Since June, students and professors in Chile have boycotted their classes to protest the country’s profit-driven education system, preventing many people from pursuing degrees and leaving many others strapped with debt. UCSB sociology professor John Foran spoke to the Daily Nexus about the movement’s importance in both global and local contexts.
More than 100,000 citizens have joined the protests calling for free secondary and higher education as the movement continues to grow through classroom boycotts and student-organized demonstrations.
The Chilean government claims to lack funding for full public education and has failed to comply with proposed negotiations. Student leaders Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson are organizing a 48-hour general strike of students, teachers and trade union workers on Oct. 18 and 19.
The country’s privatized education system began in 1981 under Augusto Pinochet’s reign following his U.S.-backed coup against popularly-elected socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet’s decision to switch to a free-market system made education costly and primarily unattainable for low-income citizens.
According to Sociology Professor John Foran, Chile’s education affordability concerns are comparable to the University of California system’s tuition hikes and budget constraints.
“These are things that Chile did before the rest of the world — things that we are seeing now, particularly in the U.S. and England,” Foran said. “[Governments] make higher education far less affordable to ordinary people with tuition payments and [do] what we call privatization of the university; this is something that the UC is currently experiencing.”
Similar student movements are also occurring in England and activism in the United Kingdom may have inspired Chilean students to confront social issues that had remained dormant for decades, according to Foran.
“There have been vigorous student protests in 2010 and 2011 in England,” Foran said. “It is certainly the case that the students in Chile, who have been undergoing the same experience for even longer, were aware of what was happening in England.”
Governments of nations around the world are decreasing financial support for services such as healthcare and education.
According to Foran, the financial cuts are due to increased capitalist globalization that has sparked a wave of civil disobedience including the Occupy Wall Street movement and protests in the Middle East.
“This is part of a worldwide politicization of young people against the terms of neo-liberal capitalist globalization, against the paradoxical removal of the state from people’s lives in terms of retreating on social security, on pensions, on healthcare and on making education affordable,” Foran said. “This is happening all over the world.”
The 21st century is witnessing a new type of grassroots political activism devoid of bureaucratic organizers or self-interested political leaders, Foran said.
“Protest really has taken a new form in this century, and that is simply a deeply democratic, participatory and — as they say in Latin America — a ‘horizontalist’ orientation without leaders and without organizations that are bureaucratic.”
Foran said this year marked the rise of several inherently connected historic social movements, beginning with regime overthrows and protests in Northeast Africa and continuing to those in Chile and the Western world.