General strike in Chile over attacks on workers’ rights and poverty

Protest at Plaza Baquedano, Santiago, Chile, in October 2019 (Photo: Carlos Figueroa/Wikimedia Commons)

More than a year after the start of the pandemic, the government and the business political caste in Chile have proven to be completely incapable of offering a response to the immediate needs of the population, to the economic and health crisis; not least to the social demands raised by the rebellion of October 2019.

The data is clear, more than 1 million jobs lost, informal work exceeds 25% of the workforce and also 2.3 million people have fallen into poverty, according to the World Bank. For its part, the government has limited itself to applying neoliberal measures, such as ultra “targeting” in social assistance, that have been late and completely insufficient, delivering measly bonuses that do not raise people above the poverty line.

Through the misnamed “Employment Protection Law” thousands of workers were forced to use their savings from the Unemployment Fund, leaving them defenceless. Millions of workers have also been forced to use their Pension Fund savings to survive the current crisis.

In this way, the government together with the political and business caste try to put the weight of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class and the poorest.  

A “government” without power and an “opposition” with no alternative

In the midst of the debate over the third withdrawal of the pension funds, the government has appealed to the Constitutional Court to stop the bill from getting approved in Congress; President Pinera presented at the last minute his own project to try to delay and contain the social pressure. Eventually, the Constitutional Court did not accept the Executive’s request for processing the government proposal causing an acute crisis in the government, its coalition and in the political caste, in general. Recent polls confirm this, with just 7% or 9% approval of the Piñera government.

The conflicts that we observe between the government and the parliament, in addition to the internal crisis of the Constitutional Court, are a clear expression of the collapse in the functioning of all the institutions inherited from the dictatorship.

This political crisis, on the other hand, has triggered protests and mobilizations at the national level,  leading numerous unions and social organizations to call a general strike for April 30.  

The Piñera government is losing more and more legitimacy and power; dragging in down the rest of his political coalition. This crisis will greatly complicate the attempts of the political caste to control the forces of the social explosion and the ongoing constituent process.

Let us remember that the Piñera government would have fallen long ago, had it not been for the intervention of the majority of the political parties when signing the so-called “Agreement for Peace and the New Constitution” in November 2019. The Constituent Convention process was established to stop the mobilizations and control them through institutional channels. In this way, under the rigged electoral system in place, the parties and their elected representatives would try to control the process of discussion and drafting of the new constitution.  

But the current crisis has triggered new and massive mobilizations that will increasingly question the legitimacy of the Constituent process and the very continuity of the current government.

In this situation, the main forces of the so-called “opposition” have been part of the problem and have not proposed a real alternative to this criminal government. We must remember that in the social upheavals of 2019, the majority of the political caste signed the Agreement for Peace. They not only feared that the Piñera government would fall, but also the entire political and economic system inherited from the dictatorship would collapse.

 It is necessary to respond to the attacks on our rights and the threat of poverty

In the midst of the crisis, we need to build an independent action of the workers, in support of revolutionary transformations that respond to the urgent needs of the population.

We believe that it is the capitalist class that must pay for the crisis.

For us, there is a fundamental difference of principle between a situation in which the unions or political parties of the “left” negotiate with the government and the employers on specific demands compared to joining the government bosses to try to save their system. The latter should not be accepted by the workers.

The workers must enter the fight and give a forceful response to the attacks of the bosses and the government. That is why we join the call for a stoppage and strike made by broad sectors of workers.

Calling a strike is not enough – You have to really prepare it, to win

It is a great step forward to join forces around this call for a general strike, but just calling for a general strike or strike is not enough. You have to prepare this fighting action in advance, for it to be truly successful.

It is necessary to promote strike and action committees in the workplace and neighbourhoods; establishing coordination at the local, regional and eventually national level. Each committee should elect delegates to represent them and allow progress in the construction of a broad platform with other fighting social organizations in society.

The unity and coordination of the masses will be necessary along with other steps to strike at the heart of this government and the system to truly paralyze economic production. A fighting action thus prepared would help to strengthen the unity and combativeness of the working class, establishing who has power in this society. In this way, it could join other sectors of society to transform this system in a revolutionary way. If a strike is not adequately prepared, there is a risk that it will fail, leading to the disappointment and demobilization of the organizations in the struggle.

It is essential to support any independent action by the workers’ ranks to promote and promote new forms of struggle. This is key to overcoming the brake action that, unfortunately, many sectors of the union bureaucracy carry out.

What actions and demands do we make?

  • We demand the resignation of Piñera and his entire nefarious government. Raising the need for a government of the workers and the people, which defends our interests.
  • We demand full protection of employment, security and labour rights for all workers, regardless of whether they work or not.  For a minimum salary of 600 thousand pesos per month and an equivalent universal basic income that covers family needs.
  • Self-employed workers, workers with precarious contracts and with fees that are affected by the quarantine; must receive emergency benefits with which they can live with dignity.
  • Businesses that threaten bankruptcy or job closures should be nationalized under the democratic control and management of workers, with compensation to owners only in case of proven need.
  • In relation to the serious problem of pensions, we must demand the end of the AFP system and propose, as an alternative, a solidarity-based PAYG system that provides decent pensions. The current fight for the withdrawal of 10% of pension savings should only be the first step to end the disastrous AFP system.
  • Faced with the threat of hunger, public soup kitchens and relief centers should be promoted and established at the community level for the distribution of food, medicine and other essential supplies.
  • Establish the right to education, health and housing as an essential public and a human right. Allocating more resources for teachers and students, due to a comprehensive and quality education. We need a unique Public Health System of high quality and free access. Finally, it is urgent to guarantee access to decent public housing under communal management and to freeze the high prices of rents and houses, which only benefit real estate companies.
  • We demand an end to police and state repression under the guise of a fight against Covid-19. Enough of attacks on the democratic rights of the population! These government attacks have become more brutal since the October rebellion; against young people and social organizations; and particularly in the Mapuche territory. We demand the release of all the political prisoners of the revolt and the Mapuche political prisoners!
  • We demand trial and punishment for systematic human rights violations; a dissolution of the repressive police forces and the army is necessary.
  • We demand genuine freedom of the press and the media and the right to free expression and association. We oppose the current concentration of the media in the hands of a handful of companies, which only defend the interests of the powerful; misinforming the population.
  • For a genuine Constituent Assembly from below, where social and trade union organizations democratically decide the revolutionary changes that the population demands.

 Neoliberal capitalism does not work and does not respond to the interests of the workers

It is essential to understand that any conquest taken from the ruling class under capitalism will inevitably be lost tomorrow in a future crisis, due to a rise in inflation or social cuts. That is why the only way to consolidate our rights in the future is to link the concrete struggles of each day with the necessary revolutionary transformation of this entire rotten system.

Every day it becomes more evident with this crisis, that neoliberal capitalism works for the profit of a few, not for the real needs of the majority of the population. It is only a small minority of economic groups that control the country and obtain multimillion-dollar profits from this system. As we know, this business elite has paid for campaigns and bought parliamentarians to make laws in their favour.

The entire political and business caste is responsible for the mismanagement of the current health and economic crisis that affects us. We must not forget that both the government Alliance (Chile Vamos) and the alleged opposition (Concertación and Nueva Mayoría) have been responsible for decades for implementing and legitimizing the institutions inherited from the dictatorship. Now a large part of this “opposition” tries to wash its image, opportunistically using certain demands of the popular revolt while trying to isolate the most left-wing sectors and the social movements that have fought.

These political sectors are now raising the old slogan of “unity against the right” as the only way to win in the next elections. Using the old deception of choosing the “lesser evil”, they intend to change some things so that nothing fundamentally changes. Therefore, we should not believe in them just rely on our own strength. We, too, want unity! But the unity of the youth and workers against this government and the entire corporate political caste!

 A genuine socialist alternative must be built

This crisis shows once again that the capitalist system, based on profit and the market, cannot keep society safe because it is hit every so often by serious crises. That is why many governments have been forced to intervene by giving subsidies, subsidies and tax breaks to large companies and the wealthiest.

This system has shown itself incapable of responding to our needs and allowing society to advance. That is why it is essential to end it and move towards a society and economy that works to respond to the needs of all, with broad and democratic participation in the different planes of life.

But the only way to achieve this is by implementing a truly democratic plan of production and distribution that meets the needs of the majority of society.

 What is needed is a workers’ government that, with the support of the broader layers of society, takes into public ownership the banks, financial institutions, and large corporations that dominate the economy. In this way, under the control and democratic management of the working class, decisions could truly be made about what the majority needs. This is the functioning of a genuinely socialist society.

But to achieve this, workers, youth and residents need to build their own voice and organization of struggle; a broad party of the working class and the oppressed that raises its demands in an alternative programme to this system and a struggle for power.

Today the need to advance in building a mass workers’ party has become urgent, bringing together workers, youth, socialists and activists in the workplace and in the communities, as well as environmental and anti-racist campaigns and activists against social cuts, to offer a political alternative to the old parties that defend large companies.

This crisis is giving us the opportunity to explain the exploitative and brutal character of capitalism and to win support in favour of governments that represent and involve workers,  in order to implement changes along socialist lines.

The rapid spread of the social and economic crisis is a global problem that will clearly pose the need for an international solution. This will lead to a deep questioning about the future of the planet in the economic, social and environmental spheres.

The idea of ​​building an international socialist alternative to this rotten capitalist system will become more and more evident; the need for a new society in which the planet’s resources are used for the vast majority, where management and production are based on the full participation of the community.

The construction of militant movements and organizations that fight for this socialist transformation and carry it out in Chile, and internationally, is the primary task of this period and to which we commit ourselves.


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April 2021