As Proletarian went to press, it was being reported that huge numbers of Chilean students, variously estimated at between 180,000-200,000, had shown up for a national demonstration in the country’s capital, Santiago, to demand radical education reform.
This march was the peak – thus far – of a rapidly-growing movement and was correctly portrayed, even by the pro-capitalist, pro-austerity BBC, as having been the biggest protest since the end of Chile’s fascist military dictatorship (1973-1990).
Whatever the actual numbers involved, the message from these young people – who enjoy full support from the coordinating body of Chile’s various trade-union federations, the Central Unido de Trabajadores (United Workers Centre [CUT]) – is clear and unambiguous.
They are calling for the end of a voucher system that supports private universities, they are calling for free education ‘from cradle to grave’, and they are showing their concrete solidarity with hospital and other health workers by demanding better wages and conditions for nurses, junior doctors and anciliary staff. In turn, that support has been thoroughly reciprocated.
Earlier in the autumn, a two-day national strike had been organised in support of the students by the 780,000-strong Confederación General de Trabajadores – CGT (the largest single component of the CUT).
It was clear from the very beginning that this action – as much political as merely economic – was going to be an exceptionally militant one, uniting students and workers in a way that hadn’t happened since the 11 September 1973 overthrow of the progressive, socialist-oriented regime of Salvador Allende.
In passing, note the date; this was the first ‘nine-eleven’, orchestrated by a Chilean Army-CIA alliance on behalf of US imperialism. Without much further comment on this, let’s briefly compare the figures:
9/11 Mark I: Thirty thousand people were deliberately tortured and killed in 1973 within the space of a week. (Crime? Opposing imperialism, politically or culturally, and trying to build an economic and political alternative to capitalism – or merely being suspected of doing so.)
9/11 Mark II: 2001, the one we all know about. Three thousand dead. (Crime? None individually, but the victims all worked in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, respectively the military and economic symbols of US imperialism.)
We urge our readers not to forget this comparison, while at the same time moving on with what has now become a major challenge to Chilean capitalism, a capitalism which – in its first ‘neo-liberal’ form – attracted the nearly orgasmic attentions of former PM Margaret Thatcher. She and Chile’s former military dictator Augusto Pinochet were the very, very best of mates, but all of that must be reserved for a future article.
Now, though, let’s return directly to the current Chilean students’ strike, and to the workers who’re backing it.
While class struggle in the 21st century (as before) takes place as a result of ordinary working people fighting back against our monopoly capitalist rulers, the actual mobilisation of class forces can be influenced ‘on the day’ by the way in which the individual leaders of the opposing forces act – and are seen to act.
There has therefore been a huge popular backlash against Chile’s president, Sebastian Piñera, a thoroughly reactionary billionaire. There’s a quotation doing the rounds from this noble gentleman which we think sums up his concern for ordinary people: “We all want education, healthcare and other things for free, but I want to remind them [presumably the non-millionaires?] that nothing is free in this life.”
The mobilisation of young people began in early June of this year and reached massive dimensions on 9 August, when up to 150,000 secondary school and university students – along with their teachers and professors – staged a first demonstration in the streets of Santiago. Simultaneously, mass demonstrations were held in Chile’s other major cities of Concepción and Valparaíso.
However, Chile’s bourgeois-democratic police, closely following the lead of their fascist predecessors, reacted pretty much everywhere with extreme violence. It was this that cemented the fighting alliance between the students and the trade unions. The sight of clouds of CS gas, phalanxes of riot police charging teen (and even pre-teen) students – and dragging them off buses – has successfully cemented a relationship of strong solidarity between the students’ and workers’ organisation in post-fascist Chile.
The workers and their unions – 82 of them – are increasingly responding by organising detachments to actively support their student allies as these occupy their colleges and universities. There is now a huge, hand-painted banner at Santiago’s main university that reads “Students and Workers United: For an End to Austerity and a Return to the Road to Socialism”. More significantly still, this enormous banner carries the logos of all the main students’ and workers’ organisations in Chile.
By combining their individual struggles, and tying economic demands for better pay, conditions and education with political demands for workers’ power, the workers and students of Chile are exponentially increasing their chances of success. We in Britain need to learn this valuable lesson too, for only socialism can deliver justice for the masses of the people – and only by uniting can we win the battle for socialism!