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Chilean workers discuss new trade union structure

8 November, 2012A further step is made towards building a new unifying trade union structure for stronger collective bargaining in Chile.

As part of the trade union strengthening project being implemented by IndustriALL Global Union in Chile, a seminar on “A New Trade Union Structure and New Collective Bargaining Strategies” was held on November 5 with the aim of democratising discussions on the construction of a new structure.

The meeting, held at the offices of the trade union central, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile (CUT), was attended by approximately 150 representatives of trade unions affiliated to the metal, industrial and service workers confederation, CONSTRAMET. Representatives of Union N°1 from Huachipato, which is affiliated to IndustriALL, and mining and paper industry union leaders also attended the seminar.

IndustriALL representatives also attended, along with Erland Lindkvist from the Swedish Metalworkers’ Union, IF Metall, which is funding the project.

Fernando Lopes, IndustriALL’s Assistant General Secretary, pointed out that the number of unions in Chile has increased but fewer union members are covered by collective agreements. He went on to say that the movement needs strong organizations that will work together and with other important social actors to formulate a way forward for the country.

Bárbara Figueroa, president of CUT Chile, welcomed the opportunity for debate. She highlighted the importance of developing organizations from the bottom up and raising workers’ awareness of the need to promote unity and strengthen the movement. “We need this type of discussion, in order to define what we want to build”, she said.

Participants learned about part of the plan for a new trade union structure, a process being led by CONSTRAMET. Jorge Almeida, IndustriALL’s Regional Representative, and Erland Lindkvist gave presentations about the Argentinean and Swedish models respectively, providing ideas on how unions in Chile might move forward and end the stagnation of the movement.

The discussion focused on the current situation of the trade unions and collective bargaining and criticised the government for backing employers and leaving workers defenceless, at the workplace and in terms of the law. There was also some self-criticism by union leaders regarding their previous commitment to the project.

Marino Vani, IndustriALL’s Assistant Regional Representative and responsible for the trade union strengthening project, said that the seminar provided an opportunity to identify common criteria for changes to the trade union structure.

The discussion made it clear that the current structure in Chile is not fit for purpose and that unions must work together if the movement is going to make progress.

Finally, Horacio Fuentes, president of CONSTRAMET, encouraged workers to get involved so that “they are in a position to tell people what we are doing, which is building a political and trade union structure that will allow us to conduct collective bargaining together”.

IndustriALL Global Union will continue to work with our Chilean affiliates to promote unity and efforts to strengthen collective bargaining.