Truckers Strike: “The Government Hasn’t Done Anything For Our Safety”

SANTIAGO — On Aug. 23, the national truckers union announced an indefinite national strike starting Thursday, Aug. 27. The decision came after a month of unrest in the La Araucanía region, which has affected the industry. They are urging the government to approve a bill package to provide security to truck drivers and operators.

Chile’s National Confederation of Truck Owners (CNTC) announced that it will walk out on Thursday, Aug. 27. That means that all cargo operations, from Arica to Magallanes, will come to a grinding halt and the country will most likely experience a shortage of essential products.

It’s been over a month since the conflict in La Araucanía region increased. Many protests, mostly from the Mapuche community, have ended in clashes with the police. Road barricades and arson attacks on freight trucks have become more frequent in 2020, especially in the last few weeks. 

For example, earlier this year, driver Juan Barrios ultimately succumbed to his burns after his truck was set ablaze while he slept; and, most recently, nine-year-old Montserrat was shot when a group attacked her father’s truck and set it on fire.

The CNTC, made up of 108 unions, previously warned the government that a strike was imminent. On Aug. 3, they issued a statement saying that if the government could not guarantee the safety of drivers and cargo then drivers would strike, disrupting the supply chain for the whole country.

The government responded with police convoy escorts, but other incidents followed, including Montserrat’s, which triggered the decision to strike this Thursday.

José Villagrán, president of the Southern Truck Owners Union, told Chile Today that drivers voted for an indefinite national strike because “the government hasn’t done anything for our safety.”

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Union Demands

As part of its strike announcement, the CNTC said that drivers “condemn the serious crimes that have unfolded in our country, and that have not been addressed in time by the actors in charge or by the Chilean state.”

Drivers blame the government for the many attacks they have suffered as they say no concrete action has been taken to stop the terrorism in the southern regions. They say they are seeing “terrorist acts never seen before in our nation.”

Among the petitions made by the CNTC to the government are the immediate dismantling of the “terrorist and narco-terrorist organizations” that have taken over the streets and that are preventing them from operating normally.

As a pressing matter, the CNTC is asking Congress to pass a package of 13 bills that are currently under examination and that are related to the prevention, prosecution and punishment of crimes that concern them, among which is the Juan Barrios Law – a law that would pay homage to Barrios and enhance penalties for setting trucks on fire. The CNTC said the strike would be extended until these 13 bills had been approved. 

About these laws, Villagrán told Chile Today that “we believe that the three powers of the state, including the Department of Justice, have to respond and pass the necessary laws to restore the rule of law in Chile, because it has not been working properly.”

The union president said the CNTC apologizes to all Chileans for the disruption this strike will most likely bring to the country and to the supply chain amid a health crisis that has already negatively impacted jobs.

Importance And History Of Trucks In Chile

Trucking is by far the most commonly used means of transportation to supply the different regions in Chile. According to CNTC, 95% of the country’s goods are transported by land. 

Back in 1972, when Salvador Allende was President, Chile was facing an economic crisis and the CNTC initiated a strike that lasted for over three weeks. This deepened the economic crisis and food shortages the population was already facing, and it led the government to declare a state of emergency.

The 1972 strike was backed by the right-wing sector of the country in an effort to make the socialist government fail. That strike paralyzed the country, and, since then, truck drivers and owners have become decisive political actors in the country.

Edited by Claudio Moraga

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