September 15- October 15th is Hispanic Heritage month. This week, we'll take a look at the labor movement in Chile and other parts of South America.
Globalization is not just for corporations. As multinational companies expand across the globe, the labor movement finds ways to make sure that workers' rights are respected everywhere.
In Chile, Walmart operates under three brand names: A Costo, Líder, and Ekono. Earlier this year students in Chile started a movement to pressure the conservative government into agreeing to education reform. After three months, their efforts led to a national strike asking for tax, social security, and labor reforms, as well as increased investments in health and education.
Walmart fired 22 Líder workers for showing their support for the strikes and participating in the protests. Walmart claimed they had abandoned their posts, but the workers strongly denied this. Together in their union the fired workers fought back.
Walmart quickly found out workers from all over the world were watching-standing in solidarity with the Chilean workers, and condemning Walmart's anti-worker behavior. UFCW's own Walmart Watch was a leader in this effort-alerting UFCW's activist membership base who responded with thousands of emails to Walmart's managers in Chile. Under so much pressure and international scrutiny, Walmart rehired the union workers.
Despite this win, union workers often fight an uphill battle in Latin America. Just over 34 per cent of the region lives in poverty, with 8.1 per cent living in extreme poverty. Unemployment hovers around 7.5 per cent. Sindicato, the Spanish word for union is almost a curse word in many circles in Latin America (which is why the UFCW doesn't use that word in our organizing drives here). And, much like in the United States, the role of unions in getting good salaries and workers protections is not clearly appreciated or understood.
Too often, the debate around jobs and the economy in Latin America is driven by "what's good for business" and nearly blind faith in trickledown economics. Sound familiar?