Chilean Miners Strike For Their Piece Of Copper Pie

Chilean miners began a strike over pay on Monday evening, August 7 at the Escondida mine near Antofagasta in northern Chile. The price of copper has risen due to demand from countries such as China and India, but miners haven’t seen any of the benefits. BHP Billiton, the main owner of the mine has reported record profits and the 2,000 workers want a 13% pay rise – but have been offered 3% – and a bonus of 16m pesos ($29,400; £15,500). Workers turned off machines and met in Antofagasta to blockade roads and march in protest.

The mine is the world’s largest privately-owned copper mine, and the strike has cut production by nearly-two thirds. The mine produces more than 8% of the world’s copper and is owned 57.5% by BHP Billiton and 30% by Anglo-Austrian company Rio Tinto. A Japanese group and the International Finance Corp own the remaining equity. The strike, as well as a rockslide at Coldeco, a Chilean copper producer, have pushed up copper prices by at least 2%, and will probably rise higher. In an article on the pro-business website, journalist Dorothy Kosich laments "The even worse news . . . that during the second half of this year, several significant labor negotiations are taking place . . . involving copper companies including Canada’s Highland Valley Copper mine in British Columbia in September, and several Codelco operations in Chile later this year. Grupo Mexico, the parent company of U.S. copper miner Asarco, already endured a strike last July at its Asarco mines and facilities."

On August 2, the Chilean government said that it would not intervene: "It is a private issue between the employees and the company’s management and it is not up to the government to intervene in any way," said Chile’s mining and energy minister Karen Poniachik during an event to launch the country’s "mining month." However, the government did respond to BHP Billington’s request to negotiate after the strike vote on Sunday, August 6, though no progress was made. Union secretary Pedro Marin vowed that the union would show its strength during the Escondida strike including holding protests that employ the noise tactics used by Chilean students in nationwide strikes last June which involved nearly 1 million protestors.