Chile: Millions take to the streets in general strike

This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

Tuesday, 12 November, saw an estimated three million workers, youth and students, take to the streets throughout Chile, in yet another mass protest and strike. After nearly one month of protests and brutal repression, this magnificent movement has refused to accept concession after concession by the Piñera regime.

Prior to today’s strike, President Piñera undertook yet another U-turn and announced that the constitution would be revised and submitted to a referendum. He also said this process would be “led” by the Congress. This is the same Congress that is controlled by the hated political parties. Yesterday’s protest and strike overwhelmingly rejected this proposal and saw it as the fraud that it is. “Out with Piñera for a Constituent Assembly”, was the demand raised by hundreds of thousands who marched in baking heat in Santiago.

Health workers, teachers, transport workers and others, all arrived at the march to join students and others in a sea of people determined to bring down the government and bury its neo-liberal policies. Dockers joined the strike. Copper miners in the north of Chile set up barricades and did battle with the police. The mass action had, in many respects, more the character of a huge angry protest than a general strike.

The authority of the Piñera government floats like a corpse on this sea of mass protests, involving all sections of Chilean society. All those on the march were conscious that this is a rebellion. Central Santiago was filled with workers and oppressed. Young workers from Starbucks marched with banners proudly proclaiming, “We are students but we are also workers” and “Your coffee is worth more than I earn in one hour”! A mass delegation of women workers from JUNJE (which looks after small children) arrived with their class demands for decent wages and more resources. Others carried placards proclaiming, “Chile will bury neo-liberalism”. Thousands carried the flag of the Mapuche people, which has now become the flag of resistance of both Mapuches and non-Mapuche alike.

Follow the mass protests throughout the country, many cities turned into war zones, as the riot police attacked. As the night wore on, youth continued to battle with the police. In Santiago, banks and supermarkets were torched. In the north of the country, a police station that was notorious as a torture centre under the Pinochet dictatorship, was set alight. In Santiago, the youth used lasers to blind the drivers of police water cannon vehicles and gas tanks.

Piñera was compelled to call a press conference at 10 pm. People expected the declaration of a State of Emergency and the deployment of the army, again. However, Piñera appealed for peace and dialogue. Significantly, he called up police reserves, saying the police could not cope. Some commentators said the initial proposal was to deploy the army but that this was changed in the run-up to the press conference. It is possible the army tops warned that the army is not fully reliable. Despite Piñera threatening to use the draconian repressive powers to arrest social leaders not condemning the violence, he and the government are now seen as even weaker.

Piñera’s brutal repression of has had the opposite effect than the president expected. It has been brutal, the likes of which has not been seen since the Pinochet dictatorship. At least twenty people have died at the hands of the state. More than two hundred, mainly young people, have lost an eye, due to injuries from gunshots by riot police and soldiers, who deliberately fire at the faces of protestors. Pictures of the victims are posted onto the walls of central Santiago. All of the buildings in central Santiago are covered with political slogans demanding the end of Piñera and a Constituent Assembly. Others denounce the police as “asesinos” (murderers).

This brutal repression has only enraged workers and especially the youth who have fought back, like lions, against the police. The youth arrive at the mass protests prepared for battle. Masks and liquid to protect from the crippling effects of tear gas are all readily organised by teams of youth. Today, students from the medical faculty assisted those who were choking from the torturous effects of the gas.

The hatred of this regime is palpable. “Piñera resign or die”, is a slogan which has been painted on a wall.

The Socialist Party [a social democratic party] offices are covered with slogans, such as “Traitors” and “Corrupt”,  and it is denounced as a “narco–party”, as sections of its leadership were involved in drug trafficking.

Whiff of 70’s revolutionary movement

On the march and in the protests, you can smell the whiff of the revolutionary movement that erupted under the left Allende government, between 1970-3. These traditions are beginning to be revived. Yesterday, a giant figure depicting the left wing protest folk singer, Victor Jara, who was murdered by the Pinochet regime, was paraded through the streets of Santiago.

Pharmacies and supermarkets have been targeted and attacked. The big shopping chains are regarded as thieves and robbers by many protesters. Some of the youth have taken medicines and food and distributed them to the poor and those in need.

This movement has been marked by a spontaneous eruption against the neo-liberal policies that have been imposed by successive governments in Chile for the last thirty years.

It has been marked by an absence of organisation. However, this is beginning to change. In the local areas, assemblies of local inhabitants, “Cabildos”, are being initiated. These are not committees of elected delegates but meetings of the local community that are open to all. These are the first steps in rebuilding the workers’ movement.

There is an understandable hatred of the political parties which have betrayed the workers and defended the ruling capitalist class. The absence of an organised leadership of this mass movement means that the building of a mass political force of the working class is an urgent task, if it is to be taken forward.

The Minister of the Interior, Gonzalo Blumel, clearly stated that this movement is in decline and that with no leadership it will exhaust itself. This threat is real and will happen if the organisation of the movement is not resolved and a new leadership is not built. However, the rage is such that the protests may continue for a longer time, despite the absence of leadership.

Unidad Social – a coalition of the pensioners’ movement, dock workers, teachers, some copper workers’ unions and other unions, student federations and social movements in the local areas – announced, on 12 November, that it is considering calling an indefinite general strike. This must now be prepared for with the formation of democratically-elected committees of struggle in all work places and in the local communities. These need to link together on a local, city wide, regional and national level.

Such committees of struggle can prepare for an indefinite general strike. They can be the body to convene a real constituent assembly, to break with capitalism and to establish a government of workers and all those exploited by capitalism.

Socialismo Revolucionario, the Chilean section of the CWI, is fighting for the adoption of such a programme, and for the building of a mass party of the Chilean working class.

Expressions of protest can be sent to local Chilean embassies.

Resolutions of support along the lines of the one below can be sent to the Committee Against Repression in Chile, Santiago, Chile  contrarepresionchile@gmail.com

And copies to:

Esteban Maturana, CONFUSAM (Municipal Health Workers):  ematuranad@gmail.com

Tamara Muño, Vice President International Relations of CUT: tamara_munoz@hotmail.com

Vilma Alvarez National Confederation of Commercial Workers. vilmarez@gmail.com

Campaign details in Spanish – http://werkenrojo.cl/campana-por-la-libertad

Solidarity resolution:

We express our fullest support for the workers, students and poor of Chile who have risen up in their millions against the Piñera government. The strikes and mass demonstrations have reached every corner of Chilean society and have even affected members of the armed services who support the fight for genuine democracy and a decent life for all.

We support the Committee Against Repression in Chile and the movement’s unanimous demand for the resignation of Sebastián Pinera and his government! We understand that the withdrawal of the fare rises which sparked the uprising is not enough. There must now be an end to austerity for the mass of the population and the vast privileges of the few. We support the demands for free education, for decent jobs with decent wages and welfare provision for all.

The present movement is demanding the scrapping of the old Pinochet-era constitution and the formation of a Constituent Assembly. We support the idea of representatives being elected in every workplace, neighbourhood and educational establishment and of democratic representation at a regional and national level.

Down with the methods and constitution of the past! Down with the rich exploiters of labour in city and countryside! Out with Pinera and his cronies! For a constituent assembly of the revolution in Chile and the spread of a socialist alternative across Latin America and beyond!