Chile erupts as youth and workers take on the military in fight against austerity

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CHILE erupted over the weekend, with mass demonstrations and riots spreading from the capital Santiago to other major cities, as workers and youth rose up against massive income inequality which has seen wages driven down while the Chilean ruling class lives in luxury.

It started on Friday when a mass protest by students over an increase in public transport fares quickly turned into a much broader movement demanding changes in the entire Chilean economy.

Chile has long been hailed by world capitalism as the great success story, an oasis of calm and security compared with the political and economic volatility of other South American countries.

This was shattered on Friday as students demonstrated against a 3% increase in Santiago’s Metro system, and exposed the deep-seated anger of workers and youth against a system that has systematically excluded them as the Chilean bourgeoisie feasted on the wealth created by an economy based mainly on the export revenue of its copper industry.

Even when the government revoked the proposed hike in fares this failed to stop the protests, which increased and spread throughout the country.

Faced with this mass uprising, the right-wing government of President Sebastian Pinera issued an order invoking a state of emergency. This state of emergency was extended on Sunday to cover the cities of Antofagasta, Chillan, Punta Arenas, Talca, Temuco, Valdivia and Valparaiso.

Over 9,000 soldiers and many thousands of police were drafted onto the city streets to enforce the state of emergency, which restricts people’s movements and imposes a curfew in an attempt to intimidate the youth and workers. So far eight demonstrators have been killed and hundreds wounded and arrested.

The laws relating to declaring a state of emergency date back to the days of the right-wing military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

In 1973 Pinochet, with the backing of US imperialism, took power in a bloody coup to overthrow the democratically elected ‘left socialist’ president Salvador Allende. Allende was killed during the coup and hundreds of thousands of Chilean workers and youth were rounded up and imprisoned, with thousands killed and tortured by the brutal military dictatorship.

The Pinochet regime then enacted the most savage attacks on the working class, faithfully adopting the policies dictated by world imperialism of privatisation and wage cutting. This dictatorship was ended in 1990 following huge unrest, and Chile was supposed to have embarked on a process of ‘democratisation’.

However, this was a process that left the Chilean bourgeoisie in charge, with all the old weapons of the Pinochet regime at their disposal to be used against the working class in future.

But behind this facade the high levels of inequality and rising unemployment continued, with many trapped in crippling debt while the ruling class carried on with the IMF-inspired policy of privatisation of basic utilities from water to highways and the pensions system.

With the world economic crisis slashing the price of copper, the Pinera government has been pushing for a series of economic ‘reforms’ including, not just transport increases, cutting workers’ pensions at a time when wages are falling way behind inflation.

Eugenio Tironi, a political consultant in Santiago, compared the protests to that of the Yellow Vest movement in France which was similarly triggered by an increase in fuel prices.

He said: ‘In Chile, it was not exactly a disproportionate rise in tariffs. It was the kind that has happened regularly in the past, but it adds to a more generalised feeling that salaries are not keeping up with the rising cost of living, especially as debt burdens increase.’ He added: ‘This is far from over. It is huge.’

It is indeed huge and it is not confined to Chile. The struggle of workers that has erupted in Chile is echoed across the world from the Americas to Europe as the working class, with young people in the forefront, rises up against a capitalist system that can offer nothing except poverty and destitution.

It will not be over until this bankrupt capitalist system is overthrown through the victory of the world socialist revolution.