A funny thing happened on the way to austerity. Women workers said, `NO!” And won. This week, it happened in Chile.
Sebastián Piñera is the president of Chile. He is Chile’s first billionaire president. He is a family man. He says he is a “Christian humanist.”
In December of last year, Piñera was at a summit meeting in Mexico when, to `lighten’ the mood, he told a joke concerning the difference between a politician and a woman. The joke ends as follows: “When a lady says no, she means maybe; when she says maybe, she means yes; when she says yes, then she’s not a woman.” No one in the Chilean women’s movements or sectors laughed. Even Carolina Schmidt, Piñera’s Minister for Women’s Services, publically criticized the President.
Sexual violence is not funny. Neither is the exploitation of women workers.
This past Sunday, Piñera and his family were on their way to Mass, when three women workers from the Bahía Coique resort stopped him and started shouting. They explained that they had been working for years, were receiving criminally sub-standard and illegal wages, were forced to work too long hours with no time off. Piñera is part-owner of Bahía Coique, in the southern part of Chile.
The leader of the trio seems to have been Luz Herrera. She explained that she is a laundry worker who has worked at the resort for nine years. She hasn’t received a raise in three years. The salaries are below the minimum wage. She can’t take care of her family on the money she earns. There’s no contract, there’s no protections, there’s workers’ comp or health insurance. She’s forced to work without breaks and without days off, in the very place that the President goes `to relax’.
Piñera vacations, often, at Bahía Coique. That’s where he was when the women workers approached him. He was, no doubt, getting some down time after his grueling time making jokes on the summit.
The government response was textbook classic. First, they tried to ignore the women. Then they claimed that Piñera didn’t have any holdings in the resort. Then they argued that the President can’t be expected to pay attention to every detail of his vast holdings. It’s hard to see the workers from the commanding heights.
That was yesterday.
Today, Luz Herrera announced that she and her fellow workers had received a raise that would bring the company in compliance with the law. Herrera is neither impressed nor grateful: “For us, life is hard, but for him, as President, he always washes his hands of us. He’s rich, he has money, and so for him, it’s all fine and dandy. But for us, it’s not good. In fact, it’s very bad. I am not afraid of anyone. I began this, and I will see it to its conclusion, because it’s not just about me. It’s about all workers.”
The women students of Chile are indignant. The women workers of Chile are as well. And they are not afraid of anyone or anything. They have begun this, and they will see it to its conclusion. Ask Luz Herrera.
Dan Moshenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org