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  Issue No 108 Official Organ of LaborNet 24 August 2001  




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Postcard from Santiago

The CFMEU's Phil Davey meets up with Communist Party cadres in Chile who led the underground resistance to Pinochet.


We miss you Phil


I am staying with ex CFMEU official Lucho Villazon, his wife Lilliana and their angelic children Gabriella (10), Diego (8) and baby Josephina, just three months. Lucho and family remain active in the Chilean Communist Party and had to get out fast in 1973 when the coup happened. They had 8 years in Australia before returning and fortunately for me have great memories of Oz. They have treated me incredibly well- embarressingly well I realised when I twigged they were all sleeping in one bed for the weekend to make space for me!!I owe them big time.

The only touristy thing I've done here was Saturday when I visited the Casa de Moneda, what was the Presidential Palace until 1973. Its the building Allende died in when his own airforce bombed it during the coup. Its all been cleared up now but didn't do much for me-the gloved policemen guarding it just reminded me of all those docos I saw in the 1980s about Fascist Chile.

After that Lucho took me to the Casa del Pueblo ("House of the People"), the Santiago HQ of the Communist party. Bare walls attested to a lack of money. the Party was almost destroyed under Pinochet and rebuilding has been slow.

I met some leaders of a new push within the party to move away from its Stalinist heritage and create a new left kind of rainbow alliance movement.

They told me they were in negotiations with the (underground) Gay movement to form a left/gay ticket to contest Santiago municipal elections. They had made significant progress and had plans to widen their alliance to include the disabled movement, ethnic minorities and, bizarrely enough, dwarfs(!) I checked the word 3 times and they definitely said dwarfs.

(I asked Lucho outside and he said no, there was not a higher proportion of dwarfs in Santiago vis a vis elsewhere. If I get a satisfactory answer as to why they are doing this I will let you know!!!)

We talked about the anti globalisation movement. The comrades felt that this embryonic movement is spot on at identifying the number one problem in the world today (rampant corporate dominance) but less good at articulating an alternative.

A fair cop I thought, but probably a criticism which could be extended to the left generally.

Interestingly, the comrades names all betrayed a heavy Soviet influence. I was talking to a Tatiana and a Vladimir- obviously they were children of communists too.

Saturday night we had a fantastic BBQ and I had a chance to meet some good friends of Luchos and Lillianas, Ricardo* and Erica.

Ricardo was underground when the Fascists were in charge. He was active in the armed wing of the Communist Party, deployed in an Urban resistence unit.

One look at Ricardo and this past was self evident. He looked and talked hard. Very hard. Harder than I have seen for quite a while.

Lucho was cagey about what actual active service Ricardo saw, saying only that he carried an AK47 regularly for several years and was part of a unit which blew up strategic targets in Santiago.

We talked politics over many bottles of Chilean Red well into the night.

Today Lucho took me to the commemoration of the 89th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Chile.

The ceremony was in the old (pre 1973) Parliament House. Perhaps 400 turned out on another freezing morning, many older comrades but also a good smattering of youth.

Inside the Chamber we sat around in what were the seats of the deputies.

The chamber was decked out with party flags, Cuban flags and photos of martyred leaders and masked fighters from the Fascist days. I imagined Ricardo was one of them.

I got a quick intro and polite applause and was honoured to briefly meet the General Secretary afterwards.

The ceremony itself was really great, a good mix of old and new. The youth wing leader spoke first, and folky music was interspersed through proceedings, provided by a ponytailed guy with acoustic guitar.

The main speaker hit all the right notes, ridiculing the Chilean Governments current TV campaign "Just think Positive". With unemployment hitting 20% the concept is clearly rediculous and those assembled bayed with derision as the speaker mocked the value of thinking positive when the working class in Chile was clearly doing it real tough.

We finished up with an emotional singing of "the Internationale" which had many of those present in tears. The horror these people lived through for their beliefs beggars description and I mentally took my hat of to them, they are clearly still punching on and not too set in their ways to experiment with coalitions which probably would have had them expelled 20 years ago.

It really was a grand experience to sit in on the ceremony. A more decent, genuinely friendly and interesting group of people you would be struggling to find anywhere.

On the way out of the chamber afterwards several different party journals were being sold by hawkers. I reflected on the obsession leftists have everywhere with producing journals. I half expected to see a pimply faced zealot like we have at home thrusting a Green Left Weekly into my hands. (Actually that's unfair on the Chilean comrades to compare them to our trots, but it is amazing how left parties beget newspapers!)

This afternoon we visited a gigantic mall. It was PACKED with people but almost no one was in the actual shops, shopping. I queried this and Lucho said this was the (now dominant) consumer culture at its worst-"people come here even when they have no money to buy".

* Ricardo's name has been changed to protect his identity


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 108 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Man from Manusafe
Manusafe chief Andrew Whiley explains why employers have nothing to fear from the entitlements trust fund.
*  E-Change: 2.4 The Skeptic’s Response
In this round-table discussion, Noel Hester leads the charge against the argument that globalisation and change are inevitable.
*  Politics: No Hand Idle
Whitlam Institute director Peter Botsman finds much to agree with in John Howard's social coalition for welfare delivery.
*  Unions: Slavery and Struggle
A battle with all the elements of the infamous waterfront dispute is being played out in Charleston, South Carolina:
*  International: Postcard from Santiago
The CFMEU's Phil Davey meets up with Communist Party cadres in Chile who led the underground resistance to Pinochet.
*  History: Race and Australian Labour.
Australian unionists have long been questioning notions of a “White Australia”, even before the colonies united with it as the central feature.
*  Economics: Global Regulation
Public sector unions from around the globe are taking the first steps to work internationally against the deregulation agenda.
*  Satire: Niche Identified in Left-Wing Publications Market
A marxist-feminist activist has discovered a gaping hole in the lucrative left-wing publications market.
*  Review: The Fight for Equal Pay
In this extract from her new book, Zelda D'Aprano looks at the contribution Kath Williams made to the struggle for equality.

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»  Young Casuals Not Paid Overtime
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»  Libs Dodge Public Education Forum
»  Westfield Squeezes The Extra Dollar
»  MP's Staffers Fume Over Pay Deal
»  Mat Leave Win for Country Energy
»  No Wonder Wonderland Workers Unhappy
»  Qld's First Major Review of Awards
»  Unions Buck Online Ambush
»  Bras Burned for Burma
»  Two Capps To Cancel Debt
»  Australians Work Too Much, Too Long
»  Activists Notebook

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