Fare hike unleashes uprising in Chile: down with the state of emergency! Piñera out!

The following is a translation of an article we received about the current insurrectional movement in Chile, which began with youth-led protests against a hike in public transport fares. From a widespread campaign of fare dodging, a mass movement has developed against the government, which was responded with brutal repression. 

The government of the bosses in Chile has declared war on the poor. It has called a state of emergency and curfews in the main cities. This measure has not been used since 1987, under the dictatorship. Several deaths are already confirmed. The immense popular uprising has seriously jeopardised the government, which is now acting out of desperation. This is a historic mobilisation of a level not seen since the protests that toppled the dictator Pinochet.

At the beginning of October, the businessman-president Sebastián Piñera declared Chile a “true oasis within a convulsed Latin America”, referring to the social, political and economic crises affecting countries in the region. On Friday night, this idyllic image vanished when the state of emergency was declared. The armed forces assumed command of certain areas - starting in the metropolitan area of the capital, and in subsequent hours extending their control to all the main regions of the country. Faced with the magnitude of the protests on Saturday night, a cancellation of the fare rise was announced, at the same time as the curfew and a state of emergency was declared. These measures have been widely rejected by the population, which is still resisting leaving the streets to the military.

The last increase in public transport fares reached 830 Chilean pesos per ticket in rush hour (more than one US dollar: the most expensive in Latin America), equating to approximately 50,000 Chilean pesos per month. This is an important expense if we consider that 54 percent of workers earn less than 350,000 pesos. Not surprisingly, it is the high school students who struck the spark of mass fare evasions last Monday. Starting at subway stations in downtown Santiago, the youth-led days of fury expanded to the periphery of the city, and an insurrectional movement began to develop, raising new demands.

Piñera's corporate government is unable to understand the needs of the people. From the beginning, he described young people as “terrorists”, and the spontaneous displays of public solidarity to this enormous mass movement as organised by extremist groups. Government authorities do not cease to insult the intelligence of workers, who have seen the impunity with which the rich evade taxes, and with which the armed forces and carabineros steal billions.

"Evade, don't pay: another way to fight!" High school students ignite the spark

The reality is that this second Piñera government, which began in March 2018, has been marked by protest movements from various sectors of society. To name a few of the most significant, we had the ‘No More AFP’ protests against the private pensions systems, from which 79 percent of payments are below minimum wage, and 44 percent below the poverty line. Then there was 'feminist May', which showed the profound disaffection of youth towards the traditional values of machismo. There was also the dockworkers’ rebellion, which deployed workers' methods of struggle in a formidable national strike. There was a teachers’ strike - a milestone for teachers’ mobilisation in Chile. Then we had the social and environmental crisis of Quintero-Puchuncaví. Additionally, there were protests against the privatisation of natural resources in the midst of the water crisis, and continuing repression and resistance in the Wallmapu, which is ancestral Mapuche territory. Chile is not at all the oasis that Piñera dreams of.

High school students have been singled out as terrorists and criminals, in a classic right-wing discourse that condemns a country's youth that lacks any opportunities to develop its skills or voice its concerns. The government has modified curricula against the advice of teachers and education experts. In particular, in downtown Santiago and major high schools, under the "Safe Classroom" policy, boys and girls have been physically attacked within their own halls of learning.

But this generation will not succumb easily to repression. They will not stop looking for the means to shake off the dictatorial heritage that governs the laws, the economy and the daily lives of Chileans. For a couple of weeks after the announcement of the fare rise, high school students in downtown Santiago, particularly from the Instituto Nacional, began to organise human “avalanches” to skip subway tourniquets, and invited others to do the same. As usual, government figures described these acts as terroristic and violent. The truth is that the non-payment of the fare does not constitute a crime, but is an administrative offence that entails a fine. Such an infraction does not merit sending Special Forces of Carabineros into the subway stations, much less beating unarmed youths defending the interests of the exploited majority. It is a common tactic of the right wing to respond to protest with media manipulation and repression. But this bullying approach by notoriously corrupt politicians, far from pitting people against the protesters, has encouraged solidarity towards them.

Repression stokes the flames: popular uprising unleashes the fury of the people

With the extension of the fare-dodging protests, it was announced on Friday afternoon that the subway stations in downtown would be closed. Thousands of people walked the streets. In authoritarian style, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick (an old right-wing cadre from the days of the dictatorship) announced the implementation of the Internal Security Law against arrested protesters during the day, who would thus face up to 10 years in jail. The workers who returned to their homes, far from turning against the protesters as expected by the government, showed their support by banging pots from 8:30 p.m., in defiance of the curfew. Now the protests have reached the periphery of Santiago, which are usually not affected by political demonstrations that periodically occur downtown. People are showing sympathy and admiration towards the young generation, who have lost their fear in facing injustice, and are energising an older generation that had sunk into conformity. The pot banging demonstrations were massive. There has been a qualitative leap since the protests and mass movements that more than a decade ago changed the landscape of post-dictatorial Chile.

The balance sheet indicates that at least 41 of almost 140 subway stations were destroyed during Friday night. Added to this was looting and burning of symbolic locations that represent abuses against the people: the central building of the privatised electricity company, private highways, pharmaceutical chains, supermarkets and banks, which for years have colluded against the working class. At night, continuing with its repressive agenda, the government enacted a state of emergency. This is the first time since the dictatorship that this has been decreed in circumstances other than natural disasters. Naturally, the sight of tanks and the soldiers in the streets evoked a very strong emotional reaction in Chile. The hands of the right wing are stained with blood, and its anti-democratic and criminal record is still well remembered.

On Saturday, the sun dawned on the shameful scene of the military in the streets of Santiago. But this has not frightened the people, who woke and immediately sought the means to fight back. Police and soldiers have been subject to the usual insults earned through their history of murders against the people. But there are also voices that seek to speak to the human being that might yet reside within the uniform. The example of the insurrection in Ecuador, which began to break the army along class lines, is alive in the minds of the protesters. The Latin American peoples share a heritage of repression under the authoritarianism of local oligarchies and American imperialism. A Latin American Red October is in development. The idea of a conservative wave, so widely commented on in recent years by some intellectuals and leftist groups, has vanished.

Today, the streets are in struggle. In order to reassert its authority, the government is singing the old song of "order and national unity". But the movement continues to grow, and the uprising has acquired a national character. During Saturday night, the Piñera government resolved on two important measures. On the one hand, the suspension of the fare rise has been announced. On the other hand, further curfews have been decreed in Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción. The last time this happened was in 1987 during the dictatorship. Around 10,000 military personnel have been deployed in the capital alone.

The suspension of the fare increase constitutes a manoeuvre by the government to divide the people, and stoke panic with images of chaos and destruction in the media - to separate more conservative elements from those who understand the deception behind this measure. At the same time, the government has legal measures inherited from the dictatorship to annihilate this uprising: the state's internal security law, the state of emergency to restore “public order,” and of course, the curfew that restricts freedom of personal mobility. This is meant to be a show of strength, but it actually expresses the weakness of a cornered government, and a correlation of forces that is more favourable to the working-class majority than the tiny minority of oligarchs.

At this moment, it is clear that this protest is not just about the fare hikes. It is revolt against theft, usury and injustice; and against a model of politics founded on fire and blood during the civic-military dictatorship, and perpetuated by governments during the "democratic transition." The capitalists have made a business of everything that is precious to the development of human societies: water, health, housing, pensions and education. And those who protest are silenced with the most brutal police repression - just like during the dictatorship - and the military in the streets.

Organise a national strike! End the state of emergency! Piñera Out!

The Federation of Subway Unions has declared its support for legitimate protests against the fare rise, in addition to demanding that the police officers withdraw from the metro stations. Its leader, Eric Campos, further noted that subway workers are not enemies of students and understand that students are not enemies of workers. These comments are very useful because they give a clear and necessary explanation of the fare rise, and the position of subway workers.

However, it falls short of the objectives set by the current situation, which is nothing less than a revolt against a system based on social inequality and the power of the rich; and defence of democratic rights that are seriously threatened. This government, which stands at the service of the capitalists, has opened the door to very serious abuses by the armed forces and police. Every abuse and every fatality cannot be forgotten or forgiven, and there can be no negotiations between the murderers and the people.

The Union Portuaria de Chile, the dockworkers’ union, has called for a general strike. This points in the right direction. Copper miners have also joined in. At this moment, it is key that the great battalions of the working class enter the scene with their methods of struggle. Last December, the dockworkers in Valparaíso gave a lesson in these methods, deploying a national strike, grassroots mobilisation, direct action and self-defence. Now, time is short and the people need all the strength and experience of the working class, so that their organised struggle can be extended and galvanised everywhere.

Chile fare strike 1 Image public domainToday's national strike could be a turning point in the struggle / Image: public domain

There is a call for a national strike today, 21 October. It is very important that largest social and political organisations - such as the CUT, the ANEF, the FECH, etc. - mobilise all their forces so that this strike is as effective and impactful as possible. But we can't just wait for them to react. Multiple organisations and unions have already taken the initiative to give a determined and unified direction to this movement. Assemblies should be held in all neighbourhoods and workplaces, colleges and universities, to discuss the steps to be taken in a general strike for an end to the state of emergency; and the resignation of Piñera and his entire criminal cabinet. National coordination of all these local assemblies or councils must be sought. At the same time, self-defence and security for the communities must be organised. The distribution of food and medicines - especially for children, the elderly and disabled - must be accounted for. The working class knows how to run the economy and society much better than the corrupt politicians and military.

Chile fare strike 3 Image public domainWorkers and youth must defend their interests / Image: public domain

It is necessary for the movement to grow in content and stature. Mass demonstrations are essential to build people’s confidence in their own forces. But this not enough to defeat the state apparatus and media; nor to overcome weariness and the attrition of conciliatory organisations and their leaders. We believe that, if this formidable popular uprising (which shows the people’s will to fight) is capable of providing determined leadership for the workers in a major strike movement, it is perfectly possible to overthrow the Piñera government.

The magnitude of the protests and the abuses against democracy that we have seen raise objectives that exceed any new decree, reform, or president. It is now about changing our destinies - which are currently governed by an anti-democratic constitution, forged under a dictatorship to defend the profits of a tiny minority, on the basis of a capitalist system that threatens the existence of humanity and the planet. We cannot allow the power and wealth of the country to remain in the hands of an ignorant and corrupt elite. The rules of Chile cannot do anything other than defend their capitalist interests. It is time for workers to defend our interests. For this, the fundamental levers of the economy must be placed under the control of the masses. Water must be recovered for communities. Hydroelectric, forestry and mining companies, allied with landowners to terrorise the Mapuche nation, must be summarily expelled. We must recover and nationalise copper production. We must plan a transport system under the control of workers and commuters. We must put an end to the private pensions system. We must establish free and high-quality education and health systems. All these are demands widely supported by the majority of Chileans.

Chile fare strike 4 Image Frente FotograficoThe movement was sparked by the youth, who won over wide layers of the population with their courage and militancy / Image: Frente Fotografico

The magnitude of the movement has exceeded the expectations of existing organisations. This movement must rely only on its own forces. Now a clear and determined leadership is needed, with an internal democratic structure - arising from the grassroots assemblies - to provide national coordination. In this way, a programme can be prepared that unifies all the demands of the Chilean people. Accomplishing this programme means putting the national strike and the working class at the forefront, to bring an end to the state of emergency and that Piñera government. We must establish the foundations of a workers' government, to put an end to corporate plunder, and use Chile's wealth to meet the needs of the people, rather than a parasitic elite.

Get the military off the streets!

Down with the state of emergency!

Piñera out!

For the national coordination of organisations in struggle!

For a workers’ government!

Long live the peoples of Ecuador, Haiti and Honduras, who are also engaged in struggle!

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