Chile – Fundamental Change, Not Token Reform

Workers take to the streets in Chile
By Jaimeson Champion, Sep 10, 2007, 10:35

On Aug. 29, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets of Santiago, Chile, to protest neoliberal economic policies and demand wage equality, better pensions, and greater access to healthcare and education.

The demonstrations were billed as a “National Day of Action,” and were initiated by the largest federation of trade unions in Chile, known as United Workers Central. Simultaneous demonstrations in other cities and towns across the country were also attended by hundreds of thousands of union members and their supporters, and included union organizing activities in addition to street protests.

Central among the issues raised by the workers at the demonstrations was the issue of wage inequality. In many Chilean industries it is not uncommon for a supervisor to earn more than 200 times the wage of the average worker. In the mining industries, particularly copper, profits have soared by double digit percentages over the last decade yet wages for most workers have remained stagnant. Demonstrators condemned the practice of subcontracting in the mining industries, which is essentially a way for the capitalists to avoid providing workers with health insurance and other benefits.

The demonstrations also denounced the neoliberal economic policies that the imperialist powers have attempted to force on the countries of Latin America for decades. These policies include greater privatization in key industries, the opening up of markets to the imperialist powers, and strict limits on spending for social programs. In many instances, the U.S. has made emergency aid and loan packages conditional on Latin American countries implementing these policies.

Demonstrators asserted that these neoliberal policies have helped to enrich foreign corporations and the Chilean oligarchy at the expense of Chilean workers. They demanded that the government focus on the needs of Chilean workers instead of the predatory desires of the imperialist corporations.

The huge demonstrations in Chile are yet another indication of the growing resistance to neoliberalism that is surging across Latin America. Workers across Latin America are bringing to the forefront the fact that neoliberalism and free market economic policies have brought misery and suffering upon the masses while fattening the pockets of the imperialist corporations. An increasing number of governments in Latin America are shunning these policies. Governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are in open revolt against neoliberalism and imperialism.

The demonstrators in the capital city of Santiago endured the violent tactics of the infamous Chilean riot police. The police lived up to their reputation for brutality by launching volleys of tear gas and firing water cannons into the crowds of demonstrators. More than 200 demonstrators in Santiago were injured. The police unwarrantedly arrested more than 700 demonstrators.

Despite the unprovoked violence and arrests perpetrated by the police, the countrywide demonstrations were heralded by many labor leaders as a huge success and an indication of the growing movement for fundamental economic, social, and political change that is sweeping across Chile.

The demonstrations come on the heels of huge student protests last year, where students occupied and took control of 13 schools in Santiago, and a series of strikes initiated by subcontracted mine workers that have shown the ability to effectively cripple production in the mines.

The increasingly militant stances taken by the unions and students are indications that the endless promises of reform offered up by Chilean politicians over the past few years have worn thin. Chilean workers and students are taking to the streets in growing numbers to demand fundamental change, not token reform.

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