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Chilean Dockers Call for General Strike

In the face of an ongoing state of emergency imposed by right-wing Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, members of the Dockworkers’ Union of Chile (UPC – Unión Portuaria De Chile) have not only begun to take strike action across the nation’s ports, but have also called on all workers to launch a nationwide general strike.

Sean Robertson

October 22, 2019
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Chilean dockers kicked off their 24-hour strike on Monday, October 21 at 10 am, and have now paralyzed twenty ports throughout the country – from Iquique in the desertous north to Punta Arenas in the south.

Of particular note is the participation of dockers from the port of Valparaiso, Chile’s main container port. Workers there have traditionally belonged to the competing Port Workers’ Federation of Chile (COTRAPORCHI – Confederación de Trabajadores Portuarios de Chile), known for its close relationship to the employers, its consistent refusal to take part in national stoppages called by the UPC, and its willingness to accept diverted cargo from striking Chilean ports. A 36-day strike by casual dockworkers in Valparaiso last December has turned the situation around, with the old guard leadership being replaced by a new insurgent leadership based on casual dockers not long after the month-long strike.

The dockers’ national stoppage has seen dockworkers take part in the massive demonstrations that have swept the country after the declaration of a state of emergency. These enormous demonstrations are demanding an end to the state of emergency and for all military personnel to vacate the streets and return to barracks.

In a statement released by the UPC on October 21, the dockers’ union declared,

Today we have paralyzed the country. Not just for union demands, but also because we think that the situation opens a ‘scenario for refoundation’ and that Chile will not be the same from now on … We have already called for a general strike where all the people express themselves with a spirit of democracy and transformation … Dockworkers are committed to economic and social change, and for this we propose, together with the whole of the union movement, the calling of a Constituent Assembly of the workers and the people … Only a Constituent Assembly will open up the possibility of the discussion for a new productive, industrial and development model, a new framework for labor relations, for the renationalization of the copper industry and other natural resources, along with the other heartfelt demands of our people … Finally, we are witness to a serious crisis of representation. The government is no longer in tune with the people, something which has been expressed through the use of fear and military violence in order to maintain governability.

The statement concludes, “Dockworkers have paralyzed the ports and taken to the streets.”

¡A la Huelga General! (Forward to the general strike!)
¡Por una Asamblea Constituyente! (For a Constituent Assembly!)
¡A defender al pueblo! (Defend the people!)
¡No hay grandes logros sin una gran lucha! (There are no great successes without great struggle!)

Correction: November 19, 2019

The original version of this article began by saying that the UPC had “not only begun an indefinite strike at ports across the nation, but have also called on all workers to launch an indefinite general strike.” This in incorrect.

The UPC has since October 18 called a number of general strikes of its members, but the dockers’ union has not called for an indefinite general strike of either its members or of the Chilean working class.

Strike action that the UPC has taken to date includes: the 24-hour strike of October 21 mentioned above, a 48-hour strike on October 23 and 24, a 24-hour strike that began on the afternoon of October 29 and progressed into the general strike of October 30, as well as another 24-hour strike that coincided with the general strike of November 12.

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