By Jonathan Diebold
In October 2019, the price of a metro ticket in Santiago, Chile, rose by 30 Pesos. This seemingly innocuous price hike of about €0.03 saw massive protests sweep the country, eventually seeing a constitutional plebiscite that swept away the constitution of the old military dictatorship.
A culmination of this mass movement was the recent election of the left activist Gabriel Boric last month. The polarised election was fought against a far-right party that openly admires the murderous Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the democratically elected left government of Salvador Allende in 1973.
While Chile has been lauded as a Latin American success story in recent years, having the highest Human Development Index (HDI) in the region, churning under the surface was a darker story. The country’s economic growth was driven by neoliberal economic policies, a key aspect of which included privatisation of public services and cutting of government social spending.
Meanwhile, the super-rich made a killing. By the beginning of the 2019 protests, the top 1% controlled over a quarter of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% controlled about 2%.
The campaign against fare increases, largely led by school students, was the spark that lit the powder keg created by capitalism in Chile, galvanising the masses to organise on a host of issues. As some placards read, and president-elect Boric repeated, “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.”
Boric’s election campaign was marked by the reaction of the far-right – indeed, in the first round of voting, it was the far-right that won. Many young and working-class people were unenthused by Boric’s moderate-left politics, but faced with the threat of an even greater crackdown by a government more extreme than the one that exists now, the movement of young and working-class people propelled Boric to the presidency.
No conciliation with the system
In Brazil, leftwing president Lula da Silva’s policy of “class conciliation” led to the opportunity for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to take power. There is a crucial lesson here, there can be no reconciliation between the needs of working-class people and the existence of capitalism and imperialism in Chile. There needs to be a fundamental break with this system.
Only an organised and sustained movement of the working class and the poor will be able to truly win demands on public health and education, on defence of rights for women, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ people, the right to retire, linked to a broader struggle to win democratic public ownership and workers’ control of the nation’s wealth and resources.