Labor fights Chilean regime
An increasingly unified labor movement threatens to raise protests against Chile's military regime to higher levels than seen this year, analysts here say.
The new federation, the largest in Chile, includes a truck drivers' union and more than 250,000 retailers - both critical sectors of society here. Labor unrest provoked by the federation may be harder for the government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte to quell than protests organized by the political opposition, observers here say.
The three unions that have banded together demanded last Friday ''an urgent return to democracy.'' This week the as yet unnamed union said it plans to act against the regime, although it has not specifically called on members to take part in protests that political opposition groups have scheduled for today and Wednesday.
Jaime Perez Rodriguez, president of a federation of retailers representing 90 ,000 shopkeepers around Santiago, says that Chile is in ''an unsustainable crisis'' that the government can't reverse. ''Discontent is so great that it would be like trying to stop a bullet with your hand,'' he says.
Retailers and truck owners, many of whom are indebted to the government, have been hit hard by recent interest rate increases, says Mr. Perez. Over the past 18 months of tension in Chile, the truckers' union and other syndicates have acted independently in their support of protests or the two previous strikes Sept. 4 and Oct. 30. This will mark the first time these powerful groups have acted in concert.
Political analysts here point out that a multiunion federation was critical to the coup against President Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973. Unions orchestrated a national shutdown then, which lasted more than a month. At that time, some groups, including truckers, endured the shutdown with the help of covert US aid.
Then as now, truckers are a critical means of transport in this country, which is shaped like a thin strip stretching 2,600 miles along western South America.
The truckers' union involved in the newly launched coalition has 28,000 members. A federation of groups for professionals - doctors, nurses, journalists , architects, psychologists, and others - is the third major group in federation besides retailers and truckers.
''We will use all the forces that may be necessary to overcome the current crisis and accomplish the rapid, peaceful, and orderly return to a truly democratic system,'' says Elias Brugere, acting president of the retailers' union.