Given that the proposal for a new constitution does not mean that we will see substantive changes to the current economic system, and the fundamental problems that the Chilean working class has, this makes adopting a position is not straightforward. Yet rejecting it means keeping the abuses that the Chilean working class suffered under the old, 1980, constitution of the dictatorship of blood and fire – born in the coup that seized power on September 11, 1973 – against the workers.
This constitution of the right-wing dictatorship still drips with the blood of thousands of Chilean workers, who were killed, tortured, or disappeared. All kinds of abuses against Chilean workers were carried out during the last almost five decades (2023 will mark 50 years since the Pinochet coup).
Forty-nine years of permanent abuses were at the root of the social explosion and popular revolt that we saw in October 2019. Millions of workers, youth, women, and indigenous peoples took to the streets to demand a Constituent Assembly, together with the resignation of Piñera and his government.
What triggered the coming of millions of Chileans to the streets is supposed to have been the rise of 30 pesos in public transport subway and bus fares. In reality, the malaise was generalized: poor health care, the marketization of education, miserable pensions, and a long list of abuses against the working class. That is why the central protest slogan quickly became, “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years” alluding to the last 30 years of supposed return to democracy (considered to be from 1990 until now).
A popular revolt that began on October 18, 2019, and was very strong in the first weeks and months, with millions of people taking to the streets, lasted a year, in greater to lesser degrees.
The Piñera government was about to fall in the first week of demonstrations, as was clear in a series of testimonies and confessions from the critical days of the revolt. The elite and the political caste were desperate; they were not clear about what to do to stop the struggles on the streets. Piñera declaring war on the Chilean people and bringing the armed forces into the streets proved to be completely ineffective. Young people were not afraid of the soldiers and quickly began to harass them and push them back during the protests.
The “peace agreement”
The desperate political caste and elite finally played for a political solution, which would divert the struggle of the working class and so be able to save themselves and their interests. Unfortunately, most of the political parties joined the so-called “Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution” with the exception of the Communist Party, which did not do so as a matter of form, rather than substance.
For Piñera, the agreement for social peace was a lifesaver, which arrived just at the moment when he was seriously thinking about how to start to flee from La Moneda, the presidential palace, to save his skin.
The “Pact for Peace” proposed by the political caste and the elite infuriated thousands of workers, youth, and activists. They saw the proposal as another hoax on the part of those who have governed the country since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. Despite the protests of some activists against this fraudulent agreement, the political caste finally managed to impose it.
With the peace pact, they stopped talking about a Constituent Assembly and started talking about a Constitutional Convention. A plebiscite was called to define whether to maintain or replace the constitution of the dictatorship and who should be part of that Convention.
The original proposal gave two options; the composition was 50% made up of parliamentarians and another 50% would be elected by the population. The plebiscite that took place on October 25, 2020, saw 78% approve the idea of replacing the constitution of the dictatorship and 79 % decided that 100% of the constituents should be elected, rejecting the idea that it would be made up of 50% parliamentarians.
The elections to the Convention were held on May 15 and 16, 2021. This body drafted the new Constitution proposal. Independent candidates were elected and the most reactionary right was reduced to less than a third.
The final draft of the new constitution proposal was delivered on Monday, July 4, and will go to a plebiscite that will be held on Sunday, September 4, 2022. This will be a mandatory election for all Chilean voters and there are only two options: approve or reject. If the approval wins, the new constitution begins to be implemented. If the rejection wins, the constitution of the dictatorship is maintained.
The draft of the new constitution does not even remotely mean substantive changes to the current system, does not touch the interests of large economic groups or transnationals, nor does it speak of nationalizing copper, lithium, or other natural wealth of the country, as demanded by the mass movement. It lists a series of rights, such as housing, education, health, and respect for indigenous peoples, but it is not clear how these rights will be defended or won.
The most reactionary right wing has come out hysterically to attack the possibility of approving this new constitution, saying that this will destroy the country and national unity and that what is needed is to ‘re-found’ Chile. But, in reality, it seems that what they fear most is that the small advances that could be achieved open the possibility of greater demands by the working class which would put all their class privileges in jeopardy.
Faced with this situation, it is clear that we will have to vote for approval critically, although it is not what the movement expected when it took to the streets in October 2019. Vote for approval, but without lowering our arms and continuing to fight for the changes that working people require.
It is clear that despite the enormous struggles of October 2019, the demands that the people put forward are only being partially met. As we said at the time, governments or political parties that are part of the system cannot be trusted to convene a true Constituent Assembly. This can only be called by the workers and the broader sections of the population, with assemblies in the workplaces, towns, and communities, at high schools and other educational centres. This way, working people can be linked at the local, regional, and national levels and elect delegates for a genuine Constituent Assembly of workers, residents, and wider sections of the poor and working people and exploited.
It is clearer than ever that the need to build a political alternative for workers – a party with a revolutionary socialist programme – is an urgent task if we really want to see the changes that the working class requires. The struggles of October 2019 opened a new chapter in the struggle of the Chilean working class. Chile will never be the same again; Chile woke up!