INTRODUCTION
In April
1983,
the national union of the Chilean copper miners, under
independent leadership for the first time in a decade, called for a general
strike in Chile's copper mines and for a day of national protest against the
military regime of Augusto Pinochet. The following month, workers in
EI
Teniente, the world's largest underground copper mine, paralyzed pro-
duction for twenty-four hours in an illegal work stoppage. In response
to the copper miners' call, tens of thousands of workers and poor people
(pobladores)
came together to demand democracy and to protest the mili-
tary regime's use of force to suppress workers' organizations and demands,
as well as the regime's new "labor plan" and free-market economic poli-
cies. This explosion of mass protest signaled the reemergence of an in-
dependent national labor movement and popular civilian opposition to
military rule after almost a decade of repression.
Women from the
EI
Teniente mining community played a prominent
role in the
1983
strike and protests. They marched and battled the mili-
tary in the streets, organized collective soup kitchens for the families of
workers fired for striking, and banged empty pots and pans in rejec-
tion of the regime's combination of brutal repression and harsh neolib-
eral economic restructuring. Women's participation in political and labor
struggles had been a feature oflife in the
EI
Teniente mining camps for de-
cades. Miners' wives had joined their husbands on picket lines and formed
their own political committees and organizations in the mining camps
since the emergence of an independent union movement during the late
1930S.
Following the election of the left-center Popular Front coalition
in
1938,
miners' unions built a powerful challenge to the authority of
the mine's North American proprietor, the Kennecott Copper Company's
subsidiary, the Braden Copper Company, based on mining families' tight
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