The emerging hero of the Chilean miners’ story–in Latin America and elsewhere, if not in the U.S.–is Luis Urzua, a topographer who took a job at the San José mines as a shift foreman while awaiting the start of new a job in his field. NASA officials working on the rescue called Urzua “a natural leader,” but his most important accomplishment was getting the 33 miners through the first 17 days of their crisis, when all they had was enough food for two days, dirty water and no idea if a rescue effort was even underway.
Besides implementing food rationing and a 24-hour watch to listen for rescuers, Urzua is credited with unifying the men and mediating conflicts in the desperate situation. As a topographer, Urzua also had technical expertise useful to the rescue team. He was the last miner to be brought up because of his value to the effort.
Urzua, whose father was a Communist leader murdered by the Pinochet regime, and whose stepfather, a Socialist mining union leader, was in turn killed by anti-left government violence, explained his leadership approach to London’s Guardian:
Speaking from a hospital bed at the San José mine, shift foreman Luis Urzua–the man who kept the Chilean miners alive for two months–said his secret for keeping the men bonded and focused on survival was majority decision-making.
“You just have to speak the truth and believe in democracy,” said Urzua, his eyes hidden behind black glasses…. “Everything was voted on…. We were 33 men, so 16 plus one was a majority.”
So the hero of our story, a mine foreman, says he discarded corporate, top-down decision-making in favor of workplace democracy.
As we pointed out earlier, Daniel Henninger’s Wall Street Journal column, “Capitalism Saved Miners,” forgot to mention that a reckless capitalist company put the miners in their predicament in the first place, and that government played a far larger role in their rescue than did capitalism.
Urzua’s story further detracts from Henninger’s thesis, for unless capitalism and its anti-democratic decision-making processes have radically changed in the last two months, Henninger’s hallowed system played no role in getting the miners through the toughest part of their ordeal.