By Mario Nain
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‘We are witnessing an insurrection against 30 years of neoliberalism in Chile’

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Issue 2678
People chant, This isnt about 30 pesos, its about 30 years.
People chant, “This isn’t about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years.” (Pic: Instagram/Susana Hidalgo)

What’s happening in Chile at the moment can be called an insurrection. 

Over one million people took to the streets of the capital Santiago on Friday. The repressive forces of the police and army could not stop the massive tide of citizens.

There was a very strong working class presence—bus workers, teachers, miners, dockworkers and many others. Lorry drivers blocked the motorways. 

In Valparaiso, Chile’s main port, there are reports that some parts of the city are under the control of the social movement. The repressive apparatus has withdrawn.

Last week six trade unions met and the copper miners’ delegates decided all their members should participate in the movement on the streets. There are serious calls for an indefinite general strike.

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The great majority of people have risen up. When the mass protests began, president Sebastian Pinera sent tanks and the military onto the streets to defend the privileges of the elite. But people have had enough, and it’s about a lot more than the government’s increase in transport fares.

People chant, “This isn’t about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years”.

Chile was the first big experiment in neoliberalism after General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in 1973. The dictatorship broke working class organisation. And the working class and the oppressed have been suffering for decades.

Pensioners receive just £48 a month and some are eating food out of bins. There have been astronomical price rises for basic goods and consequently spiralling debt.

Chile was called the miracle of Latin America. But the opulent life for the elite was based on the exploitation of the working class. There was a myth that everything was hunky-dory. Now we can see what’s going on underneath. 


There’s no political leadership from the traditional or mainstream forces. And it’s no surprise. When Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party was president between 2006 and 2010 and 2014 and 2018, she implemented essentially the same neoliberalism as Pinera.

Most people hate all these forces. They are looking for something very different.

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The youth in particular have been schooled in years of strikes and protests and combating the police in protests over free education.

We need a new party, a revolutionary organisation. The working class has memories of its power to reinvent in a fresh way. In 1972 there was a massive level of struggle and the formation of the “cordones industriales”—the industrial belts. These democratic workers’ bodies kicked out bosses and began to run factories and other workplaces in a collective way. 

These are exciting and dangerous times. And it matters across the whole world. There are revolts in many countries and ruling classes are trembling.

Things can change. Two months ago there were big strikes by teachers and supermarket workers. But it didn’t lead to the current explosion. Then young people led a struggle over tube ticket prices and it did. 

There’s such hope, but we need revolutionary organisation to make the most of it and not to trust the traditional left forces. We need to move from challenging a particular leader to challenging the capitalist state system.

Mario Nain was a socialist in Chile who was imprisoned after General Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1973. This article is part of his speech to Cuba, the Pink Tide and revolution in Latin America, a conference organised by the International Socialism journal in London on Saturday. 


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