Sep 18, 2006
The workers of Escondida voted to end their 24-day strike on August 31st. Escondida is the biggest privately-owned copper mine in the world, located 800 miles north of Santiago. The strikers won a 5% wage increase as well as a bonus of $16,500. The new contract will last 40 months.
This settlement is short of the strike’s demands. The 2,052 mine workers had demanded a wage increase of 13% and a bonus of $30,000. According to the mine workers’ union, this would have cost the British and Australian multinational which owns the mine only 1% of its profits last year from Escondida alone. The price of copper tripled over the last three years, going from 80¢ a pound to $3, giving rise to a profit bonanza for the copper capitalists. Escondida produces 3,600 tons a day or 8% of world production.
Even if they won only some of their demands, this strike was a victory for the miners, who work under very difficult conditions, 10,000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the Atacama desert. They forced back an intransigent boss, who employed threats and slanders as well as scabs. This was the first real strike in this mine since it opened in 1991 and the longest strike in Chile since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. This strike could encourage other workers, particularly the copper miners at the six mines of the government-owned Codelco, whose wage negotiations come up in October.