Chile: Huge demonstrations call for free education

New chapter opens in country’s political and ‘moral’ crisis

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, especially youth, but also workers and older people, took to the streets of major Chilean cities, demanding the government met the demands of students. The demands included: The corrupt should not decide on our education! Free education and an end to profit in education!

College teachers joined the call to action, demanding a decent career, an end to municipalization and defense of public education.

Sadly, the protests were marred by the news of the unjustifiable killing of two youth during protests in Valparaiso city. This was followed by further protests in many cities.

The Bachelet government’s promises of free education and an end to profit in education have not been met. She even appointed Marcos Barraza, who is directly involved in profit-making at Arcis University (which was on the verge of bankruptcy) as a minister in the new cabinet. This is to make a mockery of people!

Protesters also expressed the anger which has accumulated against the corruption of the capitalist political caste and big business. The demonstrators are angered over the continuation of low wages and poor working conditions and abuses.

These giant marches are the first response of the social movement to the clearly neoliberal new government cabinet. The Finance Minister, who is beloved by employers, worked for the International Monetary Fund and large US banks.

The marches are a strong response to the formation of a cabinet that, from day one, was born in the midst of great distrust of working people. The Chilean government’s approval ratings are in free-fall.

After a long period, in which student leaders were paralysed by attempts of co-opting them into the government – during which they wasted time participating in inconclusive talks – students have showed their strength again on the streets, defying the government coalition of Bachelet and her desperate attempts to avoid corruption investigations regarding the Internal Tax Services.

It is not enough to walk!

The marches were a magnificent show of force, but it is time to say that it is no longer enough to just demonstrate. The CONFECH (Confederation of Chilean Students)

and the student movement have won the legitimacy and right to take a leap forward. We cannot continue for years marching and protesting but to no avail. We have to force the government and the political caste to grant social demands by a call to concrete, peaceful and massive civil disobedience, demanding not only free education and an end to profit but the end of all institutions inherited from the dictatorship and consolidated by the successive governments of the Concertación (now the ‘New Majority’), and the neoliberal and predatory model of capital accumulation and of huge concentration of wealth.

We also think that it is necessary to unify the social struggles throughout the country – isolated we cannot win. Together our force can be unbeatable. We think that the CONFECH, together with trade union and social organisations, which show their willingness to struggle, should call a national assembly of students and workers. This would take as its reference point the demands made by wide sections of the population – for the conquest of social rights, against political corruption and large companies and call a national protest and 24 hour general strike.

These protests have opened a new chapter in the country’s political and moral crisis, which for eight months has hit the government and the political and business caste.

Over one thousand striking workers from Brinks and Prosegur marched through the streets of Santiago, fighting for better wages and working conditions. This was a foretaste of what would come later, with the massive march called by the students.

The masses have burst into the public arena, and this has opened a new chapter in the political crisis. It is our responsibility to deepen the crisis by opening the road to a positive outcome: the convening of a Constituent Assembly to end the legacy of the dictatorship and the civilian neoliberal governments. This needs to be one of the opening steps in the process of rebuilding the forces of the revolutionary and socialist left.

After the first year of the Bachelet government’s ambiguous reform projects (nothing in comparison with the previous labour reforms), after eight months of a permanent trickle of corruption scandals (including the CAVAL case which directly involved the president), these cases demolished the support – or at least the benefit of the doubt given by people – that the government had to back up its policies. We have entered a new period. The general crisis of legitimacy of the government remains at its highest point alongside an explosion from below, with the youth at the forefront of mass protests.

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May 2015