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More than 20 members from Chile’s most powerful trade unions tried to persuade Special Forces police to let them deliver a letter to President Sebastian Pinera while wearing mandatory facemasks and carrying permits that enable them to circulate under lockdown.

The delegation was led by Barbara Figueroa, president of the CUT (United Confederation of Workers), to the Moneda Presidential Palace, where she was informed that only she would be allowed in.

“We all go or none of us,” Figueroa said. “We are all representing our unions, including teachers, the metro workers, Walmart supermarkets, teachers and medical personnel. We need the president to receive our petition.”

As she spoke, police arrested a dozen union leaders and loaded them into vans to be transported to the nearest police station, accusing them of disturbing the peace during a pandemic.

It was a poor start for the CUT, which represents nearly 9% of salaried employees in the country. They were joined by 35,000 members of the public sector, including employees from state television and CODELCO, Chile’s largest mining firm. Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper.


The letter, which Figueroa finally presented alongside others who had not been arrested, describes three main 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 that is above the poverty line, and the freezing of food prices,” Figueroa said.

President Pinera was speaking as she met with the representatives of both houses of Congress to negotiate a proposed emergency aid program for Chileans.

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People struggling

President Pinera was speaking as she met with the representatives of both houses of Congress to negotiate a proposed emergency aid program for Chileans.

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

With the vast majority of the nation still imprisoned, the strike has largely had a symbolic effect. Nonetheless, small marches and demonstrations took place throughout the country during the day. And it seems to have put pressure on the president to rethink demands for immediate assistance.

“We applaud the government’s decision to finally meet with leaders of Congress. We have always said that state support must be for everyone, not just a select few. The economic aid package should be sufficiently robust to offer economic, health and social security so that people can stay at home under confinement, and we can overcome this pandemic,” said Deputy Raul Soto, leader of the centre-left PPD Party bench.


The opposition has introduced a tax on the so-called “super-rich” to help pay for more assistance. It will only lift taxes on an estimated 1,500 Chileans who are extremely rich once, by 2.5 percent. However, as predicted, the country’s powerful business sector has expressed its opposition.
Chile’s most influential trade union leader says worse is on the way.

“Yes, we have an economic emergency now, with families who have nothing to eat. But afterwards, when it comes time to reactivate the economy, when there is a huge number of people desperately looking for work, that will present a breeding ground for abusive employers,” Figueroa warned.

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“They’ll want to offer even worse wages and working conditions. That is why we have to take measures now.”


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