Sixteen miners have been killed in fights over the control of Huanuni, the biggest tin mine in Bolivia.
The fight was over whether the mine would remain in state hands, or be given to a “co-operative” - essentially privatisation, as such co-ops have a strictly tiered managerial system, no effective workers’ involvement and very low wages for workers employed by the privately controlled board. Trade unions are prohibited.
The Bolivian state company COMIBOL took over control of the mine after the bankruptcy of British owners RBG Resources, leaving management in the hands of the workers. The strongly-unionised and well-paid miners plan to create another 1500 jobs in the impoverished Oruro region. Their struggle has been a symbol for the whole Bolivian working class since they were in the vanguard of the huge struggles in February and October 2003 against right-wing president Sanchez de Lozada.
However liquidators of RBG Resources, decided to take $2.5 million profit by flogging the mine to a co-operative. On Thursday 5 October 4000 co-operative miners descended on the mine in order to seize control of it from CONMIBOL. About 1000 union miners came to defend their workplace — 16 were killed, hundreds injured in appalling violence between fellow workers. Only 70 police turned out, and they did not defend the union miners or try to stop the killing. The government calls for talks — this is a huge concession to the illegal attempt by private business to smash workers’ control.
Morales has long been agitating in La Paz to give away nationalised mines to the co-operatives, rolling back public ownership of natural resources. He abandoned plans to draw up a new Mining Code, which would have taken away the co-operatives’ special “privileges” — so they can still pay taxes totalling less than the $12 million subsidies doled out to private mining companies by the government. MAS spokespeople have played down the tragedy at Huanuni, and made out that the killing was “unavoidable”, ignoring the government’s role in encouraging privatisation.
The Bolivia Solidarity Campaign has recently held two large pickets at the Grant Thornton office in Euston, demanding that they renounce any claim to the mine and the validity of their sale of Huanuni to the “co-operative”. Workers’ control must be defended and extended in the face of this neo-liberal onslaught.
For info on upcoming demonstrations visit www.boliviasc.org.uk