Chilean workers demonstrated Thursday in support of reforms being promoted by President Michelle Bachelet’s administration but warned their loyalty is dependent on promised labor-law changes becoming a reality.
“We’ll say it again to the workers. We are and will be the most loyal supporters of the transformations Chile requires, but at the same time we’ll apply the most pressure so the government program is carried through to fruition,” Barbara Figueroa, president of the CUT labor federation, said.
“We’re loyal, but we won’t abandon the streets,” the 35-year-old Figueroa, the first woman to lead the CUT, said at the end of a mass march to commemorate International Workers Day.
Roughly 10,000 people took part in the demonstration, according to police, although organizers say the total was much higher.
Three ministers from Bachelet’s center-left administration also participated in the march.
Some hooded demonstrators shouting anarchist slogans caused disturbances at the close of the May Day event before being subdued by the march stewards and later by police.
Thirteen demonstrators and seven police were injured, while 40 people involved in violent incidents were arrested, Santiago provincial Gov. Claudio Orrego said.
In her speech, Figueroa expressed her backing for a labor-law overhaul that was one of Bachelet’s main campaign promises, saying Chile needs “stronger unions” that can negotiate with companies on an equal footing.
Chile’s current labor law, imposed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Augusto Pinochet, restricts union formation, collective bargaining and the right to strike, allowing companies to hire replacement workers during work stoppages.
Bachelet, who served as president from 2006 to 2010, was elected for a second term last December and took office on March 11.
The CUT and student protesters held frequent demonstrations during the administration of Bachelet’s successor, right-wing billionaire Sebastian Piñera, to demand a minimum-wage increase and improvements to Chile’s underfunded public education system.
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