Sep 5, 2011
On August 24th and 25th, 600,000 people rallied throughout Chile in a national strike called by the Central Union of Workers. Universities and local government offices were closed, with dozens of avenues barricaded.
In Santiago, the capital, the processions were impressive, despite the fact that the Chilean government used water cannon, tear gas and mounted police against demonstrators, with 1,400 arrested.
This strike is the culmination of a protest movement begun in January in the city of Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of South America. The population there revolted thanks to the high cost of gas. The cold climate there means heating is needed 10 months of the year. Then there were big demonstrations against a proposed hydroelectric dam which would have flooded a vast natural reserve in Patagonia. Finally, beginning in June, students protested in large numbers against the high cost of education, blocking universities in the big cities. Families have to go into debt to finance higher education for their children.
In the August 25th demonstrations, one sign said, “Five years of studies, fifteen years paying back.”
But many other demands were also expressed in the demonstrations, like those of workers for better pensions, favorable labor laws, lower taxes, better public services in education and health.
Strikers and demonstrators were fighting to defend their living and working conditions. Their fighting spirit is far from exhausted.