POLITICS Social Crisis

Mesa de Unidad Social: Why Are They Still Marching?

SANTIAGO – La Mesa de Unidad Social called a National Strike this week, and thousands of people throughout Chile turned out to march for their demands. Although the government tries to respond to the public’s demands, the social conglomerate refuses to go home. Who are they and why are they still on the streets?

La Mesa de Unidad Social (MUS) filled the streets this week to voice various demands, as part of the National Strike it called. In Santiago, a huge crowd marched to the Palacio de la Moneda, claiming that its demands remain unanswered by the government. One of the main complaints is the lack of citizen participation in the Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution.

The organization, formed by several unions and movements that stand up for workers, human rights, the environment, feminism, and indigenous rights, acquired a protagonist voice during the crisis. Representing a large number of the population, the organization has been actively leading petitions and demonstrations.

The government has attempted to respond to some of the organization’s demands, by increasing pensions and minimum wages and by authorizing a referendum for a new Constitution, but it’s not enough for the organization, so it continues to call strikes and marches.

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Last week, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel contacted MUS to open a dialogue. The invitation was accepted, but there are still no concrete dates for the meeting. Until then, however, the organization will not cease its activities.

Workers Unity Center (CUT) of Cautín President Jorge Silva explained this to Chile Today, saying that such a meeting, even if it is perceived to be a step in the right direction, will not end their discontent: “When the government makes a call to conversation—like this—they usually do it in a “touristic” way: they call us in and superficially look down on us to “see how things are going.” This is not the way. They should be the ones to actively take our demands, structure them, form a focalized, capable working team, and respond with solutions.”

Silva, who is also Director of the Work Observatory at La Frontera University, says that such conversations are most likely useless if the government does not acknowledge its faults“Institutions are discredited to such an extent that people no longer believe in them. What is the Interior Minister’s moral to call us to his office, if his hands are already covered in our people’s blood? The table he offers for us to work with them is still not a moral or ethical table.”

As a representative of a member union, Silva says that MUS is unlikely to stop its activities, and that the government is still oblivious to how much is left to do“The government does not understand: we want peace. But we do not want it imposed by the current political institutions, which have lost all their credibility. We will continue protesting and saying that the peace needs to come from the social actors. The [environmental issues], which cause so much damage for the benefit of the wealthiest, are also things they refuse to acknowledge, and for that, and many other issues, there cannot be peace.”

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The Goal of the Mesa de Unidad Social

The Mesa de Unidad Social was created as a social conglomerate to represent the social demands of different organizations and unions in Chile, now over 150.

It was formed in September 2019 by CUT and other movements that were fed up with Chile’s unequal system. Their mission was to be a voice against injustice, and a chance at citizen participation nationwide. Their ultimate goal? “The regaining and defense of the citizens’ freedoms and fundamental rights,” as stated in their manifesto.

Since the start of the social unrest, MUS has addressed dozens of citizen lobbies and civil assemblies, offering a virtual platform for every community to record its insights. They also have relentlessly offered organization and political education workshops through seminars and public activities. And, of course, they continue to organize massive demonstrations throughout Chile.

Demands and Responses

A primary goal of MUS is to reach political and structural changes through Constituent Assemblies and bodies, as citizen participation is its main value. 

In its formation, the organization said a new Constitution was one key demand for a better future. “We need to take down the law of 1980, which was made by those who are the millionaires of our country today, those who own half of our resources and sell it all,” said Matías Vásquez, MUS spokesman in La Serena, as reported by Diario La Región in September 2019, weeks before the social crisis.

This demand became reality in the Agreement for Social Peace, but the group rejected the initiative as the agreement was discussed behind closed doors with no real citizen participation and no consideration of their petitions. 

On Nov. 16, they wrote an official release saying that new strikes would be called in this regard, and that they would soon present their own proposal for a Constituent Assembly for the government to consider.

Silva told Chile Today, “They have talked about social dialogue. Which social dialogue? They have only sat to speak with businessmen; they have left out the workers. The conversation they claim they want to have with the Agreement for Social Peace will result in no positive impact as they continue to leave us out.”

The general demands of MUS do not respond to self-determined issues or goals, but to the cumulative necessities of its more than 150 member organizations. The demands cross-shared by many of the member organizations also include demands related to gender equality, environmental protection, social rights, and economic struggles.

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