Chile/ 40 hour week: waiting for the Senate and the Labor Commission or imposing it in the streets?

The Labor Commission met twice to discuss the proposal of the Communist Party and the Broad Front and approve the project for the reduction of working hours from 45 to 40 hours a week. A desperate right showed its pro-capitalist face with arguments that are worthy of becoming memes and threatened with the Constitutional Court. The social support that encourages the reduction of working hours will find new anti-democratic problems: the Senate and the Constitutional Court. It is time for a responsible policy for its imposition: in the streets, with the unions and in a massive way.

An advance that requires the role of workers, not just parliament.

In Chile, people work around 1974 hours a year. Of the OECD countries, we are the one with the longest working hours, while the minimum salary is $ 301,000 (about USD 400), while 54% earn less than $350,000. These numbers are tragic, complemented by the large number of garbage and informal contracts caused by the system.

The June survey of the Microdata Center of the University of Chile stated that the unemployment rate reached 8.4%, having increased in relation to the same date of the previous year. To all this we must add the extensive commutes, the reproductive, care and domestic unpaid tasks fulfilled by women, therefore: living to work. That is why the reduction of the working week is workers´ main concern, as expressed by CADEM in mid-August, where 70% of respondents support the project.

The reality beyond the data implies a structural framework of a constant precariousness of the majority, progressively decreasing work rights and the collective capacity of making decisions. Currently, the reduction of the working week would make a difference. Although, it is still partial, because there is no project that proposes the increase of wages to equal the cost of living as well as the discussion on work rights, based on the revocation of the Labor Code in order to recover the strength of the workers. Without this, any partial achievement will depend on the oscillations of the interests of the parliament.

The meme-able right and a resentful government.

“Even athletes who have a special day are not told how it will be. The article is so poorly written that it does not describe a special day, they all have to adapt… Chile could be banned from playing in the Copa América, because it would exceed the hours they are considering, because it is not specified” said Minister of Labor Nicolás Monckeberg, while the representative of the UDI Patricio Melero said: “What are we going to do with the CONAF workers when they are putting out a fire? They are going to have to hire more workers”. Two examples that delighted social media.

The disdain of the bosses is the product of the irrationality of a country that bases its laws and regulations on Pinochet´s Constitution, and freedom of action and impunity for the capitalists, supported by the governants. Based on this, anger grows against the government, with Piñera at his lowest approval rate, enhanced by his policies in a growing economic uncertainty, reinforced by his meme-able arguments.

These antecedents are potential motors of social mobilization, that on one hand managed to impose a law in favour of the majority and push the government back, some important facts that should pose greater responsibilities for the parliamentarians of the Broad Front (FA) and the Communist Party (PC), who trust the Congress and not the workers. There is time to redirect.

Let the workers decide, not the Senate nor the Constitutional Court

An indicator is that there is more than enough social strength to impose the reduction of the work week, while another factor is the setback of the government. They are essential pillars in order to advance, although there are still anti-democratic obstacles against the interests of the 99%: the Senate and the Constitutional Court. Obstacles created for everything to continue unchanged. Do we wait for them to act or for the people to democratically manifest on the streets?

Political decisions will be decisive in the short time because the PC and the FA will trust the Parliament. Their achievement so far is having reached an agreement with Christian Democracy in the Labor Commission, the same sector that has allowed Piñera to legislate without problems. That political diagram has a limit: the walls of Congress and Pinochet´s Constitution. Although the project has advanced, there are more steps to take in this hostile context, a scenario that both the PC (that leads the CUT union federation) as well as the FA and its union and student leaderships have the political responsibility of abandoning their parliamentary passivity by calling for a great union and social mobilization for the reduction of the work week.

Our proposals are to promote mobilization in support of the 40 hours week, though we believe it has its limits. That is why, contrary to relying on the Parliament, we believe that democratic decisions must be taken by the 99%, relying on the strength of the workers as a decisive potential. We must impose the law on the streets, discussing it everywhere with base assemblies and advancing in increasing wages to equal the cost of living. These are the necessary bases on which we place our efforts and militant will.

Joaquín Araneda, Movimiento Anticapitalista