Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
DEFENDING THE NATION'S INTEREST

Chilean Miners and the Copper Nationalization

JOANNA SWANGER

Until now, most historical accounts maintain that the 1971 nationalization of the Chilean copper industry came about because the political platform of socialist president Salvador Allende had mandated it. 1 These accounts largely ignore the role that the copper miners played in achieving nationalization. This chapter first delineates the actions taken by the miners of the Gran Minería--through their votes and strikes--to promote the nationalization of the industry in which they worked. The Gran Minería was the name for the large U.S.-owned copper companies: the Braden Copper Company (El Teniente mine), a subsidiary of the Kennecott Corporation; and the Chile Exploration Company (Chuquicamata mine) and the Andes Copper Mining Company (Potrerillos/El Salvador mine), subsidiaries of the Anaconda Corporation. These two corporations had controlled 85 to go percent of Chile's copper output from 1920 to 1971. 2

Second, and more important, this chapter proposes to analyze why the miners sought nationalization. An examination of this central issue provides insight into the conflict between the miners and their employers and between labor and the state in Chile. It also brings to light the fact that nationalization held separate meanings for the Popular Unity government of Allende and for the miners. The government considered it as a means of ensuring Chile's economic sovereignty. It took for granted that the miners supported nationalization because the Popular Unity coalition viewed the miners as a "radical" sector of the Chilean working class--that is, "radical" as opposed to "conserva-

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