On October 7, the government of the capitalist and leader of the party Renovación Nacional (RN) Sebastián Piñera, elected President in December 2017, decides to raise from 800 pesos to 830 pesos (+3,75 %) the price of the public transport ticket (underground, bus, trains) in the capital city Santiago. In this country that has known a bloody counter-revolution and a long military dictatorship (1973–1990), this increase ignites a fire, since prices of everyday products are equivalent to those of Europe. But not the income of proletarians: the minimum wage is 270 000 pesos (400 euros), the median wage is 500 000 pesos (750 euros).
Furthermore, one of the legacies of the regime of General Pinochet, left untouched by the class collaboration governments (of the Socialist Party PSC from 2006 to 2010, of the PSC and the Communist Party of Chile PCC from 2014 to 2018), is the absence of public services that would compensate in part the low level of direct wages. Everything is privatised: education, health, retirement pensions … even prisons. If unemployment is relatively reduced, social inequalities are glaring, and 11 million Chileans out of 18 million are indebted to survive.
The declaration of state of emergency with the army in the front line
In the days that follow the price rise, high school and college students of Santiago of Chile launch a spontaneous struggle of free rides, occupy underground stations, introducing free transport, in order to demand the annulment of the measure. The government responds by sending the police and the army, evacuating stations and violently repressing. On October 17, the union of underground workers, linked to the Unitary Workers’ Confederation (CUT), denounces the presence of the police and asks a social rate. On October 18, a call to demonstrate is launched on social networks, and thousands of people demonstrate in Santiago in front of underground stations. The lumpen takes advantage to plunder supermarkets and an anarchist minority burns down public buses and underground stations.
On October 19, President Piñera decides to annul the rise but, thanks to a law dating from the dictatorship, he introduces the state of emergency in 3 big cities of the country (Concepción, Valparaiso, and Santiago). More than 10,000 soldiers patrol in town, control and maintain the curfew in the evening in the capital city and its suburbs. The masses take to the streets, shouting “Out with Piñera, out with the military!”, tens of thousands of demonstrators bang on saucepans throughout the country. The most determined ones go after public buildings, while others plunder hypermarkets. The army arrests hundreds (one reports disappearances, rapes and tortures, like at the time of Pinochet), shoots, wounding dozens of people and killing several.
On October 20, Piñera justifies the keeping of the military disposition: “We are at war against a powerful enemy.” But nothing stops the masses that refuse the return of the dictatorship. The day after, Piñera summons opposition parties and receives the support of all bourgeois parties (RN, UDI, PDC, PRSD, PPD). The bourgeois workers’ parties (PSC, PCC) and the petty bourgeois coalition Frente amplio (FA) refuse to go as long as the state of emergency is maintained, without for all that taking up the popular demand to oust the President.
On October 21, at the call of the union of dockers of Valparaiso, a strike in support to the movement is followed by 95 % of workers of the sector. The same day, the greatest copper mine in the world, owned by the Anglo-Australian group BHP, has stopped at the call of the trade union. The 3 000 miners had already made 6 weeks of strike at the end of 2017 for wage rises.
On October 22, the President feigns to step back by asking for “forgiveness” while maintaining the state of emergency. He also attempts to coax millions of workers in the country by announcing the rise by 20 % of the minimal retirement pension, of the minimum wage, the freezing of the rise by 9 % of the price of electricity, the fall of the price of medication, the fall of the “salaries” of members of Parliament (32 times higher than the minimum wage), the rise of taxes for the richest. The spontaneous mobilisation against the rise of prices and the threat of a junction between students, workers and inhabitants of popular neighbourhoods snatches concessions.
The valve of days of action and the diversion of the Constituent Assembly
On the same day, the Mesa de Unidad Social, a coalition of trade unions and associations constituted by the PCC bureaucracy of the CUT, calls for a strike with the support of the PCC and the FA. But it restricts itself 48 hours and opens the perspective of a Constituent Assembly.
We propose to advance towards a National Constituent Assembly in order that it elaborates in a participative way a new structural framework for the Chilean society, opening thus the way to a new model of national development, that puts an end to the present unjust and abusive neoliberal model. Finally, we reject the grave declarations of President Piñera, according to which “he is at war” against the Chilean people. The one who leads to a grave confrontation in the country does not deserve to be President of Chile, we ask thus for his resignation. (CUT, October 22)
A Constituent Assembly is a diversion, a purely bourgeois solution in a country that recognises political parties and already grants elections to the universal suffrage. The heirs of Stalinism, who had disarmed the masses and applauded to the nomination of General Pinochet in the popular front government of Allende in 1973, protect the bourgeois State and the Chilean capitalism. For that purpose, they attempt to limit the strike and to canalise the proletariat and youth towards an institutional shuffle, leaving intact the army staff and the police. Their centrist deputies (PTR-FTCI, MA-LIS, MST-UIT…) defend also that way out for the bourgeoisie, painting it in red with their “free and sovereign Constituent Assembly”.
The strike is massively followed. More than one million people march throughout the country on October 23. The trade union leadership succeeds in preventing the self-organisation of the working class and of the student movement. No steward service is created. In a complementary way to the manoeuvres of the MUS, the two reformist parties call for a “social dialogue” between the President, who would thus be kept in power, and the trade union bureaucracy via the MUS.
The unique space for a legitimate and democratic dialogue is the one that considers, on an equal footing, the Coalition of Social Unity. The government must put an end to the exclusion that it attempts to impose. (PCC, October 23)
The real dialogue must take place (…) we reckon on mediations to send our propositions to the government (PSC, October 24)
While calling for a social dialogue with the assassin government, the PCC and FA members of Parliament launched a “constitutional accusation” on October 23. It is an impeachment procedure, that must be voted by a parliamentarian majority (that cannot be obtained). Thus, the parliamentarian cretins attempt to beguile the masses with illusions, relying on the national assembly that supports Piñera since his election in 2017.
But these shameful calls for a way out to keep the present government in power, the masses did not listen to them. On October 25, more than a million of demonstrators in Santiago and hundreds of thousands of others in the country demand the end of the state of emergency and of repression.
On October 26, facing the acute political and social crisis, the President decides a shuffle of one third of ministers, in particular the one of Interior, trying to have him take the blame for repression. He suspends the curfew in Santiago but maintains the state of emergency and the mobilisation of 20,000 soldiers.
On October 27, Piñera signs the decrees lifting the state of emergency. His balance sheet, according to the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), is of 20 dead, 3,712 arrests, 1,100 wounded, among which 600 by firearms, and 120 eye injuries. The INDH presently supports 120 complaints against the police and the army, of which 94 for torture, 5 for homicides and 14 for sexual violence.
Self-defence, setting up committees and cordons, workers’ government!
Despite police and military violence, the leaders of “reformist” parties and of trade unions refuse any organisation of security stewards and of popular militias to defend themselves. Most of them go as far as rejecting any violence, suggesting that demonstrators are as guilty as “law enforcement agencies”. Thus far, the billionaire President is still in place, with his parliamentary majority, his police and his army. His best protection remains the class collaboration of the present leaders of the labour movement.
On October 28, the Mesa Unidad Social calls for a new day of action of 24 hours for October 30. The call is careful not to demand the departure of Piñera, much less the dissolution of the police and the professional army.
To discuss a new Social Pact, it is to build a new Constitution among all, taking into account the widest possible participation. And the only mechanism that allows us to open the doors to each of us to feel summoned and challenged through a Constituent Assembly. (MUS, October 28)
On October 29, the PCC asks the government to convene a referendum in December for “a new constitution”. On October 30, the PS and the petty-bourgeois party RD (member of the FA) accept to meet the new Minister of Interior.
Against the policy of betrayal, workers and youth need a revolutionary workers’ party. It can be built only from a programme of break with the capitalist class and its State, from transitional demands towards the taking of power.
- nationalisation and free access to education, healthcare, and transports,
- increase in wages and retirement pensions, indexation to prices,
- revocability of elected officials and remuneration at the level of skilled workers,
- dissolution of the bodies of repression …
These demands are incompatible with the capitalist government of Piñera. Contrariwise to what is said by the PSC, the PCC, the FA, the CUT and the Mesa Unidad Social and their centrist accomplices, they cannot be won with days of action of 24 or 48 hours. One needs a general strike until satisfaction.
In Bolivia (2006–2009) or in Tunisia (2011–14), the Constituent Assembly has been used by the “democratic” bourgeoisie and its agents in the working class to mislead the revolutionary movement of the masses and to preserve the bourgeois State. To snatch durably the workers’, students’ and popular demands, one must take power, establish a workers’ government that will expropriate the foreign and national great capital (of which the Piñera family).
To succeed in it, the masses must organise themselves through assemblies in barracks, the countryside, neighbourhoods, places of study, administrations and enterprises. Workers and youth must renew the committees and cordons of 1972-1973 that had laid the bases of workers’ power. By establishing soviet organs, by coordinating them, the masses will open the possibility of a workers’ government. A government grappling resolutely with capitalism, dismantling the bourgeois State, advancing towards the Socialist Federation of Latin America, there is the perspective that the working class is lacking. For that, one must fight the agents of the bourgeoisie, one must build a party of the type of the Bolshevik Party that led the Russian revolution to victory.