Chilean women occupy empty mine to protest job losses, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
November 16,
2010
to
November 30,
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Chile
Location City/State/Province: 
Lota, Biobio Region
Location Description: 
Empty mine
Goals: 
1. Reinstitute the employment program for those who had been laid off

2. Include the program in the 2011 national budget as a form of assurance

 

On February 27, 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile and was soon followed by a tsunami. In total, there were as many as 800 deaths and $30 billion in damage because of the earthquake. Following the earthquake, much of Chile was ravaged and thousands of people were left unemployed. In response the Chilean government began instituting employment programs in the Bio Bio, Maule, and O’Higgins regions, where unemployment rates were particularly high. The programs paid residents to help rebuild their communities and to clear rubble from the towns. However, on November 4, the government discontinued the program that was being operated by the Military Workers Corps (CMT), and 9,500 people were subsequently laid off in O’Higgins and then 8,000 more in Bio Bio and Maule.

In response to this sudden severance of employment and financial support, a group of women who had been working through the program decided to descend 500 meters into an unused mine and staged a protest. The mine was called “El Chiflon del Diablo,” the Devil’s Draft, and is in Lota, Chile, 500 kilometers south of Santiago. The mine was no longer in production and instead was being used as a tourist attraction.

The women put forth two demands for the Chilean government. The first was to reinstitute the employment program for those who had been laid off. The second was that, as a form of assurance, the women wanted the government to include the program in the 2011 budget, which was being debated in Congress at the time.

The 33 women were replicating the plight of 33 miners who were trapped in a mine in San Jose in Northern Chile for two months earlier in the year. The 33 men were trapped 700 meters underground on August 5. The dramatic rescue operation of the “Atacama 33” in October of 2010 was broadcast live around the world and drew significant international attention. The women, who were wearing work uniforms and miners’ helmets, said that they were asking the government to show attention towards them and help them, just as they had helped the “Atacama 33” a few months prior.

Soon after entering the mine on November 16, 2010, the women began threatening a hunger strike. Spokeswomen for the campaign were stationed at the entrance to the mine and communicated with the press and government officials. In addition, about 200 supporters and other unemployed laborers kept vigil at the opening to the mine.

Within a few days some of the women, most of whom were middle-aged, began showing physical signs of the strain. Eventually four of the women had to leave the mine and end their occupation because of health threats. During this time negotiations continued between the campaign spokeswomen and government officials. Eventually, the women representatives and the officials reached a deal that the government would create programs to provide job opportunities in the area. By November 30, the remaining 29 women who were in the mine ended their occupation and hunger strikes, and exited the mine. However, the deal that they ended up with, called the Urban Improvement Program, will only provide a projected 2000 jobs to the area, far fewer than the needs of the working class in the region and the 12,000 jobs that were lost in the program cuts.

Research Notes
Sources: 
"Chilean women start hunger-strike in a mine to protest job losses - Tert.am - News | Armenia | Russia | CIS | World." tert.am. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <http://www.tert.am/en/news/2010/11/19/chile/?sw>.

DiBranco, Alex. "33 Chilean Women Take Over Mine to Protest End of Jobs Program."Change.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <news.change.org/stories/33-chilean-women-take-over-mine-to-protest-end-of-jobs-program>.

North, David. "Workers Struggles: The Americas."World Socialist Web Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/nov2010/wkrs-n30.shtml>.

"In Protest - The Big Picture - Boston.com." Boston.com - Boston, MA news, breaking news, sports, video. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/11/in_protest.html>.

"Thirty-three women protest in Chilean mine 900 metres underground - Monsters and Critics." Entertainment and World News on Monsters and Critics. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/americas/news/article_1599521.php/Thirty-three-women-protest-in-Chilean-mine-900-metres-underground>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa, 24/04/2011