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Chile: Youth take to the streets demanding action
500,000 on strike and occupying schools
A WEEK-long mass movement of secondary school students in Chile, demanding education reforms, culminated in a one million strong strike last Monday.
The students have braved days of vicious attacks by police, including mass arrests, to demand a new curriculum, free bus fares and no exam fees.
In an attempt to head off Monday's action the government made a series of concessions but these were rejected in student assemblies.
TONY SAUNOIS has sent an eyewitness report from Santiago on the momentous events leading up to the historic 5 June strike.
"WELCOME PRESIDENT Jacques Chirac" hoardings greeted the visiting French President in the new 21st century metro stations of the Chilean capital, Santiago, last week. He must have felt as if it was 'home from home' as he witnessed a growing movement of secondary school students throughout Chile.
As the week progressed, tens of thousands of secondary school students took to the streets in protests and organised occupations of the schools, demanding more resources for education.
Over 500,000 were either on strike or occupying schools in all the main Chilean cities - Santiago, Concepcion, Valparaiso, Puerto Monte and others. At one school in Santiago, students have hung a massive banner quoting Che Guevara: "We are realists; we demand the impossible!".
Other slogans, stated: "We are the future and we demand a decent education!", "Decent education - not for the market!" Others are directed at the new Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet of the 'Socialist Party'. Having taken office less than three months ago, her coalition government is already confronted with a series of conflicts and crises.
ONE OF the central demands of the movement is an end of the hated LOCE (Organic Constitutional Education Law) which was incorporated into the constitution. This was introduced under the Pinochet dictatorship and has been used to hand over education to local councils with few resources and to encourage the privatisation of schools.
In demanding that this law is repealed, the students are well aware that they are fighting for the withdrawal of one of the main props of the neo-liberal policies of the capitalist coalition of the Christian Democrats and Socialist Party known as Concertaci-n.
To defeat it, a change to the constitution will be needed and a change in the policy by a majority of the parliamentarians. To achieve such a reverse in the policy of the Chilean ruling class will require an even more powerful movement involving the working class.
THE YOUTH protests represent a significant change in the political situation. Chile has lagged behind other countries in Latin America in terms of the struggles of workers and youth. At the time of the "democratic transition", 16 years ago, most were not even born.
This is the first major struggle of a new generation that is free of the heavy burden of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Although other struggles have broken out amongst secondary students in previous years, this battle has revealed a significant development in the political consciousness of these very young fighters.
In the last few years, protests have demanded free bus passes, an increase of ten pesos in travel allowances and other changes. This year, as one young person put it outside a school in central Santiago, "That was no good. Now we must change the entire education system".
The government has been taken aback by the scale and speed with which this movement has developed. It has responded with brutal repression. In this they have over-stepped the mark and only produced overwhelming opposition to the police repression.
While groups of young students roam the streets with placards demanding a decent education, they are beaten, tear-gassed and drenched with water cannon in the same way that the generation of young people were under the hated Pinochet regime.
On 30 May a national strike of all education, including the universities was called to support the students who have the support of teachers and parents. The student leaders applied for permission to organise a rally in the Parque O'Higgins which was refused by the police.
Once permission for a rally had been refused, the national leadership of the teachers' federation - Colegio de Profesores - called for a "day of reflection" to support the youth. This was a clear attempt to prevent the movement from developing further.
In Santiago, the local Metropolitan Teachers' Union called a rally in the Plaza de Las Armas. Thousands of teachers and students attended and attempted to march into the city centre. Across the city groups of students from different school marched around the streets chanting, "Students and teachers forward together". Tear gas floated through the city as it did under the Pinochet dictatorship. Police fired tear gas into schools occupied by students in the city centre. By the evening groups of students and supporters were chanting "ĄDonde esta Bachelet?" ("Where is Bachelet?").
It is urgent if the movement is to be victorious that it is organised more effectively and extended to all sections of the working class. In the schools occupied some are only allowing a limited number of students to join the occupation.
In one school visited by members of Socialismo Revolucionario (SR - Chilean section of the CWI) the students have organised commissions for food, security and even getting daily newspapers. But although in the schools occupied the students are well organised, there is not a democratic structure for the conducting of the struggle
Action committees need to be elected in all schools and linked up on a district, city-wide and national basis to organise the strike and work out strategy and tactics. But if the movement is to be sustained and developed the struggle must be broadened to involve other sections of workers. The youth must not be left to fight alone.
This is the lesson of the recent victory of the movement in France that members of SR in Chile are explaining in leaflets and meetings. The calling of a 24-hour general strike by the trade unions of all workers is essential to mobilise more support for the secondary students and force the government to withdraw the hated LOCE. This struggle of the secondary school students opens a new phase in the struggle of the Chilean youth and working class.
Government pursues neo-liberal policies
THE RECENTLY elected Bachelet government has already shown that it is intent on continuing the neo-liberal polices of its predecessor headed by President Lagos.
The character of this 'socialist' government was revealed in one incident. A young Argentinean activist, Jorge Gonzalez, was travelling on a bus and witnessed the police viciously beating a group of young people.
He intervened to ask what right the police had to act in such a way. He was arrested for his trouble, along with about 100 students. Denied access to his lawyer he was taken to the Argentine border and left with no passport or money.
At the same time, the former Peruvian dictator, Fujimori, is permitted to freely walk the streets in Chile and avoid deportation and prosecution in Lima.
WHILE THE Chilean 'economic miracle' has resulted in a significant development of infrastructure in transport and to an extent housing, the vast majority of the benefit of this boom has gone to the ruling class.
The richest 20% take 62% of national income while the poorest 20% struggle to exist on only 3.3% of national income. Health and education have not been developed at all.
In The Socialist 8 June 2006: