Chilean Winter: not so different from us
The seasonal naming of protests around the world has gained a new addition with the beginning of the ‘Chilean Winter.’ The increasingly annoying journalistic short hand however doesn’t disguise the spreading wave of resistance to austerity measures round the world. In Chile the protests initiated by students against cuts to education funding and the massively divided two tier system in higher education have spread to involve the CUT, Chile’s main trade union centre, who have just held a two day national strike.
The issues that teachers, civil servants, transport and other workers are protesting about will sound very familiar to trade unionists in Britain. They are campaigning to defend their pay and pensions, but also for better education, health care and social security for all and for a labour code and constitution that respects the rights of the people and not just the interests of big business and a privileged elite.
The protests began peacefully, including mass participation in ‘Cacerolazo’- people coming into the streets to bang pots and pans together to show their discontent. However the government of president Pinera has responded with extreme force, deploying water cannon and tear gas and arresting hundreds of protestors.
The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Sharan Burrow flew to Santiago to show the global union movement’s support for our Chilean colleagues. She was characteristically direct when she stated:
“‘in a real democracy, people have the legitimate right to demonstrate and demand change. There is no place for violence, and the authorities’ repression aimed at stopping the strike and demonstrations is totally unacceptable.”
The President of the CUT, Arturo Martinez, had predicted the likely government response saying,
“they will undoubtedly bring out the entire police force, but this will not stop us from demonstrating . . . the world will be observing the government’s conduct.”
With so much still happening in the Middle East and attention here still focused on the aftermath of the riots in London and other cities it is vital that we do indeed continue to watch what is happening in Chile and do not allow the forces of repression which have been rolled back in so much of Latin American in recent years to suppress the legitimate protests of the students and workers there.