CHILE SAW its biggest national strike last week since protests against the military dictatorship in the 1980s. The one-day strike came only weeks before the 11 September 30th anniversary of the coup which saw General Pinochet topple the elected government.
Some 640,000 workers in the main CUT union federation joined last week's strike. It won support from students, the unemployed and shanty town and slum dwellers around major cities. The last nationwide stoppage was in 1986 against the dictatorship. Last week's strike marks the end of 13 years of social peace between post-Pinochet governments and unions since democracy was restored.
The Chilean government is a coalition headed by the country's president, the Socialist Party's Ricardo Lagos. Lagos attacked the strike, but his Socialist Party officially supported it. Workers' anger is rooted in the failure of Chile's supposedly growing economy to deliver anything for ordinary people.
'Our salaries are very low. The minimum wage is 115,000 pesos (£101) a month,' said one protester, Eduardo Alarcon. 'For that we have to work 48 hours a week.' Maria Guzman said, 'We had lots of hope for this socialist government. But they have only worked with the right and the businessmen and not with us, the poor.'
Riot police attacked a strikers' march in the capital, Santiago. Dozens of protesters were arrested, and reports say they will be charged under 'anti-terror' laws.