Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reminder For Labor Day: Massacre of Workers in Chile 1907

UPDATE: September 2, 929

When music and politics and the " just struggles " of a people unite it is a powerful combination.

First a little ditty sung by Pete Seeger:

Pete Seeger Which Side Are You On

Song written by Florence Reece 1931 during the Coal Miners Strike in Harlan County USA.

Anyway, and now for something completely different as it were. Well only sort of.

First a little rant from yours truly:

and so workers in the past have died that is; murdered , massacred, slaughtered for daring to stand up to the rich and powerful. as usual the powers that be claim they are merely trying to keep law and order and to protect their precious interest and property. Their interests and property always come before the lives of their workers.
Workers of the world unite and all that usually just leads to firings, being black-listed, or being locked out or beaten or worse. Now we hear the refrain that yes once unions had a place but not anymore; they have outlived their usefulness. So we hear today and we heard this all before some twenty years ago or even forty years ago which I can recall myself. But there were people in the 1940s and 1950s making the same arguments against unions .And these days with the Neocons like George Bush, John McCain and Stephen Harper in charge they only have contempt for unions. In the USA less than 20% of workers belong to unions. This pleases the powers that be . Maybe workers are just too fearful or lazy or content with mere wishful thinking to be bothered fighting for their rights anymore.So maybe they get what they deserve to fight for low paying jobs at MCDonalds or WalMart, or Phone Centres etc.

So if Barack Obama sells out to the rich and powerful will peole that is average working people stand up and insist that he fulfill his promises to the people . Probably the people after voting will go back to sit in front of their TVs and bitch and complain once again. If McCain wins well its just business as usual and once again the people will prove they are not worthy of great leaders but rather mediocrity. As Bush proved the people like someone in power who is less informed than most of them.

In Canada in the next election the people will vote in droves for Stephen Harper because he loves America. He admires America. He wishes as do his supporters that they too were American citizens rather than citizens of what they consider to be a second-rated country-a borderline failed state. Heaven forbid we Canadians stand up for ourselves against the Americans or even the British. We can't make up our minds about whether we should still be British citizens or American Citizens. So we muddle through as we sell off our natural resources to the Americans and other nations. We should rather be expanding our trade with as many other nations as possible so that we are no longer so dependent on America or Britain or any other country. So we won't vote in the New Democratic Party which is to the left because America our great fearful Father Figure might be pissed-off and punish us by breaking off trade or militarizing our borders oh yes they are already militarizing our borders and trade is always in their favor .If we subsidize an industry the Americans go balistic when they subsidize an American industry or corporation it is they say their right. And so it goes . Now on with the show as it were.

Cantata Completa Santa Maria De Iquique

Cantata Completa «Santa Maria de Iquique» - Quilapayún

From: IMEEM MUSIC: "Cantata Santa Maria de iquique" by Quilapayun

Quilapayún - Canción Final De La Cantata Santa Maria
More of the Cantata at Youtube.

From Smithonian Folkways
Chile: The Seige of Santa Maria de Iquique - A People's Cantata
Quilapayún and Hector Duvachelle

Notes - "The bloodiest massacre in Chile’s history occurred on December 21, 1907. Workers in the nitrate mines, a leading industry owned largely by foreign (British and German) capital, struck on Dec. 4 demanding humane working conditions and higher wages. By Dec. 13 a general work stoppage in all the nitrate mines was announced. The miners were Bolivian, Argentine, Peruvian as well as Chileans. 18,000 workers, together with wives and children marched without food and water to the port of Santa María de Iquique to seek support. Dec. 14, the maritime workers joined them in the strike. Roberto Silva Renard, the person appointed by President Montt to handle the situation, ordered the Army to fire into the miner’s encampment in the schoolyard..."

"La masacre más sangrienta de la historia de Chile ocurrió el 21 de diciembre de 1907. Trabajadores de las minas de salitre, una industria que pertenecía en gran parte a capitales extranjeros (ingleses y alemanes), fue a paro el 4 de diciembre demandando condiciones humanas de trabajo y mejores sueldos. Para el 13 del mismo mes se anunció una huelga general de todos los trabajadores mineros, entre cuyas filas se encontraban, además de chilenos, bolivianos, argentinos y peruanos. 18.000 trabajadores, junto con sus esposas y sus hijos, marcharon sin comida ni agua hasta el puerto de Santa María de Iquique en busca de apoyo a su causa. El día 14 se les unieron los trabajadores marítimos. Roberto Silva Renard, la persona puesta a cargo por el presidente Montt para manejar la situación, ordenó al ejército abrir fuego en el campamento minero que se había construido en el patio de la escuela..."

and from Wikipedia:

The Santa María School massacre was a massacre of striking workers, mostly saltpeter (nitrate) miners, along with wives and children, committed by the Chilean army in Iquique, Chile on December 21, 1907. The number of victims is undetermined but is reliably estimated at over 2,000. It occurred during the peak of the nitrate mining era, which coincided with the Parliamentary Period in Chilean political history (1891-1925). With the massacre and an ensuing reign of terror, not only was the strike broken, but the workers' movement was thrown into limbo for over a decade.[citation needed] For decades afterward there was official suppression of knowledge of the incident, but in 2007 the government conducted a highly publicized commemoration of its centenary, including an official national day of mourning and the reinterment of the victims' remains.

Centenary of the Massacre:

The site of the massacre was the Domingo Santa María School[1], where thousands of miners from different nitrate mines in Chile's far north had been camping for a week after converging on Iquique, the regional capital, to appeal for government intervention to improve their living and working conditions. The minister of the interior Rafael Sotomayor Gaete, decided to crush the strike, by army assault if need be.[citation needed] On 21 December, 1907, the commander of the troops at the scene, General Roberto Silva Renard, in accordance with this plan, informed the strikers' leaders that the strikers had one hour to disband or be fired upon. When the time was up and the leaders and the multitude stood firm, General Silva Renard gave his troops the order to fire. An initial volley that felled the negotiators was followed by a hail of rifle and machine gun fire aimed at the multitude of strikers and their accompanying wives and children.

Historical background:

Chilean society faced a crisis from the late 1800's onwards: what was delicately referred to at the time as the "social question"[2] -- namely, "the problem of worsening living and working conditions in the country's mining centers and major cities"[3] [4] The nitrate miners' strike of December 1907 was the last of a series of strikes and other forms of unrest that began in 1902, chief among them being the strike in Valparaíso in 1903 and the meat riots in Santiago in 1905.[5] In Chile, the workers' movement in general, and syndicalism in particular, got started among the nitrate miners.[citation needed]

Geographically, the region Chileans today have come to refer to as the Norte Grande (Big North) lies within the Atacama Desert, one of the driest regions on Earth. The Norte Grande and the Norte Chico immediately to the south belong to the Chilean pampa, a vast plain located between the Pacific Ocean and the western foothills of the Andes mountains. The Norte Grande, which administratively consisted (before 1974) of the two Provinces of Tarapacá and Antofagasta,[6] [7] had been seized by Chile from Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), giving Chile an area rich in minerals, principally copper and saltpeter (sodium nitrate). Tensions provoked by the control of the mines had been one of the leading causes of the Chilean Civil War of 1891, when pro-Congress forces triumphed.

The mining of nitrate had become the mainstay of the nation's economy at the end of the nineteenth century, Chile being the exclusive producer worldwide.[citation needed] According to the census of November 28, 1907, Tarapacá Province held 110,000 inhabitants.[8] In the provinces of Tarapacá and Antofagasta about 40,000 workers were active in the nitrate industry, of whom about 13,000 came from Bolivia and Peru.[8]

Life in the mining camps -- a nitrate works was known locally as an oficina, "office", a term whose use extended to the adjoining settlement -- was grueling and physically dangerous.[9] The enterprises exercised a severe control over the life and working conditions inside the mines, which rendered the workers extremely vulnerable to arbitrary actions perpetrated by the owners. Each oficina was a company town in which the mine owner owned the workers' housing, owned the company store (known in Chile as a pulpería), monopolized all commerce, and employed a private police force. Each mining camp ran its own money system, paying its workers in tokens, which could be spent only within the mining camp. Mine managers frequently put off paydays, for up to three months.[5]

At the beginning of the 20th century, the above mentioned "social question" prompted unrest among the workers at the nitrate oficinas in the Tarapacá Province. They began to mobilize politically, repeatedly petitioning the national government in Santiago to get involved and bring about improvements in their dreadful living and working conditions. The Parliamentary Period governments, however, were reluctant to intervene in negotiations between employers and workers, and they tended to see large scale workers' movements (especially if accompanied by massive demonstrations) as incipient rebellions.[10]


By Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 8, 2007 (IPS/GIN) -- One hundred years ago on Dec. 21, the Chilean government ordered its military to massacre thousands of striking workers from the then-flourishing saltpeter industry in northern Chile.

To prepare for this year’s commemoration of the massacre, a national coordinating committee made up of more than 70 public figures and institutions was created in January 2007.

"The mass killing was a shameful thing that Chile covered up for a very long time," said Juan Manuel Díaz, an international relations officer for the United Federation of Workers, the country’s largest trade union.

But the “massacre of the Santa María de Iquique school” became widely known in Chile and abroad thanks to the well-known Cantata of Santa María de Iquique, which was composed in 1969 by the late Luis Advis and recorded in 1970 by Quilapayún, a folk music group belonging to the Chilean New Song movement.

"Today, what happened there is part of our national, archetypal, collective memory," said Chilean historian Sergio Grez, the author of many books and articles on Chilean social history.

In early December 1907, thousands of dockhands in the northern port of Iquique, who were mainly handling saltpeter, went on strike to demand better working conditions.
Over the next few days, thousands of workers for the saltpeter companies in the Atacama desert flats, which were controlled by Chilean and foreign (mainly British) capital, came down to Iquique to join the strike.

With the list of their demands in hand, the strikers tried to negotiate with the company bosses, who insisted that the laborers go back to work as a precondition to negotiations.

The government of then-president Pedro Montt initially acted as a mediator in the conflict. But as the workers’ strike grew, the authorities decided that the 5,000 workers occupying the Santa María school and the 2,000 who had taken over the Manuel Montt plaza posed a threat to public security and public health.
When the workers refused to move elsewhere, Mayor Carlos Eastman, the local government representative, was urged by Interior Minister Rafael Sotomayor to order their removal from the premises by any means necessary.

On Dec. 21, 1907, at 3:45 p.m., Gen. Roberto Silva Renard gave the order to open fire with machine guns on the Chilean, Bolivian, Peruvian and Argentine strikers occupying the Santa María school.

In his cantata, Advis refers to 3,600 dead, but Grez said there is no documentary evidence for this figure. "It is estimated that there may have been 1,000 people killed or wounded. The maximum possible number of dead would have been 2,000," the historian said.

The Iquique strike was less of an immediate threat than an incident that risked making the government and employers look weak, said Grez in an article titled "La guerra preventiva. Escuela Santa María de Iquique. Las razones del poder" (roughly translated as “Pre-Emptive War: The Santa María de Iquique School -- The Rationale of the Powerful”).

"The massacre of unarmed civilians perpetrated at the Santa María school in Iquique was a pre-emptive act of war against an internal enemy," Grez said. In the view of the authorities, the strikers were dangerous, "not because of what they had done, but because of what they might do."
The Iquique killings came at the height of a spiral of massacres of workers unleashed by the Chilean state in 1903. Their result was to accelerate the design and implementation of policies to improve workers’ living and working conditions.
Grez and trade unionist Díaz see a number of shared characteristics between the Chile of 1907 and that of today.

"Both are periods of economic boom. Now, as 100 years ago, the state and the ruling class have enormous wealth -- then, because of the saltpeter exports, and today because of exports of copper and other natural resources," Díaz said.
"The gap between rich and poor is huge, in both cases," he said.

There has also been a revival of the trade union movement, which has held several strikes and demonstrations for better employment conditions this year, in the context of its rejection of the inequality of income distribution in the country.
In order to deal with these demands, President Michelle Bachelet formed a think tank in August with 48 members, most of them technical experts, which is supposed to report its proposals on "work and equity" to her in March 2008.

"Yesterday’s struggles are the same as today’s," the United Federation of Workers leader said.

According to Díaz, over the course of this year more than 300 initiatives related to the massacre, including exhibitions, trade union meetings and academic conferences, have taken place in Chile and in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal and Spain.

The coordinating committee members are the United Federation of Workers, the municipal government of Iquique, the Tarapacá regional government, the Teachers’ Association, the Writers’ Association and the University of Chile Students’ Federation.

The four political parties belonging to the center-left coalition that has governed the country since 1990 -- the Socialist Party, Christian Democratic Party, Party For Democracy and Social Democratic Radical Party -- and the opposition Communist Party also joined the coordinating committee.

On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, an arts festival will be held in the center of the capital to mark the departure of a United Federation of Workers convoy heading to Iquique to participate in the official commemoration week, Dec. 14-21.

and so it goes,

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