In Antofagasta, the port city in the north of Chile, workers and students have come together to form bodies of self-organization. These are known as Emergency and Protection Committees. We offer a detailed, first-hand account of how this committee works.
Translated version published by Left Voice
More than two weeks of mobilization by millions of people in Chile have posed a serious challenge to Piñera and his government. The huge demonstrations across the country against the living conditions faced by working people all point to the same root cause: the repressive and neoliberal regime inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989). Government coalitions of the center-left and the Right have administered this regime in the interests of big business for the last 30 years. The chant “it is not 30 pesos, it is 30 years” graphically demonstrates how all of this is now being profoundly questioned.
Right now we are up against the attempt by the government, with the support of the center-left parties of the former Concertación coalition, to save itself—and the regime as a whole—through a policy of “social dialogue,” throwing a few crumbs to the population. But this has not managed to get the hundreds of thousands of protestors off the streets. Joining this attempt to derail the movement are the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) and the Communist Party. They are counting on Piñera’s claim that he “will not exclude anyone” from negotiations. In the case of the Frente Amplio, they have already sent off a letter requesting a meeting with the new Minister of the Interior, Gonzalo Blumel. In this way, they open the way for dialogue with a government that violates human rights and is responsible for murders, torture, rape, beatings, and other humiliations.
This situation poses the question: which road can we take in order to confront the traps of the government and win every one of our demands? In this respect, there are some examples of coordination among sectors of workers, young people, students, and professionals that deserve to be known and shared among the working class and the population as a whole.
In Antofagasta, the Comité de Emergencia y Resguardo (Emergency and Protection Committee) was formed on the initiative of the Teachers’ Association (CdP) and the Union of Teachers and Education Professionals (SIPPE). In the offices of the Teachers’ Association, teachers and education workers, health workers, industrial workers, students, artists, and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and psychologists all participate. They seek to make this space available to demonstrators who have been affected by the repression, and also for discussion, organization and coordination.
The Committee aims to be a place where different ideas for actions are discussed in assemblies in order to respond to the national emergency. One of the first points that members of this space agreed upon was to fight against the repression that the government has brought down on us, first with the state of emergency, and then with the curfew and the brutal deployment of the Carabineros [military police] and military against demonstrators.
Another point that has been clearly set out is the call for a general strike until Piñera falls. This is the only serious way to win our demands and put an end to this entire regime as a whole. This would be the foundation to impose a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly so that the people can decide how best to resolve their social and democratic demands, without any imposition from the institutions of the regime.
Patricia Romo, president of the Antofagasta local of the Teachers’ Association, and one of the main representatives of the Committee, stated that this body:
is a space for self-organization, an example of how to remain organized beyond just the calls for marches, and thus open up a democratic space for the discussion of how we can win our demands. It is clear that we will not achieve our demands through the action of Piñera and his murderous government, nor through dialogue that will only end up being a diversion. On the contrary, we have to direct our strength towards the big organizations of the workers, so that these rise to the occasion and call for an indefinite general strike that continues until Piñera falls. Only in this way will we be able to impose a Constituent Assembly that is free and sovereign.
Some of the areas of discussion and organization that have been promoted in the Teachers’ Association building are:
- The two assemblies of education workers, attended by over 400 people, and with over 90 teachers, classroom assistants and union representatives from private schools. These assemblies passed resolutions against the repression and in favor of safeguarding the safety of students. They called for a general strike and a fight for the end of Piñera and his government in order to promote a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly.These assemblies also denounced the repression suffered by preschool teachers in Santiago. They called for the resignation of the Minister for Education Marcela Cubillos, who still maintains her dismissive and intransigent stance towards of the strike of teachers and educators from June of this year, and continues to try to divide teachers and other education workers. These forums for discussion and deliberation have led to a profound questioning of the current market-driven education system and led to a debate on the kind of education system that is needed.
- This space has also hosted assemblies of university and high school students, who have sought to organize themselves, especially since after several days of national mobilizations, their leaderships have not taken the lead in promoting the organization of students. This is a contradiction since it was students who were the spark that gave life to the national days of protest. Students have suffered the most repression under the Piñera government and the right-wing mayors, with their “Safe Classroom” program, curfews for those under 18, and heinous measures like Preventive Identity Control for children under 14, along with brutally repression like that at the National Institute [the all-male public high school in central Santiago where the Carabineros entered classrooms and tear-gassed students].
- The Auxiliary Committee that of the Emergency and Protection Committee brings together over 100 people, including doctors, health workers, and students from various health professions. This committee has played a very important role in helping those who have suffered repression, including gunshot wounds, the effects of tear gas, injuries, etc. They have offered first aid to hundreds of demonstrators. This space launched an assembly of health workers with over 70 people who declared that the public health crisis has its roots in the legacy of the dictatorship.
- In the same fashion, members of the Committee have demonstrated against the statements of Paulina Núñez, the center-right deputy for Antofagasta, who has signaled through the media that the curfew should be reimposed, and has even suggested that Human Rights observers are fabricating their claims, even after one of them was shot with birdshot.
- There is also a Human Rights and Legal Committee that has been set up by lawyers and law students, as well as people from human rights groups such as Providencia [a group supporting the former political prisoners held in the local Church of the Divine Providence when it was converted into a detention and torture centre under Pinochet]. This Committee has been instructing others in what to do if detained and has supported the self-organization of demonstrators, workers, youth and women. In the Antofagasta region alone there have been over 1,000 detainees, and this Committee has assisted the detainees and their families. One example is the underage students detained by the Carabineros under the order of right-wing mayor Karen Rojo.
- A committee of urban artists has also been set up, and they have coordinated various cultural events, in which dozens of artists, contemporary and hip hop dancers, K-pop artists, rappers, designers, and actors have all taken part. They all state that it is not enough to demonstrate: what is needed is a national strike that paralyzes production. They use artistic means to deal with the question of how to achieve the right to education, health, water, natural resources, and other demands.
- Various industry and service sectors have also been a part of this organizing initiative. During the first week of the demonstrations, an assembly of different sectors of industry was held, where the participants voted to end the state of emergency, which has seen brutal repression and a total of 23 people killed, hundreds injured, and thousands detained. In this instance the workers also voted that the most crucial thing was the preparation of a general strike. It is worth remembering that the industrial sector has seen hundreds of layoffs under Article 161 of the Labor Code [which allows for the arbitrary dismissal of workers], which has created real uncertainty in this area of production as well as in the mining region.
- The Teachers’ Association building also hosts an assembly of psychologists. José Olivares, a psychologist from Antofagasta, said that: “students and workers from the association have taken part. They have discussed the breadth of the concept of mental health, and consider that it is the precariousness of life that is the main stress and risk factor. The discussion around a mental health law is insufficient, as a broader discussion regarding the cost of living and precariousness is needed.” Olivares added: “They organized themselves in committees in which they could offer psychological first aid for free to those who need it as well as make public pronouncements. It was discussed and generally agreed that we will refer to the actions exercised by the state through its police apparatus as violence, and that the mobilizations and the barricades are a response to this and other forms of institutional violence.”
- The Committee has also formed a Communications Committee, which has disseminated the activities of the organization and is composed of teachers and students who promote, through social media networks, information about marches, assemblies, and acts of government repression. You can follow the activities of this Committee on Instagram.
- For its part, the Coordination and Articulation Committee has sought to bring the different organizations of workers and students together so that they can take part in common actions uniting different sectors, with the aim of discussing within the assemblies the general objectives required in the current national landscape, and thus strengthen the struggle.
An Example of Self-Organization
This space, open to workers, students, professionals, artists and residents, has become an example of self-organization and coordination among different sectors who have taken to the streets to fight. It demonstrates the importance of such organization and coordination given the situation that we now confront across the country. It is an example that we want to disseminate to the whole working class, to those young people who face repression, and to the students who fight against this regime.
The massive mobilizations have forced the union leaders to set up their own “strike committees.” But these must strive for the coordination and organization of different sectors, promote democratic spaces, and include rank-and-file delegates, in the same way that the Emergency and Protection Committees do. That is the only way to overthrow this government and the regime that has brought over 30 years of shame and indignity for working people, youth, women, children, and pensioners.
We must launch and strengthen self-organization bodies of this type, joining our forces in order to bring down Piñera, his government, and the whole regime that is hated by millions and has nothing to offer us. We invite you to get to know and learn about these initiatives and then replicate them in other cities across the country!
First published by La Izquierda Diario Chile on November 3.
Translation by Sean Robertson.
This article was re-published on Love and Rage with permission from Left Voice.