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The Socialist 5 October 2011 |
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Chilean students in fifth month of protests
Iain Dalton, Youth Fight for Jobs Yorkshire organiser
The last five months have witnessed the biggest social movement in Chile since the fall of former dictator General Pinochet. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in a series of demonstrations and last month, Chilean workers staged a two-day general strike. On the back of the Arab Spring, the Chilean youth is rising.
After 'the other 9/11', when Pinochet took power in a bloody coup in 1973, Chile was used as a test bed for neoliberal policies - with Milton Friedman's Chicago Boys being unleashed, ordering cuts and privatisation on a massive scale. In Chile only 45% of students are able to attend a publicly run school and most universities are privately run.
The result is a picture of the horrors that could come to Britain if the Con-Dem plans for education aren't stopped. Even Chile's publicly funded universities only receive 14% of their funding from the state and charge massive amounts in tuition fees. Student debt averages at around $45,000.
Many teachers are dubbed 'taxi teachers' as they have no contract and have to rush from one school to the next to give individual lessons. Such is the spread of neoliberalism through every part of Chilean society even in hospitals you have absurdities such as 100% surcharges for babies who aren't born on time!
While the western media has focused on the more 'gimmicky' protests such as a mass 'kiss-in' outside the presidential palace or dressing up in super hero costumes, this is only a small part of the story.
Schools and universities have been occupied, mass demonstrations take place on a regular basis. From the off, links have been built with ongoing workers struggles including a one-day strike in solidarity with the students by copper workers in July. The Chilean TUC (CUT) was forced to call a two-day general strike in August.
The right-wing government of Sebastian Pinera has been forced to announce several concessions, including £4 billion of new funding for the education system as well as lowering interest rates on student loans and the dismissal of the education minister in July.
But as yet the government hasn't budged on the fundamental issue of taking the whole of the education system into public ownership and the movement continues with 180,000 demonstrating on 23 September.
Like the M-15 movement in Spain, young people are rejecting the mainstream parties. While Pinera's approval rating languishes at a meagre 26%, the opposition Concertacion coalition is on only 16%. The Communist Party finds similarly low support from young people, not least because it actually runs one of the country's private universities!
The mood may be anti-party, but it isn't un-political. Protesters have taken up demands including for the nationalisation of the copper industry to pay for the full financing of a publicly owned education system.
Only by such measures, taking the key sectors and industries into public ownership can the vast inequalities under capitalism in Chile and around the world be ended.