How the Valparaíso dockworkers’ strike became a victorious national port shutdown

How the Valparaíso dockworkers’ strike became a victorious national port shutdown

[resumen.cl] The following is the testimony of a dockworker from Valparaíso: how the mobilization that paralyzed the main seaport of Chile and how the trade union organization achieved victory against one of the main companies in the country was carried out.

‘That’s where we realised: This had already become a national scandal. We found out that things weren’t going to stay like this, and that people were coming to help us. We realised that everything was riding on our perseverance, and all the chaos there was turned into a cacophony of voices, morale in the stratosphere, more confident than ever before. Down in the streets, the struggle continued.

We took the decision to go out onto the street as well to keep the struggle going, so that everyone would realise that we were going to keep the strike going night and day. But the idea was to light the flame and return to the union building; we didn’t intend to fight with the cops or anything.

At a certain point, we were returning to the union building, and some kids started to say that there was an eviction order and that the cops were coming in. In the commotion, almost no-one paid any attention to this, and we continued trying to make an orderly retreat so that we could stay in the union building and the cops would leave.

But about 4 buses full of cops arrived. At a certain point, we realised that there were full complements on all four corners of the building: Zorrillos (armoured cars equipped to spray tear gas), guanacos (water cannons), full buses. We were totally surrounded, and the fact is that there weren’t many of us, no more than 50.
Then, we decided to enter, barricade the union building, and stay inside.

But the cops got out of the buses, formed up, and began advancing towards the building. They stuck closet o the walls and walked like frogfish through the rocks, close together, looking around on all sides. We raised the alarm, and all of us who were inside said to ourselves that the cops weren’t going to come in.

First, cops on foot tried to open the bars, but they got hit with a rain of stones, metal bars, rubbish, and anything else that was to hand. We were behind the bars, almost face to face with them; we shouted all sorts of abuse at them, and they were afraid. We looked them in the eyes, and they retreated. They gave each other orders, advanced, and retreated again. The kids in the upper storeys were raining stuff down on them.

So the cops on foot left, and then the zorrillo came and started to drive up directly against the bars. We passed on the news so the people on the other storeys could prepare to resist, because the cops were about to come in.
When they took down the bars and smashed the doors, we kept fighting to stop them getting in, but they filled the place with gas grenades. The fight continued on the first floor, then on the second. We blocked the stairways with tables and chairs, but they kept throwing gas grenades. That’s when we went up to the roof.

When we were on the roof, the first thing we decided was that we wouldn’t let them take us down. We were going to fight to the death. We had all made up our minds to it. We know that if they caught us, the struggle would be over. We weren’t going to let that happen.

Whilst all this was happening, a number of comrades raised the alarm with the other trades unions and all our supporters, and the kids who’d stayed outside started to organise more street protests.

We saw it all from above, so we saw how the street started to fill with more comrades coming from every direction, from Errázuriz, Blanco, Cochrane, every street in the port neighbourhood.

At one point, a comrade told us that, if they caught us, they were going to charge us with using petrol bombs, and that would mean at least five years’ prison time. Our minds were made up: nobody was getting lifted. Plus, we were informed that there were arrests made and that the people had been beaten, and hadn’t even been taken for the mandatory medical exam. And then a comrade shouted out the news: There are three ports on strike!

That’s where we realised: This had already become a national scandal. We found out that things weren’t going to stay like this, and that people were coming to help us. We realised that everything was riding on our perseverance, and all the chaos there was turned into a cacophony of voices, morale in the stratosphere, more confident than ever before. Down in the streets, the struggle continued.

Later, more news came in: There were seven ports on strike. We found out that university students were coming down to support us.

We worked out an exit plan: We would only go down on the basis of a negotiated arrangement. We weren’t going down until there wasn’t a single cop in the union building and there were plenty of people there to receive us.
We saw the news, and we were everywhere. Then, we found out that almost the whole Unión Portuaria (national dockworkers union) were on strike, and that San Antonio (the largest port on the west coast of South America – translator’s note) was on strike, as well.

That’s when we realised that the attempt to crush us had failed, that we’d held out and the struggle was continuing. We came to the conclusion everything was coming from the government, that the order was given by the regional governor, and that, together with the Von Appen family, they had attempted to put an end to the struggle by repressing us. But that had backfired. Now there was a national strike!

Because all the kids were good at thinking up tactics and inventing ways to get the job done, we quickly invented a system for them to send us up food and clothing, because we also knew that the cops were looting our social club and there wasn’t going to be anything left. We organised the use of the mobile phones to keep the lines of communication open, and all the comrades could contact their loved ones; we even decided to record a video and send a message to the outside.

They told us that the comrades at Terminal 2 TCVAL, who were no longer on strike, were preparing to come out to defend the union building. And that’s what happened. Around 11 PM, the comrades coming off shift all came out in squadrons, advancing via Plaza Sotomayor and heading for Errázuriz and Blanco, confronting the cops and forcing them to retreat in order to get to the union building. The whole street was now ours.

Later, we found out that the treasonous union leaders had told a pack of lies, claiming that the Ultraport workers were in a punch-up with the TCVAL workers, to sow divisions so that the TCVAL workers wouldn’t support us. But none of that worked; the comrades once again called a strike at T2, and joined the fight to defend the union building. We are all dock workers!

A moment later, there was a mass of people at the corner of Blanco and Sotomayor, and we saw a grey car show up out of nowhere, accelerated, and ram into the people. One person went flying, and part of the group was dispersed in the street. The comrades on the ground tried to stop the car. It was hit by a rain of sticks and stones, but no glass was shattered. As the driver accelerated to run away, a zorrillo accelerated towards the people to protect the car’s escape route, and the car drove off via Blanco towards the Customs Office.

We all saw that it was intentional; the bloke charged right at them. Those people were our supporters. People were so enraged that some comrades made up their minds to go down and confront the cops in the union building and settle the matter then and there, come what may.

But we know it was a provocation. A while later, we found out that the victims included comrades and a female university student who was in a bad state, and we couldn’t contain the rage. At that moment, Plaza Sotomayor was the epicentre of a pitched battle between hundreds of people and the cops, who came and went in all directions.
The cries from above were oaths: We’re going to beat them! We’ll beat the Van Appens! We’ll beat the peelers! We’ll beat the government!

Meanwhile, we listened to the pots and pans being beaten on the hills, and the trades unions, university students, and even the Los Panzers ultras group supporting the Santiago Wanderers were organising to turn the whole thing into a day of organised struggle, coming down to the port neighbourhood, calling for people to come early the next day, and organising where and when to show up. And then, what we had been awaiting occurred: They told us that the cops were leaving. Below, the press, lawyers, leaders showed up.

First, the guanacos and zorrillos disappeared from the streets, and shortly thereafter, some buses came to pick up the cops who were inside the union building. We came down from the roof, and the social club was full of comrades to receive us, everyone happily shouting. On the ground floor, there were family members, friends, more workers – the street was full.

We all found out then that we were making history, that we, 28 dock workers, had resisted the assault and siege by the military police, that we had won a battle, that they’d tried to crush us but had to retreat, and there was now a national strike.

‘We’re going to win! We’ll beat the Van Appens!
We’ll force them to back down, no matter what it takes!’

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How the Valparaíso dockworkers’ strike became a victorious national port shutdown