Chile: Mass protests erupt and make gains

Mass protests erupted throughout Chile on the evening of 22 July as the Senate was voting on constitutional reforms relating to the pensions system, called AFP. Due to the mass poverty and hunger gripping the country as a result of the Covid crisis the proposal was to allow workers to take 10% from their pension fund. Pinera, the President, opposed this proposal.

The Senate voted by a two-thirds majority to accept the proposal to illustrate that Pinera is increasingly an isolated figure. Even the parties which are supporting his government are split and are not backing some of his policies.

The building of barricades in the poor areas of most areas of Santiago and other cities on the evening of July 22 shows the mood for struggle which exists amongst big sections of the population. The demand to get 10% of the pension funds was seen as the only way to stave off further debt and hunger which is now hurting the stomachs of many Chilean workers and the poor. People were not prepared to accept that Pinera could use the Constitutional Tribunal and his right of veto to stop this proposal.

Pinera’s attempt to do this enraged big sections of the population. Pinera was intending to overrule the Senate but the mass protests and deafening roar of the “cacerolazos” – mass pot banging – and the erection of barricades, forced him to retreat for fear of triggering a mass explosion of anger.

But the protests on the evening of 22 July were not only about 10% AFP payments. It also brought together two other issues in a united movement. Firstly, a scandal in the south of Chile, in Temulco, erupted following the tragic case of sexual abuse of a young woman who then committed suicide. The perpetrator was the son of a very rich family in the city, who used their power and influence to ensure he was not imprisoned. This provoked a massive movement, especially from working-class women. Together with this movement, the protests also took up the struggle of the Mapuche people. Mapuche political prisoners are currently on hunger strike in solidarity with the imprisonment of a Mapuche leader accused of murder despite no evidence of his involvement being presented.

Three victories

Following the protests, on Wednesday the perpetrator of the sexual abuse was arrested and an enquiry into the case of the Mapuche leader is being considered. These represent three victories of the mass movement and a defeat for the rulers in Chile. Pinera is on the ropes. Around 83% of Chileans now disapprove of his government.

These three struggles are emblematic of some of the demands of the Chilean workers. It is possible that the hated AFP pensions system could even be ended now. However, these are only three of the demands of the Chilean people at present.

These struggles also show the urgent need for the Chilean workers to take back control of their trade union organisations, like the CUT, which has shown itself to be totally absent from these struggles.

These struggles and the winning of the demand for 10% of the AFP illustrate the need to put an end to this government of criminal politicians and bosses. We need a government of the workers to put an end to the system of capitalism and introduce an alternative which will hunger and misery.

It is urgent that a congress of workers from the workplaces and the local communities be organised to plan a strategy of struggle to defeat the government and establish a government of the workers.

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July 2020