The Chilean Miners’ plight has been the biggest news story of the year – next to that of the hapless Raul Moat of course. But what is really going in post-Pinochet Chile aside from the massive world media event that surrounds every move of the rescue efforts at Copiapo? I don’t want to denigrate the plight of the miners; they’ve suffered and will probably continue to suffer for some time to come. What I cannot fathom is the way in which the company that owns the mine has behaved towards the 33 trapped miners and the workers on the surface. Last week, the Buenos Aires Herald reported that,
Some 300 persons, amongst them miners and their families, protested peacefully against the company, owner of the San José mine, claiming that the salaries corresponding to the month of September have not been paid.
There was a brief mention of this on BBC News but the focus was inevitably drawn towards the ‘human interest’ story of the trapped miners – who have also not been paid.
Union leaders have called on the government to pay compensation to the men, together with roughly 270 other employees of San Esteban who are now out of work. They blame the accident on poor regulation, pointing out that the mine was allowed to remain open despite repeated safety violations which led to the death of a miner in 2007.
But this is Chile. Remember? This is the Friedmanite Paradise designed by Pinochet’s Chicago Boys. Here the market operates without any interference, what began under Pinochet continues to this day in spite of the stagnation of Chile’s economy,
While both the Concertación economists and those of the far right sought to blame Chile’s woes on outside factors—the Asian crisis of 1997, the Argentine implosion of 2000, the U.S. slump of 2001, and so on—a few dissident economists had predicted all along that the boom would inevitably reach an impasse. One, economist Graciela Moguillansky of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, argued that the large Chilean finance/resource-processing conglomerates which dominate the economy had exhausted the easy resource-processing opportunities handed to them by the government through programs created decades ago. The “Chilean miracle” had reached its own self-imposed limits.
Nothing can grow indefinitely, not even economies but try telling that to some Austrian School zealot.
While the Chicago School is known for its devotion to free-market policies and its hostility to government regulation, the chief target of the Chicago Boys (and other right-wing economists), along with the military dictatorship and the business class, was not state intervention in economic life, but rather the organized power of the Chilean working class.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. The soi-disant libertarians of the British right often try to couch their anti-union rhetoric in terms of freedom. Last week Emperor Boris called for a change in strike laws.
The UNHCR has documented cases of serious violations of trade union rights in Chile.
So while the world waits for the latest chapter in the latest media drama to unfold, spare a thought for Chile’s workers who now have to struggle to survive under Chile’s first right wing government since Pinochet. 3 of the original Chicago Boys have been installed in the cabinet as ministers. One of them, Juan Andrés Fontaine, is currently Minister of the Economy.
He even has a Facebook page.