Jorge Pavez: Teachers union leader, Chile

September 25, 2007

Tell us something about the trajectory of the trade-union movement and the broader popular movement since the end of the dictatorship. The criminal and terrorist repression of the dicta- torship meant not only the murder of many social and labor leaders, but also the virtual destruction of the powerful social movement in existence at the time. Since 1990, there has been a policy of co-optation of social organizations carried out by the post-dictator- ship governments, which has meant the virtual loss of these movements' independence-labor in particular-- but also of other movements that emerged during the dictatorship. This has also meant a loss of the prestige gained by the grassroots movement during the struggle for democracy. The movement was also weakened because the organizational norms imposed by the dictatorship via the labor code on the trade unions, neighborhood associations, etc., remain intact. The prevailing and growing individualism has had effects that are just now being overcome. In the past past few years, there have been signs that the popular movement, particularly the trade-union sector, is beginning to assume a significant political role once again. I am not painting a rosy picture, but there is no doubt that in the last few union elections there has been a clear will on the part of a large group of workers to intensify the struggle for their rights. This process of regaining trust in social organization and of regaining a collective consciousness and solidarity, is not only being expressed in the unions, but in society as a whole. Society is beginning to lose its fear of social conflict; rejections of public demonstrations are being replaced by greater understanding and support, as was the case with the teachers. This situation began to take shape between 1980 and 1986 through the trade-union movement and through the political movement, which was working under very adverse conditions, even clandestinely. It generated a model for action common to all the organizations taking shape then; a model in which the concept of unity among all Marxist, Christian, and social democratic sectors was essential. All were united in a common endeavor. I'm talking about 1986, when a very important prece- dent was set in this struggle in the effort to create what came to be known as the Assembly of Civility, a great conglomeration of professional organizations, unions, small businesses and students. From civil society this group put forth what was known as "Chile's List," which proposed a post-dictatorship solution different from the one which was eventually adopted. This experiment failed because of the dictatorship's power, because of the movement's ineffectiveness, and because of the pressure from the Church and the United States which sought a solution like the one we wound up with; one within the framework established by the dictatorship. At the end of 1988, a political alliance called the Concertaci6n of Parties for Democracy was formed. Its NACIA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 0, 0 C Hi I LVOICES ON THE LEFT base was centered around the Christian Democrats. This centrist alliance incorporated the Socialists, We were ti thereby breaking the historic Socialist-Communist alliance. The government result was the success of the plebiscite which denied Pinochet the COuld no lo ability to remain institutionalized as the same d dictator, although we had to wait yet another year for the elections to take made ur place. The Concertaci6n won those dictatorshi elections, but within the constraints of the negotiated transition. The dic- it was no tator leaves, but the practice of vio- engagein lating human rights, of rolling back worker's rights, and a tremendous becaus social debt are all left in place. In short, the economic model imposed threatened by the dictatorship is practically the same one in use by the current gov- ernment. Then it turned out that under the new govern- ment, social and labor movements were simply asked to lower their demands. We were now told that we could no longer make the same demands we made under the dictatorship. They were simply not feasible. We were also told that it was no good to engage in protests and mobilizations because they threatened democracy. And then they proposed the idea of a great social con- sensus based on what the government called a "frame- work agreement" among businessmen, the unions and the government. This framework agreement sets forth some minimal labor-law reforms and a model of devel- opment in which businessmen rather than workers play the most important role. Did the unions withstand the onslaught of the dictator- ship better than political parties? Political expressions are born under the aegis of the social movements and their struggles. Here, the open fight against the dictatorship was waged by the National Worker's Coordinating Committee, which proposed a national strike in 1983 when the system was in crisis. But then came pressures from the U.S. State Department and the Catholic Church, neither of which wanted a radical solution or the possibility of con- frontation, since the situation in Chile was starting to look like Nicaragua. Nationwide protests that basically called for a halt to all productive activity were spreading. But there was no real possibility of that because of the repression. There were even stronger activities, like those of the students. They could paralyze transportation since there were so many barricades and so much chaos in the street that when buses didn't come out, workers simply could not VOL XXXI, No 1 JULY/AUG 1997 n n p e d go to work. Thus was the national strike born, propelled by the strength Id by the of the labor movement, and supported from the outside by political parties, t that we such as the leftist Popular Democratic Movement, and the Democratic ger make Alliance which included the Christian mands we Democrats. After the first protest, the Christian Democrats created the der the Democratic Alliance, and then the Popular Democratic Movement and that emerged. That was the union of leftist parties, primarily Socialists and good to Communists. protests The situation reached a climax in 1986, when the grassroots and labor they movements reached their peak of unity and strength. Unfortunately, the politi- lemocracy. cal parties were never able to form a common front. The Communists were so feared that there was no possibility of creating a solid alliance to which all could belong. But we could see that alliance in the labor movement, where Communists, Christian Democrats and Radicals fought together. All participated; all were united. Even the lines of action were similar: the Communists were calling for a popular rebellion, and the Christian Democrats were calling for civil disobedience. This whole process reached a climax between 1986 and 1987. At this point we could clearly see that the political parties of the Democratic Alliance favored a different outcome from those of the left. How does the Teachers Guild fit into the current panorama of the popular movement? Teachers are a very disenfranchised social sector, but we have powerful social influence because we are spread throughout the country. We influence the large portion of the Chilean population that has children in school. Generally, we are well respected in Chilean society. On the other hand, we are contributing to the politi- cal fight against the economic model. We try to ally ourselves with workers and with groups that have recently begun expressing themselves politically. I'm referring to youth groups, environmentalists, women and ethnic groups. There are indigenous sectors that are setting forth their own points of view, such as the Mapuches in the south and the Aymaras in the north and demanding respect for their autonomy. These are the struggles, in addition to the human rights movement, that we teachers support. Are budget cuts affecting teachers? Structural adjustment was fully implemented during the dictatorship, in contrast with other countries where 21VOICES ON THE LEFT it is being implemented by democratic regimes. This created huge unemployment, the bankruptcy of indus- tries, a change in material conditions and a change in popular mentality. The dictatorship demolished the country and built another one. We lived through the great adjustment during which thousands of teachers were laid off. But all the same, we still see an effort to cut budgets in general, a strong push for privatization; let families pay for education, for example, and relieve the state from that responsibility. To be fair, education budgets have been increasing during the Concertacidn governments, although they haven't reached pre-dictatorship levels. They also want to impose absolute labor flexibility in our sector, which means not paying according to a worker's level of experience. There is the belief that sta- bility is not a necessary good; what matters is produc- tivity so people should be paid according to their out- put. This teacher is better because he has a better yield, so we pay him an extra bonus. That's the scheme. From outside, Chile is portrayed as a successful example of the neoliberal model. What are your feelings about this? Chile faces the serious task of finding an alternative. Not everything here is gold. Macroeconomic indicators do show development. Apparently the country is pro- gressing, but it's a very unequal progress which is based on enormous labor exploitation and with no labor pro- tection. It's a successful model based on the exploita- tion of natural resources. If we don't change our mode of production, we will soon find ourselves with no forests because natural resources will be extinguished. We will see all rivers and the ocean contaminated. Marine wildlife, which is enormously rich in this coun- try, is also being depleted because everything is being exported. But we can easily reach the conclusion that this model works and is successful. For example, Pinochet left behind a legacy of five million poor, and the Concertaci6n governments think that to bring it down to four million is a measure of success. Let me ask you about recent mobilizations. Where are they leading, and with what strategies and tactics? The mobilizations point in two directions. On the one hand, achieving what we call true educational reform, with the participation of teachers and society. And on the other, towards achieving decent working and living conditions through an increase in our wages. Those are the central demands. We have been making use of the classic strategy of presenting demands and demanding a response, accu- mulating strength through mobilization. If there is no response, then we move towards a strike; that's what has been done. We still have not made the leap to the political struggle to change the system and change the 22 model. We have no congressmen. We try to keep up the morale of the sector, to convince them that even within the model, through mobilization, it is possible to gain spaces, however small. This is important because this a long-term struggle. We have read that there is a lot of popular sympathy for the movement. Is there a high degree of support for these demands? We first made a very democratic effort by calling a national assembly in which delegates drew up a work plan for the year, and one of the issues was to claim our rights. That meant that all the leaders were committed to comply, because it was everyone's plan, not just that of a few. It was agreed upon through consensus. The leadership formalized that proposal with the govern- ment, and we began to negotiate and inform teachers and public opinion about this whole process. We began this in March, and when we reached the strike in October, there was already a high level of support since it had emerged from this democratic assembly and our strike was absolutely legitimate. I would say that we have had tremendous support because the leadership is very united and because of the high degree of autonomy that the respective political parties enjoy. This autonomy is necessary for attaining credibility at the grassroots. People have to see a healthy autonomy, summoning everyone to a unified struggle. The rank and file are mobilized, in spite of the fact that the political consciousness of Chilean workers has deteriorated. It is necessary to understand that the next step is changing the model, that within this model we simply will never get what we deserve. It's a movement that, in the medium run, has the pos- sibility of achieving power. I see that the conditions are present, based on the objective reality of the country. There is a very large sector of the Chilean population that is suffering the effects of the model, and which trusted the Concertacidn governments to find solutions. But they are not seeing any. Therefore, we must find a new alliance that can propose something different, and which can garner enough trust to nurture this movement. Now, there are progressives inside and outside the gov- ernment. The task is to find them and look for a common space that could permit the possibility of building a more just country; this is what we have to do. I think you find leaders when you least expect them. And even though they are lacking now, I trust that the leadership problem can be solved quickly. The popular movement is going through a difficult period, but it's by no means dead. The same holds for the rest of Latin America. We must keep on working in this direction. The need for Latin Americans to work together is ever more pressing because throughout the continent, we are experiencing similar problems.

Tags: Jorge Pavez, Chile, interview, teachers union, communism

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