Chile: 2-day general strike

Workers join students on stage of struggle

Today, a 2-day general strike has begun in Chile, where the last weeks and months have seen a sudden and lightning-fast explosion of class and social battles, in the context of so-called “growth” in the economy. The new right-wing government headed by multi-millionaire Sebastian Pinera has come under fire from all sections of workers, youth and the poor. His opinion poll ratings are now below those of the hated dictator, Augosto Pinochet!

The massive movement of the students, which still continues, was the spark which set Chilean society alight. Throughout June, July and August, record numbers of people took to the streets again and again. From 100,000 to over 200,000 during June, then to a over half a million according to the organisers of a protest in Santiago last Saturday. Universities and secondary schools remain occupied throughout the country, as the students’ struggle against the horrendous for-profit Chilean education system has continued to escalate. Students’ representatives last week rejected an offer from the government which included some concessions on university funding, stating that mobilisations would be stepped up again. Already, this marvellous movement has far surpassed in scale and impact, and mass mobilisations seen in Chile since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship, the legacy of which Pinera’s government is closely associated with.

In dealing with the movement the government has vacillated between concessions and severe repression. Pitched battles between youths and armed police have been a feature of some of the protests. Hundreds of protestors have been arrested during these clashes, provoked by state agents or anarchist bands. However, the state’s attempts to criminalise the students have been pitifully unsuccessful. An opinion poll quoted by El Pais last week showed that over 80% of those asked supported the students’ demands for free education.

Workers’ action decisive

This magnificent opening up of the road to struggle by the youth has been enthusiastically responded to by broad sections of the wider working class and poor. A national strike of copper workers on 11 July against attacks on their conditions and the threat of privatisation was inspired by the students’ determination. The sentiment that the students are correct in fighting back, and that theirs is an example to be followed has been decisive in the development of the general strike currently underway. The leaders of the CUT (trade union federation) have been dragged kicking and screaming into calling this strike, and did so many weeks ago, rather than at an earlier stage, in a vain attempt to allow the movement to run out of steam beforehand.

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) puts huge emphasis on the need for the student movement to be the beginning of a genuinely mass movement capable of bringing down the rotten government. For this to be achieved, unity in struggle between the students, youth, and the massive power of the organised working class is essential. We fully support the building of mass assemblies in neighbourhoods to organise a mass struggle against this government. Such assemblies can be a decisive tool in forging unity between the different sections of society under the boot of Pinera’s government and capitalism, most importantly the students, community fighters and workers in workplaces and rank and file trade unionists.

Against those (including some on the left!) who have tried to dismiss the demands of the student movement as “unrealistic”, we argue along with many other students and workers that the huge wealth that exists in Chile, not least the copper industry, if it was placed in public hands under the democratic control of working people could easily fund a free quality public education system. Along with the hatred of the right-wing government, the so-called “centre-left” or Concertacion is viewed with disdain and has not picked up significant support from the decline of Pinera’s popularity. This is because its policies, including on the question of the for-profit education system which it presided over for decades, do not differ fundamentally from Pinera’s. This betrayal of the workers and youth by successive political forces is the main basis for the current anti-party mood which is widespread in the student movement, which often marches under the slogan “el pueblo unido se avanza sin partidos” – “the people united move forward without parties”.

The worsening nightmare of for-profit education is just one expression of the social consequences of the capitalist system, which is characterised by the control and exploitation of the economy and resources of Chile by an elite of gangster capitalists, politicians and imperialist multinationals. On the basis of a break with the neo-liberal consensus which upholds this reality and a mass struggle for genuinely democratic public ownership and control of the Chilean economy under a working people’s government, a revolutionary socialist alternative, which the CWI fights for, could be built. The impact of the current developments in Chile throughout the continent could be immense. Already, Argentinian workers organised in the CGT have indicated their preparedness to take class action, blocking borders with Chile, in solidarity with the movement there. The re-awakening of the South American class struggle, with mass action across borders, armed with a revolutionary socialist alternative, could bring an end to the exploitation which currently defines the existence of its millions of inhabitants.

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