Chilean Miners Strike at Copper Giant Codelco
The Chilean miners’ strike at copper giant Codelco could threaten the supply of copper in the world. Currently, six mines have contracts expiring, and a strike in any one of those would threaten 18% of the world’s copper production. But the government is doing its best to deflect any concerns. Finance Minister Mario Marcel says the strike won’t have any effect on the financial situation.
In protest, about 50,000 employees will walk out of their jobs. The government has refused to meet their demands, citing environmental concerns. But the unionized employees insist the facility needs $53 million to install capsules, which will enable it to operate under strict environmental regulations. The government dismissed their demands, but the strike will continue for as long as the government insists on closing Ventanas, and until the Codelco board refuses to give the workers what they want.
While the strike is disrupting production at Codelco, it is unlikely to affect the company’s finances. The company’s new contract includes a five percent salary increase and a nine million peso bonus per employee, equivalent to about $16,700. This deal will cost BHP Billiton $64 million, but it will help the company avoid a massive financial crisis. The strike is costing Codelco between two and three per cent of its GDP.
While the strike is not a widespread action, the government’s mandated mediation process will ensure that the workers’ voices are heard. If this strike isn’t resolved, it could cause a serious disruption to the company’s operations. Several mines employ tens of thousands of workers. Codelco’s Salares Norte mine is in the northern mining region of Atacama, and it is estimated to affect up to 25% of the country’s copper production.
The Chilean miners’ strike at Codelco on June 22 represents a major development in the country’s multi-tiered mining industry. The wildcat strikes are a direct response to the repression of the working class by the ruling elites. They also represent a significant development in the Chilean economy. The Sigdo Koppers-led struggle is connected to a growing rebellion against the corporatist unions that have long acted as an industrial police force for the capitalist class. Without them, the mass casualization of labor would not have occurred. In other words, trade unions are a key pillar of capitalist stability.
The CIEN mining economist’s analysis of the strike suggests that the current situation is largely the result of a severe shortage of specialized workers in Chile and elsewhere. This is compounded by the growing conflict between the union apparatus and the mining industry. The result is a growing class struggle and insecurity. Furthermore, there is a growing gap between the two groups, and it could be the catalyst that sparks a revolution.