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Chile: general strike threat as pensions protests grow
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) reporters
Sunday 21 August was another enormous day of protest marches in opposition to the AFP (the compulsory private pension system). Over 400,000 marched in the capital, Santiago, with up to two million in total demonstrating around the country. This represents a huge increase on the one million who participated in the historic 24 July protests.
The system of private pensions was introduced in 1981 under the dictatorship of General Pinochet - who led a US-backed military coup against the left-wing government of president Salvador Allende in 1973.
There are six private pension funds - AFPs - which manage $160 billion (£122 billion) of assets but pay out paltry sums to retirees. Average pensions are only 38% of final salaries - the second lowest pay-out in the 35 nations comprising the OECD bloc. The demonstrators want the for-profit system scrapped and a generous public pension scheme introduced.
But so far President Michelle Bachelet has only promised minor reforms which have failed to satisfy the majority. Consequently, her government ratings in opinion polls continue to slide to an historic low. The pensions campaign organisers have named 4 November for a general strike if the government continues to ignore workers' demands.
The recent demos represent a new pinnacle of mass anger and protest in a country which has been rocked by a militant student movement over the last decade. Sunday's protests, with young and old participating in large numbers, represent the beginnings of a new unity of students, workers and youth in struggle.
The marches were called by the "No + AFP" campaign, which brings together activists and leaders of the Chilean bank workers' federation, the national health workers' union, and other smaller unions.
Members of Socialismo Revolucionario, who play an important role in the bank workers' federation, have also played a leading role in building this campaign.
Patricio Guzman, an economist and leading Socialismo Revolucionario member, has made numerous national media appearances. A video of one such interview (in Spanish) can be seen on socialistworld.net.
While the government-controlled CUT (historically the main union confederation) until recently supported the government's pension policy, key militant unions such as the copper workers and dockers' unions, could play a leading role in mobilising for a general strike.
Such a stoppage, organised over the heads of the country's pro-government union bureaucracy, would be a very significant step in the building of a new, militant mass movement of the working class in Chile, both industrially and politically.
Socialismo Revolucionario aims to play a central role in this, equipped with a revolutionary socialist programme.
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