The Chilean trade union leader Barbara Figueroa is awarded the 2020 "Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights". The Prize committee wants the award of this year’s prize to contribute to more awareness of the situation in Chile, and be a contribution to strengthen the trade unions’ fight for workers’ rights in the country.
In 2012, Barbara Figueroa Sandoval was elected president of CUT, becoming the youngest and the first woman to lead the most important trade union centre in Chile. Before this she was active in the teachers’ union «Colegio de Professores» where she assumed a leading role in the great demonstrations in 2011 against privatisation and commercialisation of education. Through this work a solid alliance between student movements and unions was built.
During the autumn 2019, Chile faced the deepest social and political crisis since the dictatorship, with new mass demonstrations. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval and CUT were key in forming the broad social coalition «Mesa Unidad» which together with other organisations brought millions of Chileans to the streets. This broad alliance between trade unions, students and other civil society organisations demanded among others increased minimum wages, pension reform, reduction of the working week, strengthening of workers’ rights and a National Constituent Assembly.
To suppress the popular uprising, president Piñera declared state of emergency and adopted and implemented heavy repressive measures. Thousands of protesters were jailed and wounded, and at least 26 were killed by the security forces. Human rights organisations have reported restrictions of human rights and on mass media. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval and several other trade union leaders have faced intimidation and harassment, and their activities have been systematically surveilled by intelligence agencies.
The trade union centre CUT has through a combination of mass mobilisations and negotiations achieved increased minimum wage and reduced working week in spite of great political resistance. Barbara Figueroa Sandoval is the sole female leader of a trade union centre in the region and has made CUT a pioneer in trade union transparency and accountability.
Barbara Figueroa Sandoval is a worthy winner of the «Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights». She has shown great courage, efficaciousness, and she is a role model for many. She has lead the way creating a more open, vital and transparent trade union, while at the same time having strengthened CUT as a social-political trade union with close ties to other civil society organisations. She may also pave the way for new female leaders in a very male dominated culture, as well as strengthen support for trade unions among women in the region.
See also the ITUC about the award to Barbara Figueroa.
Video of the prize committee leader, Frode Alfheim, telling why Barbara is awarded the prize.