondida strike was followed by a series of wage negotiations in both state and private mining companies.
This inspired the movement of subcontracted forestry workers, who demanded to negotiate all together in the Arauco region. The feeling that it is possible for subcontracted workers to fight and win has remained, even after the death of forestry striker Rodrigo Cisternas at the police’s hands, in May 2007.
In June 2007, the Confederation of Copper Workers (CTC) was formed by both directly employed and subcontracted workers from different mining regions. Immediately CTC tried to negotiate with Codelco.
The strike by subcontracted workers in the state owned Codelco company followed, with the company working overtime on a dirty propaganda campaign to blacken the name of the striking workers and bribe others with a bonus to not join the movement.
However, thanks to the appearance of new leaders including Cristian Cuevas in Los Andes and Manuel Ahumada in El Teniente, the movement did not falter and the company was forced to negotiate. The presence of well known experts like Orlando Caputo, Graciela Gallarce and Carlos Tomic helped along the negotiations, as did the members of the Catholic church who worked as mediators.
After more than a month on strike – including breakdowns in negotiations and confrontation with the police – an agreement was finally reached which marks a great victory. This sector of workers have been forgotten for decades, yet their demands only represent 2 percent of the profits that the mining industry raked in during 2006.
Union leaders have already announced that the movement will continue, demanding improved conditions in the private mines which have lower production costs than the state companies. On average they pay subcontracted workers a third of the directly employed workers' wages, and offer them fewer social benefits, even though the two sorts of worker do the same work.
The Miners Federation of Chile fully supports this move towards the private sector because the subcontracted workers’ fight is a fight for the whole Chilean working class. Directly employed workers are always under threat of being outsourced and converted into subcontracted labour. This form of labour slavery must be abolished, above all in the production sector. At least it should be restricted it to the service and transport sectors, as it is in most developed countries.
For CTC victory go to » Victory for striking subcontracted miners in Chile