Workers and Labor Laws in Modern Chile, 1931–73

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 12:30 PM
San Diego Ballroom Salon A (Marriott)
Angela Vergara , California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
This paper analyzes the different experiences of Chilean workers with labor laws between the enactment of the Labor Code in 1931 and the suspension of labor rights following the military coup of 1973. Enacted in 1931, the Labor Code gave Chilean workers the rights to unionize, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. It divided blue-collar workers and white-collar workers into two labor unions: the sindicato industrial (plant or industrial union) and the sindicato profesional (professional or craft union). An important contribution of the Labor Code was the regulation of working and employment conditions. While the Labor Code provided workers with fundamental labor rights, the everyday reality was much more complex and diverse. The Labor Code denied public sector workers the right to unionize and limited the formation of labor confederations. While the Code initially allowed the unionization of rural workers, their rights were severely limited in the following years. There were also problems with the scope of the jurisdiction of labor courts, and, especially in the 1930s, lack of resources considerably limited the Code's effectiveness. In small plants, workers had a hard time enforcing those rights, and their labor unions remained small and isolated. In contrast, workers in large industries such as the foreign-owned copper mines successfully used the Code to improve their living and working conditions, transforming the law into an important political tool. This paper compares these different realities, arguing that the enforcement of labor rights depended on the balance of power between local unions, employers and state labor officers and on the support of political parties.
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