Chile rocked during the first day of general strike

Nota publicada originalmente en Prensa Obrera.

  • Gustavo Montenegro

Versión en español

The 48-hour general strike began last Wednesday called by Unidad Social (Social Unity), which includes the CUT [main workers’ union in Chile] among other organizations, staging massive walk-outs and protests throughout the country. In Santiago, more than 200,000 people marched on the 23rd of October. Among the workers on strike are those of the copper industry, the country's main economic activity, and the dock workers.


The government's social announcements on Tuesday have not calmed the popular drive. The streets demand Piñera's departure and an end to the infamous state of emergency and curfew, which has officially left 18 dead, more than 600 wounded and 1,500 arrested as of the 23rd of October. Among them, referents of the Cones (Federation of High School Students) and militants of the communist youth were captured and beaten the night before. Moreover, reports of sexual violence during arrests are growing.


Piñera's announcements were preceded by a board of conversations with political forces of the ruling party (Renovación Nacional, UDI and others) and part of the opposition (Christian Democrats, PPD and radicals). They consist of a minimum increase in pensions, insurance to cover part of the population's health expenses, and an increase to leave the minimum income of full-time workers at 350,000 pesos (485 dollars). At the same time, a tax increase is established for the highest incomes (from 11,000 dollars per month) from 35 to 40%, partly to finance the measures.


If these announcements were prophesied by the audio of the couple of the president, Cecilia Morel, in which she assured that they should begin to share their privileges so as not to lose everything, it seems clear that they are only willing to share the crumbs. The minimum wage was at 422 dollars, so the increase is a little more than 60 dollars. The average pensions will remain at miserable sums, and even Piñera's palliative measure would be tied to the pension system reform that he has sent to Congress and that social organizations demand he withdraw. On the other hand, the State shows up to cover -in the case of the private sectors- a salary increase that should be paid for by the companies. And, of course, Piñera's declarations leave the legal and political framework of the regime inherited from Pinochetism intact, which today is being openly questioned in the streets.

The measures, even with these characteristics, are a recoil and a strategy by Piñera in the face of the social rebellion, and he has even announced a reduction in parliamentary allowances, snatching one of the main demands from the center-left front Frente Amplio.


A sector of the Chilean opposition did not attend – or was not invited – to the dialogue with the government. The Partido Socialista (Socialist Party) rejected the invitation after an internal debate among leaders who were inclined to participate and those who were not. According to one of the main newspapers in Chile, La Tercera (October 23), some of the latter expressed the pressure of grassroots sectors of the party that demanded to join today's strike. But as a whole, the leadership of the Partido Socialista shares a position of support for the regime and even for Piñera.


Under the growing impact of the uprising, the leadership of the party Partido Comunista (Comunist Party) has announced the possibility of presenting a constitutional accusation in Congress to oust Piñera, which is one of the demands of the general strike, with the support of a sector of the Frente Amplio. It is not clear that this could prosper in parliament. It seems to be an attempt to "parliamentarize" the demand that is being fought for in the streets.


The secretary general of the Partido Comunista, Guillermo Teillier, also proposes the dialogue with the struggling movements as an alternative measure. "If the government agrees to converse with the social movements (…) and install a kind of board in which concrete topics are discussed, it would change the scenario" (from El Siglo, October 22). At the same time, he clarified his previous declarations: "I have not said 'we are going to overthrow the government', that would be an attempt against the rule of law. No, I have said that he should resign if he does not find himself capable, that he should resign, it is a voluntary act on his part that I am asking for" (idem). Taken as a whole, it is a proposal for the preservation of institutionality.


The "social" and "dialogue" agenda proposed by Piñera, with the state of emergency and repression in place, is a trap set by the government in the face of the ever-larger scope of the Chilean uprising. It is an attempt to preserve the regime. In this sense, Piñera studies the possibility of a change in his cabinet.


On the contrary, the transformation of the strike into a general strike and the formation of strike committees, coordinators and congresses of the grassroots of the workers' movement and fighting sectors, raises the perspective of throwing Piñera out by means of the people's action. And of a sovereign constituent assembly with the power to reorganize of the country on new social ba