Chile on Strike: Worker Anger Spills Over
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Author: Ursula Fuentes Rivera speaks to Eric Campos
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Morning Star

Ursula Fuentes: What are the reasons for the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) national strike today?

Eric Campos: The diagnosis that emerged at the congress of the CUT, held in January, is that in Chile there is a political alliance between a right wing and a business sector that does not allow the reforms that Chile needs to move forward and a government that, in the face of this blackmail, gives in, because it has been, in political terms, far more centrist or even right wing than anybody expected.

During our congress, we elaborated a strategy designed to break this political stalemate and the “national active strike” today is part of this mould-breaking in which the CUT has an important role to play.

We have reached an agreement on this course of action with most unions and made public our “social manifesto” of 11 demands that are behind the strike and which are related, first and foremost, to the national debate on wages.

Today Chileans need a living wage that is well above the current minimum of 500,000 pesos (£408) a month to survive. A family of four, where only one person works, requires a minimum of 630,000 pesos (£530).

Our manifesto calls for a national employment plan and, in addition, we call for the strengthening of public education, the right to decent housing and a structural reform of the health system that allows for decent and comprehensive care.

The public transport workers demand an accessible, social fare for Transantiago and all public transport throughout the country. For a long time now we have also had discussions of the direction of Chile’s development, one based on economic decentralisation, which creates a platform for the uniform industrialisation of the country as a whole.

How do you see the role of the state?

We believe that the state should take on a much more proactive role, with its own employment plan, including the debureaucratisation of public investment mechanisms and a focus on a national road infrastructure.

In other words, the Ministry of Public Works should become an engine of economic development that does not depend solely on big capital but employs the resources available to the state.

We believe that this can be done perfectly well by utilising the productive capacity of SMEs (small and medium enterprises comprise 47 per cent of total business activity) and co-operatives (with two million members representing 10 per cent of the population and active primarily in the savings, credit and the energy sectors).

It was said that the strike is against the right wing, which hinders the implementation of reforms aided by the business community that opposes them, but is it also a strike against the government?

We aim to break the deadlock that we see between a right wing that obstructs change and a government that gives in to it. So, rather than being against the government, we want it to return to the original content of its reforms, the implementation of which we want to support.

At the same time, it is clear that the government has had serious difficulties in engaging with social organisations. It is not enough just to sit down with trade unions and territorial organisations. It is also necessary to listen to them and incorporate their demands in the implementation of public policies.

In that sense, the strike is against a political system that hasn’t made much progress in resolving the concrete problems that have remained entrenched since the 2019-21 social outbreak.

After September 4 2022 and the defeat of the new constitution project in the plebiscite, the social movement was demoralised, because we failed to properly evaluate the whole process.

The social demands articulated in the constitutional project did not connect with the Chileans’ own expectations. That’s why at the CUT congress we thought that a national strike was necessary.

I don’t think it does the process any good either if we have an excessive proliferation of demands, however legitimate they may be if they are not articulated in a way that allows us to challenge political practice. This is not a question of glueing together disparate demands.

The challenge now is to push the political system to leave aside its “discussions and quarrels” and listen to the social movement and, ultimately, to what the people of Chile have to say.

When you were delivering a copy of the social manifesto to the presidential palace you were manhandled by the federal police — has the government offered an explanation?

None to date. Neither to the CUT nor me personally.

This is not a behaviour that you would expect from a progressive government and, moreover, this is the second time that police have assaulted us as we tried to deliver a letter, which was our right to do as part of our dialogue with the government.

This is worrying, ahead of this strike action, but I sincerely hope that the government has learned the lesson and that the Ministry of the Interior will be more careful in what it does, because these organisations represent a broad spectrum of social activism and have responsible memberships that have to be respected.

We can only hope that the police, particularly their special units, will understand our peaceful intentions and perhaps even see our protest as being ultimately also of benefit to themselves, particularly as issues such as the national security plan are part of the manifesto and contain a demand for improvement working conditions and salaries of the police personnel.

It is, therefore, a broad proposal and we hope that it will be well received on the streets.

Eric Campos is CUT general secretary. The CUT, the Workers United Centre of Chile, was founded in 1953. It was suppressed following the coup of 1973 and refounded in September 1988.

Ursula Fuentes Rivera writes for El Siglo (the Century), the newspaper of the Communist Party of Chile, was founded in August 1940.

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