Certainly this is what I felt yesterday, passing the Biblioteca Nacional on the Alameda, in central Santiago, on my way back from Serro Santa Lucia. There appears to be some labour dispute underway, with hand-written posters plastered on the [shut] doors and walls outside of the Library. Despite my impoverished Spanish, it was clear to me that they were calling for a fair wage and decent working conditions.
Having been in Chile for all of five days, I was far from up to speed on social and political issues, though I’d been told by disappointed locals that the coming election is likely to see the rightwing come to power – this despite the current (centre-left) President still being wildly popular at the end of her term – unheard of, I was told, in Chilean politics where the honeymoon period is particularly brief. The posters appeal to the President to recognise their authors’ contribution, and to respond with fairness.
This reminded me of the struggles of the UCT Employees’ Union back in my days at the Knowledge Factory on the Hill, where the struggles were as much for symbolic issues – respect, recognition, a respite from the incessant derision so pervasive in the dominant discourse – as for the material matters of a fair wage and acceptable working conditions. It might seem uncomfortably post-modern to those of a more structuralist disposition, but ultimately identity issues do matter. Throwing more money at an employee while still treating them without respect will not address their grievances, it will merely make them feel like a more expensive sex worker.