Land of a Thousand Strikes

LHD-2 Santiago, Chile April 7, 1966

Chile’s great political forces clashed violently over copper last month, leaving eight dead laborers 7500 arid feet up in the Andes.

The violence was unusual in this country given to peaceful debate and now attempting peaceful change. But U.S.-exploited copper is the traditional catalyst of confrontation, and the dead miners were an apt symbol of what seems to be labor’s fate here -- the organized worker is more a politician’s tool than a protagonist in debate over issues crucial to his welfare.

Along with the blood in the dust at El Salvador mine the month brought other changes, including a shift in the style of President Eduardo Frei. He has applied a “firm hand” to the far left that opposes his “Revolution in Liberty.” A rise in copper prices also looked imminent. But potentially the more important change could be what looked like a start toward a much-needed overhaul of labor law and practices.

March began with the one favored section of labor, the Marxist-dominated Copper Workers Confederation, at the center of attention because its unit at Kennecott’s huge Teniente mine had been on strike for eight weeks. Loss of foreign currency earnings was being felt up and down the lean land. With other strikes abounding, from trainmen to waiters at Vina del Mar’s casino, the London Financial Times dubbed Chile “the land of a thousand strikes.”

The Copper Workers Confederation called for a wage increase in the new contract at Teniente that exceeded the government’s figure for last year’s rise in the cost of living, 25.9 per cent. Miners at the two other big installations, Anaconda’s Chuquicamata and El Salvador, walked out in sympathy. The government then faced virtual strangulation of export earnings while world demand for copper was spiraling. It invoked emergency powers in the northern provinces containing the Anaconda properties.

When El Salvador miners ignored orders to return to the job, army troops and national police moved in and began to lift work permits. On March 11 the forces attempted to take over the local union hall. Fighting broke out. Six men and two women were killed. Among 36 wounded were an army captain and some children. At the least the troops’ performance raised some stern questions about their methods of riot control.

Santiago’s vigorous but totally committed press rent the fall air with accusations; President Frei blamed the labor leaders of the opposition Socialist-Communist Popular Front (FRAP), claiming that “they precipitated this bitter incident” when they saw the coming failure of their sympathy strike; FRAP declared the government was responsible for the “monstrous and deliberate crime against the workers” and the FRAP-controlled Workers’ Central decided to take the issue to the United Nations; parliamentarians in bunches flew the 450 miles north to the site, where they generally found truth according to their political alignment; the generally pro-government Mercurio blamed it all on Communist “guerrillas” who choose strikes instead of hill terrorism to achieve the power objectives of the Havana Tri-Continental Conference; the leftist Ultima Hora displayed a remarkable perseverance in announcing that it had read 23 Mercurio editorials on the same theme during February; Frei’s Christian Democratic Party convoked a rally before the Presidential Palace and the Workers’ Central declared a general strike.

The rally was not very well attended and the strike was a fiasco. Public passion seemed lacking. But more conspicuously absent was evidence of any real concern for removing the basic causes of conflict, or for fixing blame before casting it.

Stripped to its essentials, this conflict was part of the struggle to determine who will control Chile’s mineral wealth and how they will do it. Unquestionably the Popular Front was using the miners for its ends, though the degree of this manipulation was open to argument. In the nation’s muddled labor history the organized worker has given more than he has got in his relations with politicians. There are signs that this grievance is of increasing concern to the workingman, whether organized or potentially so. Not many are, really.

According to a study by a reliable institute here, only 12 per cent of the money-earning population (perhaps 3.3 million working of about 8.5 million) belongs to a union. So there are about 400, 000 in unions of widely varying strength. But the most highly organized are the most strategic -- copper, maritime, transportation and heavy industry. Organization began around 1900, with the anarchists and later the Communists taking the lead. Most of the important unions today are Communist- or Socialist- led and are affiliated in varying degrees with the Frapist Workers’ Central.

The paucity of organization is typical of Latin America but somewhat surprising in Chile, where a largely literate population, the majority of which has been urban for 20 years, voted massively a year and a half ago for modernization by redistribution and expansion of national wealth. Most who did not vote for this platform of the Christian Democrats voted instead for the far-left Front, which pledged similar ends by more revolutionary means.

But labor organization reflects the same imbalances as the economy in general, which not only contains the huge and efficient copper companies, but inflation-spawning backward consumer good industries and a surfeit of underemployed in selling and services. More work in services, where unions are weak, than in manufacturing. Less than 5 percent of the work force mines the copper that earns 80 percent of Chile’s foreign exchange. Control, then, of the copper workers is a great prize.

Part of the evidence of the politicians’ failure to give as well &s take is found in the 35-year-old Labor Code, eleven bewildering volumes of imprecisions compounded by legalisms. One story has it that an interviewer was impressed by the erudition of the present Labor Minister, William Thayer Arteaga. The newsman asked the lawyer if among all his wide reading he could name the one work he understood least. His reply came promptly: “The Labor Code.”

Under its provisions there are legal strikes and illegal ones; legal and illegal unions; workers distinct from employees all painstakingly defined. For a legal union to hold a legal strike it must often run a maze of minutia that would confound the collected Teamsters counsel.

As the government dares not prosecute on the often picayune infringements, many strikes and unions go on unencumbered while nominally illegal. The Workers’ Central is illegal because it constitutes a federation of diverse industrial unions. The Copper Workers Confederation is legal because unions of a single industry can federate for certain purposes. The Confederation actually supports the Workers’ Central by contributions.

Chile was on the blacklist of the International Labor Organization until the Frei government introduced reform legislation that would allow labor, for instance, to federate freely, and form unions of public employees and farm workers.

But the bills have been stuck in committee for over a year. The consensus seems to be that this is because the Christian Democratic Party and government cannot decide what labor policy to take or how actively to pursue it. This stems in part from, a fear of the Marxist Workers’ Central. Christian Democratic legislators, heavily in a majority in the lower house, are reluctant to dignify with legality a force so vehemently committed to creation of “an economic-social regimen that eliminates private property to the point that a classless society is achieved...”

Longtime followers of the labor game see three alternatives open to the Christian Democrats in any effort to supplant FRAP labor influence:

• Work within the 13-year-old Workers’ Central to gain control. This they have tried before with some reluctance and a few seats on the ruling board. An independent observer described the latest attempt at the Central’s convention last year: “At first the Christian Democrats decided not to show up at all. Then they came but decided to walk out when they couldn’t talk their way into any more seats on the board. They didn’t have the votes. But they might have got them if they’d have stayed and worked.” The events of March seem to have so widened the rift between the FRAP and the Christian Democrats that any coexistence within the Workers’ Central looks unlikely.

• Form a rival federation, tied to the Party. Some insiders fairly high up in the Party say this must occur eventually, although nothing has been done yet. This would presume passage of the Labor Code revisions, which contain a kernel of Christian Democratic ideology bound to be controversial, a right-to-work law. Though extremely conservative in many ways, the present code does provide for a union shop on a vote of 55 per cent of an industrial plant’s workers. The proposed change would allow unchallenged formation of a rival central’s units in these plants (there are already some nominally competitive but moribund blanket organizations).

• Encourage an independent labor movement. There is much sympathy but not much tactical advice for this alternative. At a just-ended plenary session of the Party, a deputy cited the necessity “to set aside the CUT (Workers’ Central) and organize an authentic apolitical labor movement, that would be fully democratic and pluralist.” Most advocates expect the movement would be highly political. It is difficult to imagine Chilean labor otherwise. But it would be uncommitted to any party.

Christian Democrats of this inclination cannot picture the movement as differing drastically from their own rapid-reform precepts, though it would practice the right to dissent when necessary.

A prerequisite for such a movement would be strong labor leaders at the lowest organization level. But too enthusiastic an effort on the part of the Christian Democrats would smother the child aborning. The Party’s more subtle critics softly complain that it is taken with a sort of messianic enthusiasm that cannot really comprehend the existence of opposing points of view. A very few even see manifestations of fascism in the pervasive ambitions of the Party. The response is often, “Yes, this concerns us, too. But in present-day Chile it is either us or the FRAP. There aren’t any viable alternatives now.”

In truth the showing of the Party in the labor field is strong evidence that it is far from becoming monolithic. An authentic labor-based Deputy among the Christian Democrats says that of his Party’s 83 seats in the 174-man House, only five are filled by men from labor. But he adds that among the Communists’ 18 and the Socialists’ 15, there is a similar shortage of the truly labor-oriented. There is no shortage of empty laboratory, on either side.

The FRAP stands accused of failing to introduce and support valid labor legislation as well. It is said that needed reform of the Labor Code would undermine FRAP’s favorable if often nominally illegal position.

Nor could the Popular Front take much encouragement from a widely read study by the University of Chile’s Institute of Organization and Administration. INSORA sociologists interviewed the presidents of 231 industrial unions. Their replies to set questions form a composite of a leader who favors gradual rather than immediate restructuring of society. He rates the FRAP as favored among political units now appealing to the workers but he thinks, in 89 per cent of the cases, that the union movement is in a poor state and he blames this, in 38 per cent of the replies, on disorganization due to political involvement of the movement. Another 23 percent blame this poor state of affairs on the preoccupation of leaders, in the Workers’ Central or other top organizations, with matters other than the workers’ welfare. This composite president is more interested in higher wages than in ideology and he has little concept of long-range goals such as tighter federation. And in 75 percent of the cases he would describe relations of his union with its employer as more good than bad.

Clearly the leaders of the copper unions would not come under that 75 per cent. The miners warrant a closer look not because they are typical but because they illustrate in exaggerated relief some national characteristics and because some of their idiosyncrasies take on national importance given their economic role.

First of all, they are the best-paid workers, though not necessarily so well paid by the home standards of the U.S. companies. At Chuquicamata, an open pit that produces more copper than any other mine in the world, the worker scale funs from 538 to 1013 escudos. The artificially low official exchange rate would convert that to $120 to $225 per month. But benefits have scarcely begun with the base wage. The contract contains a stipend for every contingency, and the company claims that its cost per laborer is nearly five times his nominal pay rate.

It is difficult to put a price tag on such clauses as medical attention that goes to all the family including “legally adopted daughters who are over 18 and students, or single, without children, except that prenatal and obstetrical care is excluded.” There are paid vacations, allowances for family extended to the most tenuous relationships, housing or a rent allowance, a “second-class casket and funeral,” even a clause for service of tea and crackers to men unexpectedly held overtime (though no time-and-a-half for overtime).

All told, the pay is such that one of the topmost officials in the Labor Ministry could complain about the ward washers at the Chuquicamata company hospital who make twice his salary.

The company paternalism coincides with an elaborate national social security system and pervades all Chilean industry for reasons often related to those that planted this grand headache with Big Copper. Workers coming to their first job looked for the patronal care that was provided in whatever quality on the near-feudal rural estates. This carries into everyday city life in the form of poster preaching to the worker to get his X-ray, treat diarrhea, and pay his tax.

A foreigner gets his first inkling of how the practices were fixed in the copper industry when he visits the mines.

Anaconda’s El Salvador mine is 3 ½ hours from Santiago by plane, on a DC-3 line called Ladeco that is in part owned by the U.S. company. Just about any other means of travel is hopeless, although in 1920, when the nearby Potrerillos mine opened, the workers came the 100 miles from the coast by mule cart -- and the ore went out the same way.

The two mine camps crouch there in the brittle desert air, so high that the old airliner has to take on altitude to land at the flattened mountain of a runway. Two cabs wait patiently to exchange a seatful or so of transients, to receive the bundled newspapers from the capital, and to carry the mail to the mine offices.
Mountains rollaway in every direction, but never a tree. The sun plays in and out on the endless mountain faces, some sharp, some soft, all barren, all awash at their base in the congealed issue of great mad prehistoric volcanoes up along what now is the border with Argentina.

“Natives” of the desert, the second generation of those original miners, remember the dates of every rainfall, as a mother remembers her children’s birthdays. The rare rains come heavy and they usually wash out the train track that follows an arid trench down to the sea.

The banks of the spare stream that endures the run from the Andes watershed are white with the salts leached from soil otherwise never drained. Just over the mountain from Potrerillos, by the way, is a salt flat called the Pedernales, of all things.

Especially in the evening, when the sun turns the ranges 20 shades of red, it is a beautiful countryside. But it isn’t inviting.

So when a man digs a mine, he builds a town, too. Many of the conflicts between the workers and Anaconda are not over how to run a mine, really, but how to build a town.

The company learned some lessons on the Potrerillos operation. That mine is exhausted now, but the smelter and final refining plant are maintained there to receive the ore uphill from El Salvador and finally to send it to the coast. In a sense the mining town of Potrerillos is exhausted, too, its houses old and often inadequate, and the stores the same. The copper mountain that was its reason for being is no more. Man not only moved but completely removed the mountain.

When that mine was in its dotage the engineers twisted a road around the hills to an even bigger mountain of ore. For two years crews drilled three shifts a day to pierce a tunnel through the heart and big enough for a railcar. And out in the daylights on a long falling slope of volcanic dust, work began on a town for the workers. Somebody in the New York office decided it ought to be laid out as a Roman forum. And so it was, with the streets semi-circling up the slope from around a more traditional Spanish plaza.

But the mine tunneling was a great investment, for long with no return whatever. So the company built housing slowly. Well enough -- it was sturdy functional housing with more of the amenities than the miners might have expected -- but it came slowly.

By the miners’ account, there has never been enough of it since extraction began seven years ago. Today it takes about 1500 men to run the mine, and over 600 of them travel an hour over more mountain road from the nearest non-hothouse town, Pueblo Hundido. In comparison to what is available there, often adobe shacks without plumbing or electricity, the Anaconda housing looks very good indeed. One miner claims to have lived over in Pueblo Hundido for five years with his name on the list for El Salvador housing. “And I’m still number 500,” he said.

For those who have the housing, community life is adequate if somewhat sterile, largely unleavened. Though there is no overt segregation, the U.S. community bunches, and since it makes the most money it gets the better housing. The house current is 110 volt as in the States, and the workday is strictly U.S. style, eight hours and no siestas. Actually the mine current is 220 volt, like the rest of Chile. A company official gave this explanation for the two systems: It was planned that way so that the workers wouldn’t steal the bulbs out of the mine for use in their houses.

With the town came t1he company store, cleaned up a bit from its days of infamy in the United States. “No we don’t sell on credit,” said the manager, “except to the people on dollar salaries.” It’s all in the contract, down to the price of a kilo of sugar (cost plus 10 per cent). Yard goods through the portal there. It’s supermarket style, but the manager says the experiment has failed; the miners tend to pocket all the small cans.

According to many who have worked with the miners through both camps, the paternalism is rooted not just in the area’s inhospitable conditions but also in the social underdevelopment of the men who came to work inside a mountain. Some came down from the Bolivian highland backlands. None came sophisticated. They were a tough lot, with rough edges. They spent money when they had it. Even today, the company store can’t contain the buyers on payday, can scarcely find customers other times.

But many miners now buy appliances, for instance, on reasonable long terms often encouraged by the company. More and more, when the miners’ many children finish the seven school grades at El Salvador they are sent off to coast cities for education that costs more in money and trouble than the company’s subsidy offsets.

While all the town’s land is Anaconda-owned -- the leftwing Santiago press notes with rancor that a Chilean must ask permission at the gate to enter Chilean land -- independent stores now are leasing space in a budding shop center. The most prominent sign so far: Rata Shoes, another U.S. concern.

In many respects the dependency is unabated, and neither the union nor the company seems prepared to crack the shell. Down the block from the store is the Union Hall, scene of last month’s killings. There the miners will cluster to complain that with all the influx of commissions and parliamentary gawkers, almost no one has bothered to talk to the workers, to try to understand their point of view.

Given the opening, it comes forth concisely. First there is great resentment against the government for what they see as a deliberate provocation that inevitably led to the death of defenseless workers (the troop leaders have charged but to date have not proven that the miners, too, were armed with more than rocks). They volunteer bitterly that one of the dead miners was a Christian Democratic militant of long standing. Some of the bullet holes in the tin building are side by side with Frei posters from the election.

But basically the bitterness is toward the company despite its passive role in this conflict. Often their complaints counterpoint those of the management.

An official in the Santiago offices curses the Copper Workers Confederation and declares that “they get some grievance we never hear anything about until they walk off the job. We lose a shift just trying to find out what’s bothering them.” A miner says contacts between the company and the local founder on management disinterest: “They won’t accept our petitions. The only way we can get them to act on the simplest problems is to strike.”

It is not simply a crisis of language, apparently, but of attitude. Most of the foreign management speaks excellent Spanish, and much of the management these days is Chilean anyway. But these Chileans are on dollar salaries, a condition of exchange that tends to become a class distinction. The Chilean who is paid in dollars speaks more and more in English and, his peers charge, he takes up the same mix of paternalistic and detached attitude toward the worker that is laid to his North American mentors.

This dollar salary actually seems to have begun in an egalitarian way. Naturally U.S. citizens working for Anaconda prefer pay in their solid currency, viable in the States for children’s tuition and purchase of refrigerators. And in the early days most of the management was North American. When Chileans moved up to some of these jobs they were paid in dollars, too, to avoid discrimination (this has not eliminated the workers’ contending that for equal work the Chilean is paid less).

Until recently the Chileans -- and U.S. employees -- could easily exchange their dollars on the black market at a most favorable rate. Increasing government vigilance is eliminating this material advantage but the psychological distinction between escudo rind dollar earners remains.

There are other complaints. A well-founded fear from the past of silicosis, though there is minimal incidence now with better ventilation (an engineer speaks laconically of installing fans to increase production “because they can’t work very fast when they don’t get enough air”). A petty contention that the rationed Chileans the miners’ meat is tough (unlike other meat-rationed Chileans, the miners can buy beef daily). The lament of all the citizenry, that the cost of living rises quicker than income (Chile’s first recorded general strike, in 1905, was against the inflation and two years later nitrate miners demanded to paid in gold as a hedge).

Up north another 250 desert miles, at Chuquicamata, the company town has grown to some 30,000 people, complete with churches, suburbs, a hospital said to be the finest in Chile, and tin shack slums without plumbing -- all built by Anaconda or its predecessors before 1912, the Guggenheims. In the town theater escudo earners sit in the pit, dollar earners in the balcony, with one exception: there is a sole reserved seat in that balcony for the mayor of the nearby and nearly dependent Chilean town of Calama.

Asked to describe life with his big neighbor, Mayor Osvaldo Olguin Zapata was frank. Technically the company does a remarkable job, he said, with superb management. “But Anaconda has failed in the social aspects of its business.” The young Christian Democratic doctor says flatly that if the Anaconda people do not quickly cure the social ills of Chuquicamata, they will lose the chance to do so slowly, because the Communists will displace them. And he contends that the cost of the cure would be relatively small: new housing and repair of old, a fan to ventilate the sulfur plant, a shower for workers who acknowledge they’re well paid but who are dirty and discontented because they feel the money is meant to buy off their humanity. Olguin, incidentally, also bemoans the lack of national assistance to his fast-growing, slum-ridden city that now houses 2000 Chuqui miners and might one day form the viable alternative to the company town.

The mayor also charges that the FRAP labor leaders only exploit the propaganda potential of the mine town ills, avoiding action to remove them because to do so would also remove their base of support. He says that the company seems afraid of the FRAP and tries to buy its cooperation as it tries to buy individual workers’ allegiance with money alone. He says that of 400 miners recently added to the roles, only 9 were Christian Democrats.

It is under the FRAP’s vow of nationalization that the economic and political drama turns. Though the Chuquicamata miners always choose their leaders from the militants of the Communist-Socialist Front, they in fact repudiated the FPAP in the 1964 presidential election. One apocryphal account gives this reason for their vote for Frei: FRAP said the mine would be expropriated and the Christian Democrats replied that if so, the shiny hospital would be turned over to the national health service.

The Frei alternative to nationalization is his Copper Bill, which he made a campaign issue but which only March 31 at last made it through the legislature in the form he requested. In this battle of attrition with the FRAP the weaponry was more emotion than reason, and not all the opposition was Frapist.

Frei’s plan involves a heavy investment by Chile in the big copper companies, this money going into expansion that eventually should mean more export earnings and could even mean that this country would one day compete with the United States as top copper producer. In the case of Kennecott’s Teniente operation, Chile would become 51 percent owner by payment of $80 million. This Kennecott would invest in expansion, to be assisted also by international lending agencies and another $20 million in Chilean funds. Management would remain largely in the hands of the 49 per cent owner, Kennecott, by means of a contract for mine operation. Chile’s share in the Anaconda mines would be 25 percent. The companies are to receive prompt abatement of their presently very heavy taxes plus what amounts to a long-term guarantee against expropriation. The one clear short-run result of the pacts will be an upsurge in the companies’ profit remittances, a situation that the FPAP will bring to fullest public attention.

For Chilean politics the copper issue is as inexorably a watershed as is the spine of the Andes for the continent’s rivers. For the present anyway, it has precluded far-left support for any of Frei’s program and it is this that has provoked the President’s clenching of his firm hand.

Word cane from the Palace last month that a year and a half was the limit on friendly persuasion toward fulfillment of what Frei takes as a public mandate on the copper pacts and basic issues such as agrarian reform. Partially because he lacks a Senate majority, Frei has seen his program frustrated and he seems to have taken the strikes as another manifestation of concerted FRAP tactics. Hence the stern measures against the sympathy strike; hence the arrest of the El Salvador local’s the officers. To assure discipline on the left of the Christian Democratic Party itself, a Deputy who defied the leadership was dismissed. And when Fidel Castro inexplicably took up the outrage of the FRAP with an attack on Chile and its President, Frei came back in kind, with a seeming affirmation of the conservative line taken by Mercurio that the strikes here were hatched in Havana. Thus, at Castro’s urging, ended Frei’s initial approach of faintly benign silence when all the hemisphere was rattling its adjectives at Cuba.

But a respectable sector neither FPAP nor Christian Democrat refuses to accept the conspiracy theory. Strikes are hardly new to Chile, they argue, and if Chile is the land of a thousand strikes this can be laid partially to the fact that 1200 contracts open every year.

This is again a function of the labor law, which requires 12-month contracts (15 months for Big Copper) and precludes virtually all broadly collective bargaining. The government offers no formal mediation service and the Ministry of Labor is only in the beginning stages of a much-needed reorganization. For years it was so much shunted that the motor pool for its law enforcement inspectors is said to have dropped to two cars. Despite all this, the strikes are often short and when at month’s end the 88-day Teniente conflict was finally resolved there were no other major stoppages.

A pair of University of Chile professors specializing in labor affairs is among the group that sees no conspiracy pattern in the strikes -- and they declare this year is unexceptional in the number of conflicts.

There is also responsible criticism of President Frei’s “Chileanization” copper pacts. Most Chileans, when pressed, seem to agree that eventually the nation must take control of its one clear wealth. The optimists see the new pacts with the North American companies as a salutary step in this direction, though the path taken may wend for 25 years.

The pessimists note the satisfaction with which the U.S. companies have accepted the pacts and warn that what has been good for the corporations in the past has not always been good for Chile. Little of the argument from either side exhibits much evidence of reasoned analysis. Perhaps the most disturbing development is that an independent INSORA research team attempting to do a thorough economic analysis of the Chileanization pacts says it has encountered difficulty in obtaining needed details from either the companies or the government.

The proposal is so sweeping that it challenges public comprehension anyway, so that academic investigation ought to be welcomed.

The FRAP alternative is even less precise. Nationalization with full compensation could be a cripplingly expensive affair. And while no one likes to be so specific, expropriation is always weighed against the value of U.S. aid, which surely would halt. The Copper Workers Confederation apparently has not gone beyond generalizations in the matter of the benefits to the workers in either case.

One argument basic to the nationalization question is whether or not Chileans could operate the mines should the North Americans leave. At present there are only 11 U.S. workers plus some other foreigners in the El Salvador mine itself. Most of them are graduate mining engineers in the key operational positions that mean life or death, success or failure in the mine.

Asked if they could be replaced by Chileans, four of them gave pretty much the same reply: By all indications, Chile’s schools of mining are adequate and their graduates amply trained. But not one has ever applied for a job in the mine. It’s dirty work and not particularly dignified and very Chilean engineer somehow seems to find a white-collar office with secretary in Santiago, even if at half the salary.

So their answer is no, the Chileans could not at present take over the mine itself without first regimenting their engineers. This viewpoint was reinforced from several sources. A Chilean put it this way: “Our ideal is to own a mine ourselves, and have a Gringo working it.”

On the other hand, Chile probably could hire other foreigners with the technical skills now lacking here. Creation of broad policy is an area of management more circumscribed, of course, but the Chilean government is already managing in the all-important area of prices.

As the acrimonious month was ending this very question of price came up for debate. For what price ought Chile to sell its metal in a currently short market? The FRAP and friends had complained bitterly when the nati6nal pricing body allowed saled of 90,000 tons to the United States for 36 cents a pound when the going Chilean price is 42 -- and when the speculative London market’s price was bouncing up near a dollar. The government explained that it was protecting established markets and at first disdained demands for a general price rise.

But there were signs that Chile soon would take the initiative as in the recent past and raise its price. This would put further pressure on the U.S. government’s effort to hold the internal price at 36 cents. Always in the background is the question of how high the price could go before users switch to aluminum.

And so the exchanges sizzled on the copper griddle. At least production was coming back to normal after the strike, which the government said, had cost the country $28.6 million. Now it was the turn of Zambia, at present a slightly larger producer, to take up the firm hand against strikes. Perhaps there was even time to weigh the importance of potential competition next door. An international consortium is constructing a huge complex in Peru for mass, cheap production of copper. And just last month the United Nations announced that it would help Argentina search for copper on its side of the barren, yet fecund Andes,
Here the problem was not finding the copper, but the social and economic complexities of its extraction.

In the hard knocks of March the Christian Democratic government may have found wisdom in an approach rooted in the biggest social investment, labor. In hailing final passage of his Copper Bill provisions, President Frei announced that on March 30 he had named a commission to take up directly “all the problems of the copper workers relative to housing, sanitary conditions, provisions, etc.” And in the great public works tradition, he also announced a big urban renewal project for the mining town that is Chilean, Calama.


Mr. Diuguid is a 1965 Alicia Patterson Fund fellowship award winner on leave from The Washington Post. Permission to publish this article may be sought from the Foreign Editor, The Washington Post.

Received in New York April 14, 1966.