SANTIAGO – Thousands of striking public employees protested in downtown Santiago on Thursday to demand higher pay as they entered the fourth week of a work stoppage that is having a growing impact across Chile.
Some 20,000 people, according to organizers, marched down Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins, the capital’s main avenue, which is lined with tons of garbage due to the strike.
“It is a very resounding march, a great mobilization of the people in the face of the intransigence of the government,” Barbara Figueroa, leader of the CUT labor federation, told reporters.
Unions representing public employees demanded a raise of 7%, but the center-left government of President Michelle Bachelet has offered only 3.2%.
Thursday’s event coincided with the delivery to the presidential palace of a letter from the unions calling on the government to return to the table with a new, “more realistic” proposal, Figueroa said.
“We are fully conscious of the impact the strike signifies, so the call is that we seek ways to resume the dialogue. We can’t set deadlines, we are waiting for the government to receive the signal,” the CUT chief said.
The march unfolded peacefully until the conclusion, when police used water cannon to disperse a group of workers who were burning an effigy of Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes.
The strike has forced the postponement of around 5,000 surgical procedures and roughly 16,000 doctor’s office visits, Health Minister Carmen Castillo said Thursday.
“We view with concern that the people who most need our public health system are being affected, and that is a problem,” she told the media.
Meanwhile, the health department of Metropolitan Santiago declared an emergency over the accumulation of uncollected garbage in the city center.