Chile: with teachers leading, unify and mobilize in defence of education

On June 15th, in a national referendum, 90% of the people rejected the proposal of the Ministry of Education as response to the union`s Petitionary, in  this way the teachers ratified their indefinite strike. There was a similar participation in the collective deliberation that began the strike on June 3rd, these situations reflect the massive strength of four weeks of mobilizations. A scenario that shows teachers from across the country in Santiago with 50 thousand people, then in Valparaiso with 30 thousand surrounding the Congress, a dynamic reinforced with route blockades, occupations and different creative expressions as a way of protest. These actions were replicated across Chile, bending the intransigence of the government in its no-dialogue policy.

The crisis in market education stains the government

The demonstration of force was enormous in the weeks of the strike, questioning the Minister of Education, Marcela Cubillos, who commands the government`s position of no dialogue with the teachers. In this way, the attempt to weaken the protest and the use of repressive forces against the teachers have not prooved succesfull for the government, as shown in the polls that put president Piñera in his worst moment with a disapproval rating of 71%, while the teachers are still on the streets with great social support.

In parallel to this process led by the teachers, there are different mobilizations in response to a common denominator: the crisis in market education. Other forces of the educational world have come into scene, high school students against the repressive policies of the Safe Classroom Law, that allows the quick expulsion from schools using violence in classrooms as a justification. This law led to situations worthy of a state of emergency inside the educational establishments with the attempt to dismantle student organizations. The most brutal face is in the commune of Santiago, where the mayor Jorge Alessandri uses this law to storm with the Special Forces the emblematic schools of student organization, like the Lyceum 1 among others. Children intoxicated with tear gas, destruction of the building and fast expulsions of the youth. The response of the students was radical, with the occupation of schools and direct confrontation with the police.

These repressive measures try, in first place, to dismantle any kind of resistance as part of a greater plan that includes a series of cuts in education, precedents that imply the elimination from the curricula of the obligatoriness of History and Physical Education from high school education, while in the infant level they are trying to impose a law of schooling of children aged 2-5, that almost completely eliminates infant education. The kindergarten teachers have responded and are fighting back. These measures are a roadmap that seal the government`s plan for education: flexibilizing working and studying conditions

The intransigence of Piñera´s government with the teachers’ strike is based on the logic of not giving in on a scenario of neoliberal offensive against education, therefore the confrontation leaves little room for negotiation. In this scheme, the government cannot stop the mobilization, on the contrary it encourages the teachers to fight back, reactivating social rejection after every excessive repression. Teachers deepen the struggle`s dynamic by radicalising with route blockades in important cities, linking up with a rising discontent of the people against the government. The balance has shifted to the force of the mobilization, forcing the minister to call to a meeting on June 26th, a space denied a few weeks ago. This comes a day after the occupation of the Ministry and the arrest of the main leaders in a peaceful protest in front of La Moneda. On that same day there will be a caceroleo in support of the teachers and for the crisis in education.

Advancing towards a great strike for education so the teachers can win

The government of Piñera feeds the polarization in the educational terrain inciting the radicalization of the protest. This scheme has had a progressive response from the mobilized sectors, on one hand new conflicts emerge in strategic points of the economy such as dock workers, that marched with the teachers on June 12th. This significant process generates in the mobilized vanguard the need to organize a great national strike for education, to stop repression and the austerity plans of the government, advancing towards a joint struggle plan with high school students, university students and teachers, along with the mobilized sectors. The conditions for this exist, it is the responsibility of the leadership that is absent

Undoubtedly, the call to a meeting by the Minister is a small victory as it means breaking the government`s non dialogue policy.  Although it is true that the situation would be different if the Broad Front (FA) got out of its passiveness, since it is the force that leads most of the university federations yet it chooses to be passive, a regretful act. This policy is part of the bet inside the Parliament for the “unity of the opposition” with sectors of the former Nueva Mayoria, a political bloc that for twenty years maintained the heritage of Pinochet in education.

There is enough strength to win, so the impulse of the mobilization must be maintained, while protecting its deliberative spaces outside the decisions of the leadership. Staying on the streets is crucial in a moment when the mobilization has forced a negotiation. Today, the national process has several cracks that have a common ground: the crisis of market education.

Building a great movement, led by the professors, the student body and the struggling sectors, will be central to discuss what educational model our country needs. A great national strike in defence of education will guarantee not only the teacher’s triumph, but will put a stop to the government’s austerity policies. This June 26th we cannot abandon the streets, the government and its negotiating table can be beaten if we deepen the mobilization.

Joaquín Araneda – Movimiento Anticapitalista