Teachers and students have united to demand the radical transformation of Chile’s education system. In the last two months, there have been six significant national mobilisations. The largest protest, on 10 June, mobilised 250,000 people. The number of strikes, occupations and protests is growing.
Students and teachers have made it clear that they will not accept band-aid reforms. Despite the government and teachers entering into negotiations, a heated strike continues, as do street marches.
High school students have played an important role. Thousands have joined protests, and many have occupied their schools in solidarity with striking teachers. Sixteen high schools are currently under student occupation. Despite police raids and dozens of arrests, students have not been deterred.
The student strikes and occupations have been an important indicator of the strength of the movement. The University of Chile was the first to be occupied, from 14 May.
Students from all faculties have organised general assemblies, at which strategy for the movement can be debated. After a month on strike, the law faculty assembly at the University of Chile won an end to the subcontracting of cleaners. Forums and assemblies like these have been replicated throughout the country.
An important aspect of the movement has been its ability to spread rapidly throughout the country.
The creativity of protesters has captured world attention. They are lively and energetic. Contingents of people dance to contemporary, folk and indigenous music. Students organised a “carnival”-themed protest with drummers, dancers, clowns, zombies and people in full body paint.
Striking construction workers also took a creative approach. They hoisted their boss’s car into the air using a crane. Teachers have supported construction workers, with 100,000 marching past their picket line on 17 June.
Since 1 June, teachers have maintained a strong and active strike. Entering its third week, 90 percent of teachers are participating, and 2,500 public high schools are affected.
The national assembly of the teachers’ union has met three times to debate tactics. There have been three contentious debates: should the indefinite strike continue, should there be negotiations with the government and should they reject entirely the proposed reforms?
It’s clear that elements of the union leadership like the Chilean Communist Party prefer negotiations over strikes and mobilisations. Previously, the CP union leaders had argued against an indefinite strike but were forced to reorient by a backlash against them.
The radical traditions of solidarity and working class unity have been developed over years of struggle in Chile. The demands of students, teachers and the broader working class are connected. If the students win, it will not be through the good will of parliamentarians but through the strength of the working class.