Aug 1, 2011
Almost 2,400 workers of the biggest private copper mine in the world, La Escondida in the mountains of Chile, went on strike on July 21st. Their demand is a production bonus of $10,800 after taxes, while management is proposing a bonus of $6,000 before taxes.
This strike movement really began with 17,000 workers at Codelco, the government-owned company that is the biggest producer of copper in the world with 11% of world production. The miners there were angered by a reorganization plan, actually a threat to privatize the company.
At first the strike was planned to last 24 hours, and it completely stopped mine production, as well as the loading of copper on ships at the nearest port. But when the bosses threatened penalties, calling the strike illegal and threatening layoffs, the miners continued the strike.
Escondida is majority owned by the giant British-Australian mining conglomerate, BHP Billiton. BHP Billiton produces more than a million tons of copper a year, almost 7% of world production.
The miners are angry because their production bonus has dropped dramatically over the last 10 months, going from $650 to $195 a month. Meanwhile, the price of copper was tending up.
The miners were also angered by video camera spying, bad working conditions causing a high rate of serious diseases such as cancer, and not being able to be off on all national holidays.
Management complains about losing 30 million dollars a day due to the strike, which, a union leader calculated, proves the mine owners can afford the bonus. It comes to less than one% of BHP Billiton’s profits.