Tension grows on the first day of Codelco's strike due to the closing of the Ventanas smelter and the possibility of an early agreement recedes

Five days after Codelco’s board of directors approved by majority to advance in the preparation for the cessation of the operation of the Ventanas smelter, in the midst of new episodes of contamination in Quintero and Puchuncaví, which was ratified by the President of the Republic, the Early yesterday morning, the workers of the state company carried out the national strike announced in rejection of the decision.

With barricades and protests at the entrances to the Andina and Ventanas divisions, the workers began the first day of demonstrations. From this last division, the president of the Federation of Copper Workers (FTC), Amador Pantoja, reported that the strike was total, involving 50,000 workers, including contractors. With this, he was emphatic: “The Federation is one of the most important in Chile and today we have all of Codelco paralyzed.”

The leader indicated that for each day on strike US$25 million are lost and that the smelter needs investment to continue processing copper concentrate. “To stop the strike we need a point of balance (…) We invite the government, the board of directors and everyone at Ventanas to talk, we are not harming anyone, we are only seeking what is fair,” he said.

Regarding the construction of a mega smelter, the leader pointed out that they are against it because it will involve privatizing the company.

The readings in the state and the government were different. In an activity to sign the decree by which 30% of Codelco’s 2021 profits are reinvested for the current year, the executive president (s) of the mining company, André Sougarret, assured that they took the necessary considerations to guarantee continuity operational. This was picked up by the Minister of Finance, Mario Marcel, who said he understood that “there is no work stoppage” and that “the effect is relatively minor.” “There is no paralysis, although there is alteration in the access of groups of workers from the mobilization of the leaders. So the effect that that may have on tax revenue is relatively neutral,” he stated.

In La Moneda, activity monitoring was activated early through the regional and provincial presidential delegates, who coordinate with local authorities and report centrally to the Ministry of the Interior. This model would be similar to the one executed during the truckers’ strike.

“I would call for calm. Indeed there are mobilizations, but it is not good, and this is what the Minister of Finance has pointed out, to be alarmist”, said the government spokesperson, Camila Vallejo.

He added: “We promised the workers to be summoned to all discussion instances, particularly those regarding the legal modification that must be made to free the company from the obligation to make a smelter in Ventanas, closing any possibility of privatization.”

conflict escalation

However, as the hours went by, the conflict opened new edges, aggravating the distance between Codelco and the workers.

After noon, along with reiterating that the operations of the state company are “totally paralyzed” despite the government’s evaluation, the FTC denounced that the administration of the state company intends to “intimidate” the workers, demanding that they enter the sites through roads not enabled.

The tension continued to escalate when the workers came out again to denounce that the company sent the police forces to repress and arrest the union leaders who are leading the mobilization in their respective workplaces. This caused the FTC to suspend “any attempt at dialogue with Codelco’s senior management” and reaffirm that they will continue the strike.

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