Chilean Port workers in 14 northern and southern ports have been on strike,
at various times, since late December 2013. The strike wave began in the
northern Port of Angamos to continue the ongoing fight to win a paid half
hour lunch break for port workers, for the integration of temporary workers
into the union, and for reforms to the dictatorship-era labor law. The
strike then hit other ports, with additional union members striking in
support of the original demands and against the police brutality used
against the Port of Angamos strikers.
Port workers are key to the flow of Chile’s largest export, copper. 9,500
tons of copper flow through the country’s ports every day. This strike is also happening
just when Chile’s agricultural producers are trying to get their summer
crop to port, and is expected to cost fruit exporters $70 million per
week. There have been some sympathy actions from workers upstream in the capital
flow, with miners at Chile’s largest copper mine and workers in the
forestry industry in the south taking action to cripple production.
The head of the bosses Confederation for Production and Commerce (an
association “representing the Chilean business community”) accused
anarchists of pushing the strikes.
Responding to that accusation, Melissa Sepulveda, President of the
University of Chile Student Federation (FECh), and herself an anarchist and
militant of the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios and La Alzada, Accion Feminista Libertaria
has issued the following statement, which Ideas & Action reprints below:
In response to the statement given by the president of the Confederation of Production and Commerce (CPC), Andrés Santa Cruz, which accuses anarchists of driving strikes in the country’s ports, the president of the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECh), Melissa Sepulveda (who ran for office in the STRUGGLE coalition composed of collectives in the anarchist current), replied that “workers can have political orientations, as he (Santa Cruz) has one too”.
Melissa Sepulveda said “using the term anarchist is a strategy that has been utilized for a long time, not only with port workers but now with the Mapuche communities. As a result, being afraid of the term anarchism, an ideological current and source of thought, makes no sense. The importance of what is being said in Chile is that workers’ rights cannot be violated.”
The student leader said that “the strike of dockworkers in Mejillones is completely legal and they are asking to be recognized as a union and to bargain collectively. The union also has many workers employed by the company as temporary workers. [The idea that Anarchists are driving the strikes] is a baseless accusation. I think that what is being experienced is something serious, a violation of the rights of workers, which is a problem that has been taking place for some time. Dockworkers have given an example of courage and organization in their push for the revision of the Chilean Labor Code –which doesn’t allow unionization and makes it difficult to do collective bargaining” Sepulveda said.
She added that “there has been an attempt to silence first the mobilization of dockworkers and on the other hand, caricature or demonize a mobilization that is legitimate and which fights for minimal conditions for Chilean workers”.
Santa Cruz has argued that if dockworkers feel their rights are being violated, they should resort to the courts. However, Melissa Sepulveda has responded that “although I have had contact with port workers to show solidarity with them, I don’t know what actions they are seeking to do to face the violation of their rights. Since the workers are in conflict with the companies, the State doesn’t want to get involved. This results in justice always favoring the company, in this case Puerto Angamos. I think here you have to look to all alternatives to denounce what is happening with Chilean workers, not just demonstrations but also using appropriate legal action”.
The president of the FECh said that “in 2013 the mobilization of dockworkers for a half-hour lunch time, we’re talking half an hour to eat, that is a fundamental basic human right from the point of view of health, finally wasn’t fulfilled and was replaced by a minimum bonus. There are minimum working conditions that are being violated in Chile, which have to be checked, not only by way of the demand of the organized sectors, but today the government must address what’s going on with the workers”.
Regarding the concern of the CPC that the shutdown is being performed at important moments in the export of fruits, the student leader said “well that’s certainly a concern, and therefore, it is necessary to seek an early solution, and the Government must intervene and demonstrate so this loss will no longer occur. Workers only have these means to put pressure for such a basic demand as to be recognized as a trade union or a half-hour lunch time”.
The translation has been provide by Gabriel, one of the Chilean comrades
currently on a limited US speaking tour ( http://chilespeakingtour.wordpress.com )