Unions in Chile lead emergency aid demands like pandemic bites | Coronavirus pandemic news


With more than 20 representatives of Chile’s largest unions, they tried to convince Special Forces police to allow them to deliver a letter to President Sebastian Pinera, with mandatory masks and permits allowing them to move under lock and key.

Barbara Figueroa, president of the CUT (United Workers’ Confederation), led the delegation to Moneda’s presidential palace, where she was told she would only be allowed to enter the building.

“We all go or none of us,” Figueroa said. “We all represent our unions, including teachers, subway workers, Walmart supermarkets, teachers and medical staff. We need the president to receive our request. “

As he spoke, police suddenly began arresting a dozen union leaders and putting them in vans to drive them to the nearest police station, accused of disturbing the peace in times of pandemic.

It was a bad start for a national strike called by the CUT, which accounts for almost 9% of salaried workers. They were joined by 35,000 public service workers, including state television and CODELCO, Chile’s largest mining company. Chile is the largest producer and exporter of copper in the world.

Police arrested union leaders and protesters in front of the presidential palace during Friday’s national strike called by the Central Workers’ Union [Pablo Sanhueza/Reuters]

The letter, which was eventually delivered by Figueroa along with those who had not been arrested, sets out three key demands.

“We warn the government not to ignore them: first, a health emergency payment of 500,000 pesos ($ 700) for all the unemployed; a minimum wage above the poverty line and the freezing of food prices,” said Figueroa .

As she spoke, President Pinera met with leaders of both houses of Congress to discuss a new emergency aid package for Chileans.

People fighting

Food kitchens have spread rapidly across the country since the pandemic began. Unemployment has risen to almost 11 percent. But so far, government financial aid has proven to be inadequate and difficult to access, due to excessive bureaucracy.

“I receive less than 1,000 pesos ($ 142) from my pension. I can’t pay rent or electricity, gas or water, so I’m not paying my bills or eating properly. And I haven’t received a penny from the government since the pandemic began, “said Rosa Diaz, a 78-year-old retiree who supports the strike.

With the vast majority of the country still under mandatory confinement, the strike has had mostly a symbolic impact. However, there were small marches and protests across the country throughout the day. And it looks like he pressured the president to reconsider urgent aid requests.

“We applaud the government’s decision to finally meet with congressional leaders. We have always said that state support should be for everyone, not just a few. The financial aid package should be robust enough to provide economic, health and social security so that people can stay at home under confinement and we can overcome this pandemic, “said MP Raul Soto, leader of the PPD party bench. center-left.

A man walks past banners reading “Decent Health” and “We Demand” during a rally convened by the Central Union of Workers of Chile for emergency aid and better wages and working conditions [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

To help pay more aid, the opposition has proposed a tax bill for so-called “super-rich.” It would raise taxes once and for all by 2.5 percent for about 1,500 extremely wealthy Chileans. But, as expected, there has been resistance from the country’s powerful business sector.

Chile’s most prominent union leader believes it could get worse.

“Yes, we now have an economic emergency, with families having nothing to eat. But then, when the time comes to revive the economy, when there are a large number of people desperately looking for work, this will represent a breeding ground for abusive employers, ”Figueroa warned.

“They want to offer even worse wages and working conditions. That is why we must take action now. “

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