50,000 Chilean copper miners launch strike against Boric government

On Wednesday morning at midnight, 50,000 copper miners launched a strike at mines and refining facilities across Chile, in the country’s first national miners’ strike in 20 years.

Chile produces 10 percent of the world’s copper—a critical metal required for industrial production—and its miners represent a powerful and historically militant section of the international working class. The indefinite strike is wind in the sails of a growing global movement against inequality and rising living costs, which have been exacerbated by the US/NATO war against Russia.

The strike was triggered by the unexpected announcement last Friday by the government of President Gabriel Boric that one of the country’s main copper refineries, Fundición Ventanas, near Valparaiso, would be permanently closed and all its employees fired. The decision provoked mass outrage among miners and forced the Copper Workers Federation (FTC) to call a strike.

The Boric government’s decision to shutter Fundición Ventanas was presented as an environmental measure on the grounds that the facility is one of the biggest air polluters in the country. In early June, emissions from the facility sickened dozens of schoolchildren near the plant. But officials at Codelco, the state-owned copper firm, said that the company could install mechanisms to block 99 percent of emissions with an investment of just $53 million.

While the Boric government has attempted to present the workers as hostile to protecting the environment, the workers themselves live near the facilities and made clear their demand is for the government to invest sufficient resources to protect jobs and lower pollution. Striking miners carried signs that read, “Environment and work” and “No to the closure, yes to investment.”

The struggle is an industrial rebellion against Boric and the Approve Dignidad (Approve Dignity) coalition, which is based on Boric’s Frente Amplio (Broad Front), the Stalinist Communist Party of Chile, and several smaller parties. Workers on the picket line in front of the Fundición Ventanas facility hung Boric in effigy with a sign reading, “Boric: The Maximum Traitor.” Across the country, miners carried signs and hung banners over overpasses near factory gates denouncing Boric as a traitor.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric arrives at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Monday, May 2, 2022. [AP Photo/Esteban Felix]

Boric was elected in November 2021 on a wave of social opposition to the right-wing policies of conservative Sebastian Piñera and social-democrat Michelle Bachelet, who alternated as president from 2006 until 2022 and oversaw endless privatization schemes that helped make Chile the most unequal country in South America. Beginning in October 2019, mass protests rocked the country, in what has become known as the Social Outburst (social outburst), and Boric’s candidacy marked an attempt by the Chilean ruling class to suppress social opposition with “left” demagoguery.

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