The Eternal Relevance of Syndicates

Italian Mausoleum, door to entrance

Beautifully carved door at the entrance to the grand mausoleum of the Italian Mutual Aid Society

One of the grand society mausoleums in El Cementerio General de Santiago de Chile, The Spanish Mutual Aid Society

One of the grand society mausoleums in El Cementerio General de Santiago de Chile, The Spanish Mutual Aid Society

Interior of French Society Mausoleum

Renovations in the interior of the mausoleum of the French Society, Santiago de Chile

If you’re a union supporter, you’ll love this because it extends the relevance of unions to life beyond. And if you’re not, you’ll find it of interest because it’s a cultural predisposition that emphasises the care and memory of departed loved ones.

In addition to traditional family mausoleums, South American cemeteries are populated with large and small mausoleums in the name of worker syndicates and social clubs.

As you wander the paths of cemeteries in small towns you’ll inevitably come across sections of a wall painted a bright colour to stand out from the rest with large letters that might read, for instance, “Illustrious Syndicate of Northern Miners” or “Central Fishermen’s Union” or “National Union of Railway Workers.” And there you’ll find the tombs of individual members who very likely died on the job but also those lucky ones who grew old and died in retirement.

In bigger cities you’ll find more obscure industry unions such as, “The National Union of Newspaper Typesetters”.  My speculation is that because individual funerals and tombs are too expensive for surviving families to afford, someone, way back when, realised that they needed to plan ahead and they allotted a percentage of the union fees towards these necessities. In addition, many workers are fiercely loyal to their trade and as proud members of a group, they choose to be buried with their ‘compadres’. The point is that the maintenance of resting places and pride in the memories of people who have passed on is a priority – enough that unions in a poor country allocate a portion of their precious budget for it.

Unions are not the only organised groups to provide eternal resting places. Social clubs also build mausoleums, and often they’re grand ones. In Santiago’s General Cemetery the Italian Society, Spanish Society and French Society have immense structures with space for hundreds, if not thousands of members. The “Italian Humanitarian Society of Mutual Help” is especially amazing; you enter through a copper door that is an elaborate work of art in itself before walking up several stories via a ramp that winds around like a snail. The French one is round with a huge high dome, niches built into the walls from floor to ceiling.

The mausolems bring honour to both the departed workers and society members as well as to the organisations themselves; money buys only the best architecture and the structures are well-maintained.

2 thoughts on “The Eternal Relevance of Syndicates

  1. Dolores Dorisina

    I have just read your latest on The Eternal Relevance of Syndicates.

    From you I now have an appreciative understanding of the South American people.Their families who have passed on are so well remembered and taken care of.

    What caring, colorful and artistic people.
    Thank you. I look forward to what will follow.

    Dolores Dorisina
    July 29, 2013

  2. Jean MacGregor

    Andrea. This is so very interesting and informative. I can see why you call yourself a cemetery junkie . . . and the photos are splendid. I particularly like the banner photo. I’ll check out the cemetery here to see what I can find. Blessings.

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