Rioting shook Chile’s capital Santiago on Wednesday of last week during a day of protest called by the CUT, the main trade union federation.
The march at the centre of the day of action was about 3,000 strong, with a significant presence of workplace delegations.
There is some competition between CUT president Arturo Martinez – who is a bureaucratic socialist – and new labour movement leaders such as Cristian Cuevas – who have recently gone through very public conflicts, such as the victorious Codelco copper miners’ strike, and include many Communists.
In the past year or so there has been an accumulation of conflicts in the forestry and mining industries (see » Miners' victory in Chile is part of an awakening of workers, 25 August), and also in banking.
It was this pressure from the left that forced the CUT to call a one-day protest.
Unlike all similar protests, the CUT did not ask for a march route and so it was inevitable that the march would end up in street battles.
The main march blocked the road from the city centre to the main business area.
The situation escalated when the police arrived with their water cannons and tear gas vehicles. From here on there were a series of skirmishes between small groups of protesters and riot police.
This spread into a riot that affected wider groups of people. Lots of groups had come out onto the streets to protest.
These included protesters against the new bus system, education protesters and people outraged by state hospitals where patients have to wait in the corridors because there aren’t enough beds.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk on television about levels of inequality.
The Catholic church has proposed an “ethical” wage of 250,000 pesos (£230), which is about twice the minimum wage.
This implies that it is impossible to live on the minimum wage – something ordinary people already know. The government has set up a commission to “analyse these matters”.
The media is also full of stories about money flooding into the country from the enormous increases in international copper prices, and the amount that banks and pension funds are making.
Most of it goes into the pockets of the same small minority, and people are asking, “If they’ve got all that money, why don’t they pay better wages?”