Strikes in Chilean mines strengthen workers' struggles throughout the copper industry, and reflect growing political unrest in Chile.
2,300 miners at Chile's Escondida copper mine - the largest in the world - have been out on strike since 22nd July, and were joined by 7,000 contractors on 27th July. The mine is privately owned by Australian firm BHP.
Workers at Escondida are demanding a rise in monthly production bonuses, and initially aimed for $11,ooo per worker to be paid out by the end of the year. BHP have declared the strike illegal, as bonuses are discretionary and fall outside the collective contract and strict anti-labour laws in Chile prevent workers from striking outside of the collective negotiating agreement. The union rejected BHP's offer of $6,000, which has since been lowered to $5,600 per worker. The strike continued, with the union lowering it's demand to $8,700, but BHP are now refused to negotiate while workers are still downing tools. Today, the union has put the $5,600 offer out to be voted on, and if accepted by the workers, the strike will be over. The union is also demanding protection for workers who contract work-related illnesses, removal of surveillance cameras throughout the mine, and improved punch-clocks which monitor their 12 hour shifts.
The Escondida strike is yet another case of workers' struggle throughout the mining industry in Chile and the rest of the world, as workers are demanding their share of record profits. Workers in Zambia and Indonesia have also been striking against private firms such as Anglo-American and Freeport McMoran.
Industry bosses are keen to bring an end to the Escondida strike as they fear a success for the workers here could fuel further strikes across Chile. At another major Chilean copper mine, Collahuasi, workers staged a 24hr stoppage over the weekend in protest against anti-union measures, pressure being placed on workers, and bosses attempts to negotiate with workers outside of the collective union contract. Collahuasi workers have previously held a 33-day strike in December 2010.
The state-run Coldeco mines have also seen their first walk-outs in over 20 years, prompting the increasingly unpopular President Pinera to meet with union leaders and assure them that Coldeco will not be privatised. Previous strikes at Coldeco saw sub-contractors demanding improved conditions. Signs outside the Escondida mine are calling for the mining industry to be re-nationalised.
The miners strikes form part of a wave of growing unrest in Chile, as students and environmentalists have also been protesting against the right wing Pinera government.