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Chilean Political Parties Sign “Peace Agreement”. Workers Respond with a General Strike

Chile has been on fire for over a month. The protests began in opposition to subway fare hikes, but they soon became a nationwide call to oust the president and rewrite the constitution.

Gabriel Muñoz

November 26, 2019
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Image From La Izquierda Diario

There are now mass mobilizations several days a week—two weeks ago, there was a massive general strike. Now, despite attempts to call off the protests, another general strike has been called. Over the last several weeks, President Sebastián Piñera has both provided many concessions and brutally repressed the protests. The latest concession was for a referendum in April to decide if and how Chile will rewrite its constitution, although it is clear that all the choices will provide undue power to the capitalists and their parties. This was signed by the establishment parties, as well as by the progressive party, the Frente Amplio. 

The union section of the Social Unity Table—an organization of the leaderships of social movements and unions—has called for a mobilization and a strike on November 26 and 27 against the “Peace Agreement” and the constituent process proposed by the government. This includes the Port Union, construction unions, and health associations. The ports were paralyzed starting on Monday, November 25.

Monday’s Mobilizations

On Monday, thousands of people already began to mobilize—many part of the feminist movement for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. People in Santiago began to jump turnstiles, refusing to pay the subway fares and harkening back to the start of the movement. In other parts of the country like Antofagasta, people began building barricades and blocking roads.

Already, the government is preparing for the general strike. On one hand, the Chilean media is attempting to paint a picture of “normality” and calm, while at the same time, the military is patrolling the streets. Right-wing Senator Andrés Allamand said on television that it will be impossible to “normalize” Chile without some human rights abuses. One of these measures is a proposed law by the Minister of Education against “political indoctrination” in schools, which would lead to the criminalization of leftist teachers and students. 

General Strike on November 26-27

The union sector of the Social Unity Table announced a call for mobilizations on November 26 and 27, as well as a national strike. The union bodies that signed the declaration are composed of teachers, public officials, health workers, and port workers, among others.

This strike was called after many political parties supported a “Peace Agreement” which would take people off the streets and preserve the existing political structure in Chile. This agreement would keep Piñera in power and ensure the control of the capitalists and their parties over any new constitution. Although even progressive parties in the government like the Frente Amplio signed, the statement has not been able to get people off the streets.

Unions also publically condemned the violation of human rights, including 24 deaths (and those are just the official numbers), almost 15,000 detentions (including more than 1,000 “preventative” detentions), over 200 instances of protesters going blind in one or both eyes because of police pellet guns, sexual assaults by police, as well as torture. 

For its part, the CUT, the country’s largest labor union, led by sectors of the Communist Party, is calling for a sector strike on Monday and a general strike on November 26, without saying anything about what happens the following day. Worse still, key strategic sectors such as mining, forestry, and transport workers will not go on strike.

General Strike until Piñera falls 

The vast majority of Chileans reject Piñera’s government and demand his departure. There is also criticism and mistrust of the parties’ pact to rewrite the constitution from the top: Chileans know that these politicians will make the same decisions as always, and that their demands will be postponed. Only the strength of the workers can get Piñera out. The workers are the ones who mobilize the economy and produce wealth. Only by hitting the capitalists where it hurts, at the source of their profits, can their exploitation be questioned and stopped.

That said, even this general strike is not enough. First of all, “strategic” sectors of the economy, such as mining, transportation, and the private sector, will not be on strike. These sectors have the power to bring the entire system to its knees, but they are not going on strike, in large part due to the union leadership tied to the Communist Party that has refused to organize these sectors. 

The last strike, held on November 12, was the most important strike in Chile in the last 30 years: It included massive marches, road blockages, banging pots and pans, and resistance to the police in the streets. But an escalation of these tactics is necessary: these forces must be deployed for longer periods of  time. If they are not, the parliamentary agreement will ignore the interests of the working people who have been struggling for over a month;, if Piñera continues in power, impunity will sanction all the human rights violations perpetrated by the Armed Forces.

The Urgent Need to Multiply Emergency and Rescue Committees

A serious plan to overthrow Piñera’s government must be discussed, a plan that implements popular assemblies and delegations to persuade the strategic sectors to coordinate larger actions, such as an indefinite general strike that demands the ousting of the president and the annulment of the government’s constituent process.

We must call for a free and sovereign constituent assembly, and to do this, we must use the only language that the capitalists and their parties understand: the language of class struggle.

Sustaining an indefinite general strike requires a higher level of organization. But we are starting to see examples of this. In the city of Antofagasta there are bodies of self-organization that coordinate workers, residents, health brigades, legal pickets, and students, called Comités de Emergencia y Resguardo (Emergency and Protection Committees). Thanks to these committees, the population is connected to the power of the working class and can discuss and vote on actions to take in struggle. It is necessary for the current leadership of the movement, the “Social Unity Table,” to create similar committees around the country and open them to all union, student, and popular organizations.

Chile’s general strike today demonstrates the strength of the movement: one that will not back down in fear and one that back down when faced with attempts to push it out of the streets with false promises. 

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