Chile is bracing for a nationwide, two-day shutdown as unions, students and center-left political parties demand fundamental changes in society.
They want to replace Chile’s dictatorship-era Constitution, which concentrates vast power in the presidency, with a new charter enabling popular referendums and making free quality education a right for all citizens. They also want pension reforms, a new labor code and more healthcare spending.
Chile’s largest union coalition called the strike for yesterday and today to join forces with the high school and university students boycotting classes for three months now. They have support from the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years before Chilean President Sebastian Pinera brought the right wing back into the presidential palace last year.
Transportation workers and daycare providers also plan to strike, stranding millions of other Chileans.
“It’s painful to see those working so hard to paralyze Chile,” Pinera said on Tuesday. “We are perfectly conscious that our country has many unpaid debts, that there are many problems that remain unresolved, many of which were caused decades ago.”
Pinera proposed a 21-point education reform package to Congress this month that includes US$4 billion in new education funding, more scholarships, more teacher training, help for students who cannot pay their loans and a reduction from 5.6 percent to 2 percent in student loan interest rates.
He also proposed a new government agency to take over and fund failing local schools and an effort to make private universities comply with Chile’s law requiring non-profits to reinvest their gains.
Students delivered a letter to the palace on Tuesday asking for Pinera’s direct intervention to resolve the conflict.
University of Chile student leader Camila Vallejo described it as a plea for Pinera to clarify whether “he really has the willingness to see education as a universal social right and not as a consumer good, as he has suggested.”