Chile: ‘This fight is for dignity’

November 7, 2019
A protester carries a sign in Santiago reading "Pinera resign". Photo: John Englart.

A huge popular revolt has erupted in Chile against the neoliberal policies of President Sebastian Pinera. This uprising was initially sparked by a campaign of student civil disobedience against a rise in the price of subway fares, but has grown into a nationwide mass movement.

Chile was the laboratory of neoliberalism, introduced under military dictator General Augusto Pinochet. The country underwent a “transition to democracy” during the 1980s, however the social inequalities of a brutal economic system remain.

Pinera’s government has responded with authoritarian and violent measures to the protests, causing many to compare them to abuses carried out by security forces under Pinochet.

Despite the repression, people are protesting daily in the capital, Santiago. Up to 2 million people protested in the capital on October 25 and 1.2 million on October 31. One hundred groups, including trade unions and social organisations that are part of the Social Unity Roundtable, issued  a call to fill the streets on November 4 — “Super Monday”.

The movement is having an impact and Pinera was forced to raise the minimum wage on November 6. However, the people of Chile are not giving up on their aspirations for a more equal society and are staying in the streets.

Green Left Weekly’s Nate Thompson and Susan Price spoke to three young Chileans, who have been participating in the mobilisations. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

When asked to outline the demands of the Chilean people, Victor, a 22-year-old student said that the Chilean people are demanding social justice and a reduction in social inequality: “In Chile, people die because access to health is disastrous. Pensions are unworthy and minimum wages are insufficient for a decent life or even to live.”

Maria, a 35-year-old worker said “the list is huge.”

“People are demanding a new constitution, a constituent assembly, Pinera’s resignation, No+AFP and No+Isapres.”

"No+AFP" (“No more AFP”) refers to Chile’s pension system (AFP, or Administrators of Pension Funds), which was originally privatised in 1980. Chileans are calling for an end to the privatised model and for it to be replaced with a “solidarity-based” distribution model, finances between workers, employers and the state.

"No+Isapres" (“No more Isapres”) refers to Chile’s health insurance system, which was partially privatised in 1981, and private insurance companies, called Isapres, (Instituciones de Salud Previsional) were able to “compete” for business. Chileans previously contributed to the national public health insurance fund via a 4% contribution. Following privatisation, that levy could be redirected to private health insurance companies.

Rose, a 21-year-old student, told GLW that “the first and most important demand is to make a change in the constitution.”

Rose also explained that people are demanding “a minimum salary of 500,000 [pesos] monthly,” and to “deprivatise the resources that [belong to] all Chileans and are in the hands of a few.”

When asked how much of a connection exists between this uprising and the high school student protests of 2006 (also known as the “Penguin revolution”) and the university student revolt of 2011, Victor explained that this movement results from “a series of particular and collective dissatisfactions over the years”.

“We protested peacefully for years and without results. The governments were giving ‘patch’ solutions to each request of the people.”

“The students of 2011 today average 25-30 years of age,” said Victor. “They enter a working world where they are affected by the same injustices.”

Maria didn’t see a connection between the ‘penguins’ of 2011 and now. “It was simply the sum of all the abuses for years that exploded due to the rise in the subway tickets.”

Rosa explained that “this fight is not only for a free and quality education. It is one of the points, but not the total.

“This fight is for dignity.”

“The Chilean people are tired of having to borrow to cover something that is a right and is a duty of the state to cover.”

When asked how the protests are being organised, what new coalitions were forming and how the movement would turn the demand for a constituent assembly into a reality, Victor explained that the majority were “initially self-convened – the people manifested spontaneously”.

Different unions and citizen groups are getting organised. “In different communes open cabildos [citizen councils] are being carried out,” said Victor.

“In these, the people dialogue about the themes, circumstances and demands felt by the people. This prepares us to be ready and organised in the future to formulate a new constitution through a participatory and representative constituent assembly.”

Rosa said that social media is playing an important role in organising and “informing and showing the reality that is not shown in newspapers and on TV.”

“All these protests have been spread by Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.”

“In universities, reflective assemblies are convened.”

Maria emphasised the character of this new movement: “People have organised themselves spontaneously in the neighbourhoods, clubs and squares. It is very basic. It is not yet known how all people’s demands will be put together. It is all from scratch.”

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