Three months of students’ struggle. First day of the CUT’s 48-hour strike

Three months of students’ struggle.

August 31, 2011

By: PTS, Argentina
Thursday, August 25, 2011

At press time for this edition, the first day of the national 48-hour strike called by the Chilean Trade Union Congress (CUT) was reaching its climax. After the massive day of struggle, Sunday, August 21, the first day of blockades, barricades and marches has joined the enormous student mobilization that began three months ago, seeking free education and the end of the elitist educational model inherited from the days of Pinochet. We interviewed Bárbara Brito, a student, a former council member in the Department of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Chile, a member of the Philosophy Department assembly, and a militant of the Partido de Trabajadores Revolucionarios (PTR), fraternal organization in Chile of the PTS.

LVO: How did the first day of the CUT strike take place?

BB: In the context of the three months of the students’ struggle, Sunday was a big day. It was a kind of measurement for us, of what the process of mobilization had been and also a preview of what was coming. Around 1 million people participated in an informal cultural action. The government wanted to mar it, by saying that not more than 100,000 people had gone. After this, we saw that the mobilization of August 24 and 25 was going to be strong. The Chilean Trade Union Congress (CUT), had established a schedule of street blockades for the first day, and the second day of mobilization with four gathering places. Today’s mobilization, which was the first day of the strike, really began the night before, with big demonstrations in different places. After the demonstrations, mass occupations of universities and high schools took place, to prepare for the street blockades, that took place between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Today, the students’ capacity for struggle and militancy was seen again, as in the Philosophy Department, from which we went out to the streets to build barricades, and we set up self-defence committees. Furthermore, there are area networks and mass barricades with other high schools and universities. The two biggest places were the USACH and the Department of Philosophy and Humanities; moreover, in the centre of Santiago, more than 18 mass barricades were put up. This was the centre of the first day of the CUT strike. The people, who had mobilized in the morning in the blockades and area marches, were now returning in the evening to the squares of their neighbourhoods and their areas to mobilize.

What attracted the most attention is the fighting spirit with which we went out to struggle, and we condemned the repression unleashed by the police, inherited from Pinochet’s rule, with assaults and arrests.

LVO: Was there any type of preparation of the actions by the trade union federation and the students’ organizations?

BB: The CUT, which is led by the Concertación government and the Communist Party, had set this strike since last year. It was not their policy either to move the strike forward, in the context of three months of the students’ struggle, or prepare it from the grass roots, with assemblies with delegates, with the workers in each factory, every high school, the teachers, with the workers from education, from the public sector. The service sector was what was most brought to a standstill, especially what has to do with the university, the professors; a group from transportation struck, and a group of miners, but the Communist Party bureaucracy was not able to put itself on a par with the mobilization and the current situation. The students, on the other hand, are one of the engines of the struggle currently going on, and they could be a base of support for the working class to be able to join this mobilization. Because the children of the workers are also those who are struggling for free, non-elitist education, 100% funded by the state, and secular.

LVO: How was your participation today, and what do you expect for the second day of the strike?

BB: From the Partido de los Trabajadores Revolucionarios, we organized barricades from the grassroots at different locations in Santiago, and that took place, beginning with committees, and not outside of the departments, as the organizations of the left that lead the students’ movement, usually do, but with mass assemblies coordinated with different high schools, universities and areas. We managed to build mass barricades, confronting the police. Furthermore, in each assembly, we raised the questioning of the role of the CUT and its leaders, and the role that the leaders of the Confech are playing, with closed meetings, because they do not organize open meetings, open assemblies, with mandated delegates that can be recalled. No strong organization, like the 2006 National Assembly of Secondary Students, exists. At present, the Confech is a bureaucratic organization. This has been one of our big fights these days. We are firmly questioning the role that the Communist Party has played in this process of struggle, while organizing the mobilization in the streets.

We have carried out this struggle not only in Santiago but acting at a national level; we have been active in several parts of Chile. One of the biggest demonstrations took place in Arica; 4,000 people have been mobilizing, and now more than 12,000 are in the streets. And it is a good omen for what is certainly going to happen tomorrow, with massive marches, although we will also have to confront the repression.

In Antofagasta, we have been pushing from the grass roots in the departments, in the Catholic University of the North, where comrade Cristian Vilches, Secretary of the Federation, has also firmly motivated the struggle, organizing barricades, street blockades and backing the Lectures’ strike of indefinite duration. We believe that this example must be repeated throughout Chile, and that the College of Lecturers, also led by the Communist Party, should call a strike of indefinite duration nationally. In Valparaíso, in the industrial high schools and the University, spirited demonstration have also been taking place, that faced harsh repression from the police.

LVO: What is the program that the PTR has been raising in front of the students’ struggle and now, in view of the CUT strike?

BB: In the current national situation, we believe it is necessary to raise educational demands, like free education, unrestricted admissions, shared management of the university, and also a fighting organization with mandated delegates who can be recalled, to be able to strengthen the struggle, and so that as students we will be able not only to participate, but also to discuss and carry out actions. On the other hand, it is necessary to debate and deepen the fight against this anti-democratic regime inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship. In this sense, we believe that it is necessary to fight for a Constituent Assembly, based on the mobilization of the workers and people. And this is a central point. Because, up to now, the leadership of the struggle has proposed to call a referendum. That is not the solution, but on the contrary, it seeks to lead the mobilizations to the negotiating table. It is important for us to be able to unite our struggle, of high school and university students, with the entry of the workers into the process we are now experiencing. In this sense, to continue questioning the weakened political regime of the right and the Concertación government, the heir of Pinochet, is one of our main demands.

Revolutionary Workers Party (Partido de Trabajadores Revolucionarios)

The Revolutionary Workers Party is the fraternal group of the PTS in Chile. Its bimonthly newspaper, Clase contra Clase, is its main media outlet, and carries sharp analyses of the current national and international political situation, the main struggles of the working class, what is happening among students and the Mapuche people, and the PTR’s revolutionary interventions. Its university group, Las Armas de la Crítica, that has carried out strenuous activities to propagate revolutionary Marxism and support workers’ struggles, has been organizing the most advanced groups of students, by actively participating in the 2006 struggle of the "penguins’ [secondary school students]. They are also promoting the group Abran Paso among sectors of working-class young people in industry, mining and the service sector, students in technical-industrial high schools, as well as among teachers. They are big promoters of the dynamic women’s group Pan y Rosas. They knew how to recover the militant history of the Chilean working class and reinterpret it in the light of current tasks, with the outstanding work carried out in the Workers’ Museum and in various publications. Their analyses, news and updated politics can be read on the site