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Chile : 1907 Santa María de Iquique massacre

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David in Atlanta
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Dec 11 2007 16:59
Chile : 1907 Santa María de Iquique massacre

CHILE: UNIONS COMMEMORATE MASSACRE OF STRIKING WORKERS

By Daniela Estrada MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 8, 2007 (IPS/GIN) -- One hundred years ago on Dec. 21, the Chilean government ordered its military to massacre thousands of striking workers from the then-flourishing saltpeter industry in northern Chile.

To prepare for this year’s commemoration of the massacre, a national coordinating committee made up of more than 70 public figures and institutions was created in January 2007.

"The mass killing was a shameful thing that Chile covered up for a very long time," said Juan Manuel Díaz, an international relations officer for the United Federation of Workers, the country’s largest trade union.

But the “massacre of the Santa María de Iquique school” became widely known in Chile and abroad thanks to the well-known Cantata of Santa María de Iquique, which was composed in 1969 by the late Luis Advis and recorded in 1970 by Quilapayún, a folk music group belonging to the Chilean New Song movement.

"Today, what happened there is part of our national, archetypal, collective memory," said Chilean historian Sergio Grez, the author of many books and articles on Chilean social history.

In early December 1907, thousands of dockhands in the northern port of Iquique, who were mainly handling saltpeter, went on strike to demand better working conditions.

Over the next few days, thousands of workers for the saltpeter companies in the Atacama desert flats, which were controlled by Chilean and foreign (mainly British) capital, came down to Iquique to join the strike.

With the list of their demands in hand, the strikers tried to negotiate with the company bosses, who insisted that the laborers go back to work as a precondition to negotiations.

The government of then-president Pedro Montt initially acted as a mediator in the conflict. But as the workers’ strike grew, the authorities decided that the 5,000 workers occupying the Santa María school and the 2,000 who had taken over the Manuel Montt plaza posed a threat to public security and public health.

When the workers refused to move elsewhere, Mayor Carlos Eastman, the local government representative, was urged by Interior Minister Rafael Sotomayor to order their removal from the premises by any means necessary.

On Dec. 21, 1907, at 3:45 p.m., Gen. Roberto Silva Renard gave the order to open fire with machine guns on the Chilean, Bolivian, Peruvian and Argentine strikers occupying the Santa María school.

In his cantata, Advis refers to 3,600 dead, but Grez said there is no documentary evidence for this figure. "It is estimated that there may have been 1,000 people killed or wounded. The maximum possible number of dead would have been 2,000," the historian said.

The Iquique strike was less of an immediate threat than an incident that risked making the government and employers look weak, said Grez in an article titled "La guerra preventiva. Escuela Santa María de Iquique. Las razones del poder" (roughly translated as “Pre-Emptive War: The Santa María de Iquique School -- The Rationale of the Powerful”).

"The massacre of unarmed civilians perpetrated at the Santa María school in Iquique was a pre-emptive act of war against an internal enemy," Grez said. In the view of the authorities, the strikers were dangerous, "not because of what they had done, but because of what they might do."

The Iquique killings came at the height of a spiral of massacres of workers unleashed by the Chilean state in 1903. Their result was to accelerate the design and implementation of policies to improve workers’ living and working conditions.

Grez and trade unionist Díaz see a number of shared characteristics between the Chile of 1907 and that of today.

"Both are periods of economic boom. Now, as 100 years ago, the state and the ruling class have enormous wealth -- then, because of the saltpeter exports, and today because of exports of copper and other natural resources," Díaz said.

"The gap between rich and poor is huge, in both cases," he said.

There has also been a revival of the trade union movement, which has held several strikes and demonstrations for better employment conditions this year, in the context of its rejection of the inequality of income distribution in the country.

In order to deal with these demands, President Michelle Bachelet formed a think tank in August with 48 members, most of them technical experts, which is supposed to report its proposals on "work and equity" to her in March 2008.

"Yesterday’s struggles are the same as today’s," the United Federation of Workers leader said.

According to Díaz, over the course of this year more than 300 initiatives related to the massacre, including exhibitions, trade union meetings and academic conferences, have taken place in Chile and in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal and Spain.

The coordinating committee members are the United Federation of Workers, the municipal government of Iquique, the Tarapacá regional government, the Teachers’ Association, the Writers’ Association and the University of Chile Students’ Federation.

The four political parties belonging to the center-left coalition that has governed the country since 1990 -- the Socialist Party, Christian Democratic Party, Party For Democracy and Social Democratic Radical Party -- and the opposition Communist Party also joined the coordinating committee.

On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, an arts festival will be held in the center of the capital to mark the departure of a United Federation of Workers convoy heading to Iquique to participate in the official commemoration week, Dec. 14-21.

Iquique will be hosting photo exhibits, recitals, roundtable discussions, meetings between the descendants of the original workers, screenings of documentary films, book launches, radio plays and marches.

Internationally renowned Chilean folk music groups such as Quilapayún and Inti Illimani will be actively participating. Countries such as Ecuador, Greece, Nicaragua, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela will also hold ceremonies in remembrance of the massacre, Díaz said.

The second conference of historians who have researched the massacre will be held Dec. 17-20. The first conference took place in 1997.

Seven trade union federations in South America and Europe will participate in a meeting, "100 Years after the Tarapacá Strike, we have the same struggles and the same dreams," on Dec. 18.

The closing event on Dec. 21 will be attended by local authorities and other members of the coordinating committee.

It is hoped that the residents of Iquique will stop their normal activities to remember the massacre at the exact time it happened. The idea is that at 3:45 p.m., cars will sound their horns, ambulances and fire trucks will turn on their sirens, and bells will ring out in churches and schools

David in Atlanta
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Dec 11 2007 17:10

215 page Spanish pdf history of the strike and massacre

Grupo de obreros dirigiéndose a la Escuela Santa María, 1907

David in Atlanta
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Joined: 21-04-06
Dec 11 2007 17:15

Tropas del Regimiento Esmeralda comprometidas en la represión de la huelga de Iquique, hacia 1907