International outrage at Chile’s brutal breech of freedom of association

The ITUC has joined international condemnation of the Chilean government’s repressive crackdown of a demonstration in Santiago yesterday. Trade unionists were among those targeted by police aggression and arrests in the aftermath of Thursday’s peaceful demonstration.

Thousands of people took to the streets on 5 September 2019 in answer to the call by an alliance of 60 civil society organisations, which includes trade unions as well as environmental, feminist and indigenous rights organisations. They were denouncing the anti-union and socially regressive policy overhaul proposed by the Piñera government, which would result in the dismantling of existing labour protections and reduce access to health, education and social protection.

“It is revealing of the Piñera government’s intentions that it thinks it can shut down people’s voice by sending in heavily-armoured police. Freedom of assembly plays a crucial role in the exchanges that build inclusive policies and social consensus. This attack is an affront to the functioning of democratic societies and this sort of abuse cannot be allowed to happen unchallenged. The violence that has guided this government’s continuous efforts to dismantle people’s social infrastructure is now plain for all to see,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

Chile is set to host two high profile international meetings: of the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP25) and of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in the near future, and the government’s actions are genuine cause for concern in relation to these major events.

Multiple reports indicate that police aggression began from the very beginning of the march and resulted in several injuries and arrests. Among those arrested were the General Secretary of CUT Chile, Nolberto Diaz, and Vice President Tamara Muñoz, a member of the ITUC General Council. Police further attempted to break into the CUT Chile offices. The arrested union leaders were released many hours later without charges.

“The Piñera government seems to be incapable of engaging in social dialogue. This heavy-handed response to the legitimate concerns of the Chilean people confirms this government’s growing recourse to repression. As the slogan of the mobilisation rightly summarised, people are uniting because they are tired of a government that benefits only the elites at the expense of the majority in society,” said Burrow.