The Whole Working Class is On the Street—Marcha Feminista y Paro Nacional

On Nov. 12, a nation-wide general strike was called by at least 129 unions and organizations. They issued a call to shut it down – blockade roads, highways bridges, ports. And they did. There were massive marches throughout the country. A neighbor told us that it was the largest march he had ever seen in Valparaíso, and he’s an activist. Feeder marches from the cerros began pouring into Plaza Sotomayor in the morning.

Call for Feeder Marches to the General Strike March in Valparaíso

We got a late start, but had to first admire the beautiful banner our neighbor hung from her 8th floor apartment.

As we were waiting on the corner for a colectivo, another neighbor, whom we met in a colectivo on her (and our) way to the feminist march two days earlier, was coming down our hill. She was also looking for a colectivo, but a friend of hers happened to be driving by, so our neighbor flagged her down and then grabbed us to join them to drive to the march. There we were, five teachers in the car, the three Chilenas discussing the need to completely rewrite the constitution “from top to bottom,” Víctor Jara on the radio, and us looking at each other in disbelief that we are actually here, witnessing history being made, welcomed into this space by neighbors we have just met and who now greet us as comrades.

General Strike March, Valparaíso

This massive march was so broad: port workers, transit workers, health workers, teachers, feministas, students, artists, families, people of all ages, huge banners of unions and political organizations, homemade signs, Mapuche flags (more on this in a coming blog), Chile flags, ubiquitous green scarves of the feminist movement (see below).

No Justice, No Peace!

Participation is so widespread that a recent national poll showed over 50% of Chileans participated in some form of protest in these last few weeks.

La Coordinadora Feminista 8M Report on Percent of Workers’ Participation in General Strike

Chileans really know how to protest with so much creativity, joy, and militance—music, drums, horns, dance performances, whistles, cacerolas, street theater performers, stopping and then running forward in mass.

It was a peaceful march (there were people with young children), but as we neared the national congress the carabineros blocked the street and began their usual routine, bringing out the armored vehicles, unleashing the water cannons and tear gas.

But the march was so massive that blocks away marchers were still coming, dancing and singing and chanting. In a powerful symbolic protest against the military repression, some marchers had covered one eye to signify the nearly 200 people (many young) blinded by the police shooting directly at their eyes. [see previous blog] There have been angry denunciations of this brutality by the College of Medicine, the Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (INDH), and the rector of the Christian Humanist University, attended by 21 year-old student, Gustavo Gatica, who was shot in both eyes and partially blinded by a carabinero.

The national strike was a workers strike, but Chile’s feminist movement has deepened who counts as a worker and how we understand the working class.

Feminists in the General Strike
Women Go On General Strike. Down with Fascism. Up with Feminism

We will write more about the politics of this movement after we have the opportunity learn more from organizers, but what seems to us to be an important lesson is this: The main force behind the general strike was the traditional, strong unions in key sectors of the economy—miners, port workers, health workers, teachers, commercial workers, and others. Also participating were social movements. But a key component of the strike is that feminists are involved to the point of not only mobilizing strongly (as we could see from their presence throughout the march) but also from their efforts to broaden the traditional idea of who is a worker to include women’s unpaid labor as well.

The slogan of Chile’s new radical, anti-capitalist, anti-racist feminist movement, La Coordinadora Feminista 8M (popularly known as 8M, for March 8th, International Women’s Day), is “working women to the street, against the precarization of life” according to Alondra Carrillo Vidal, a spokesperson for the group.

La Coordinadora 8M is, according to Carrillo Vidal, oriented to “achieve a system of solidaristic … distribution, we maintained that this new system should recognize reproductive work as work and those who carry it out as workers. We argued that care work is skilled work and that motherhood is heavy labor. And for the first time, we formulated the idea of struggling for a single care system as part of the struggle for social security.” This means concretely, for example, that the broad demand for a new public pension system should include those who do care work.

Preceding the general strike, on Sunday Nov. 10, 8M organized a huge feminist march in Valparaíso. The march displayed the broad power and the politics of Chile’s feminist movement which grew from the struggle against violence and sexual harassment and for free, safe abortion for all. Chilean feminists adopted the green scarf of Argentine feminist abortion activists, and green scarves were everywhere on Sunday (they also double as a mask against tear gas).

Legal, Available, Safe, and Free Abortion

The feminist movement in Chile has grown, unified, and matured over the past few years into a significant political force in the uprising and in progressive and revolutionary politics in Chile. The streets were filled with women (predominantly and in leadership), men, and people of all genders. The march had clear (collective) leadership and direction, speakers, and discipline. When the carabineros blocked the march as it neared the Congress, hundreds of women sat down in the street in front of the barricades, speakers laid out a feminist political analysis of the current situation, and then everyone turned and marched back in the opposite direction. Peaceful, militant, disciplined.

Between these two marches, on Monday, responding to the weeks of massive protest and the generalized demand for a constituent assembly and a new constitution, Piñera came on TV to propose a process leading to a “new” constitution. But his top-down process of a constituent congress controlled by the center-right in power and a tweaked version of the same old constitution are clearly not what Chileans who have galvanized a grassroots process of protest and popular protagonism are demanding. Despite Piñera’s offer, he got Tuesday’s general strike.

The crisis deepened as protesters shut down the country, the Chilean stock market crashed (economic analysts called it “Black Tuesday”), and the Chilean peso hit an historic low value against the US dollar, and appears to be dropping daily. Media analysts are now suggesting a recession might be coming.

Meanwhile, popular assemblies, large and small continue, and Valparaíso’s left-wing Mayor Jorge Sharp, and others, have initiated a popular process for a bottom-up constituent assembly. Sharp is meeting with mayors to begin the constituent assembly process at the local level. He is also organizing a school (Escuela Popular Constituyente) to prepare people for the constituent assembly. This sounds like a mass teach-in of popular political education that people can join on line. Sharp said that the cabildos and asambleas that people have organized around the country [see earlier blog] are the basis for communal and regional councils that should build up to a national constituent assembly, because the power rests with the people. All this is still taking shape, and we don’t yet understand the full political implications, but Sharp’s analysis that Piñera can’t govern and that congress is illegitimate seems right to us.

This is a moment of intense conflict between two social forces. On one side, the government of economic and political elites, military leaders, and a small strata of privileged Chileans who want to superficially reform the neoliberal, capitalist, racial, patriarchal system in order to save it. On the other, the mass of Chilean working and middle classes and indigenous and oppressed immigrants who demand a new Chile. (When we asked a friend what the demands are, she said, “everything.”) Can the various organizations of this social force (unions, feminists, students, the Mapuche movement (next blog), cultural organizations, left political parties and organizations) carry forward the popular momentum on display on the streets today and the protagonism unleashed in popular assemblies and cabildos toward a fundamental restructuring of Chilean society? Will Chile make a path toward becoming the next Latin American country to attempt to build Socialism for the 21st century? And what will be the response of the state and the military?

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