An impressive student movement erupted in Chile in 2011 and maintained its activism for months, employing a wide range of tactics (including not only mass marches and temporary occupations of educational and political buildings, but also hunger strikes, ‘kiss-ins’ in public squares, bicycle rides and performances of pop songs). They also organized an informal referendum against the profit motive in which many thousands took part to show their opposition to higher education policy. The students challenged the neoliberal nature of higher education, where total privatization had linked high quality to high fees and state investment was very low. But they also criticized the impact of this ideology on society and the economy as a whole. So – after police violently attacked a student march through the centre of Santiago – the wider public began to join the protests. Students began to receive major support from trade unionists and workers, who went on strike, built barricades and took part in ‘carcerolazos’ (organized banging of pots and pans). A public opinion poll suggested three quarters of the population supported the students, and their demands received major media coverage for months. This challenge to the regime had been preceded in 2006 by the ‘penguin revolution’ of secondary school pupils (named for the colours of their school uniforms), which did manage to get the Pinochet law on education repealed, but the new law failed to promote real educational reform. The demonstrations of 2006 also failed to ignite wider social unrest.
The students in 2011 did manage to wring a series of concessions from the government, and leaders of the Student Federation negotiated with President Pinera; but the students rejected several attempts by the government between June and August 2011 to find solutions as superficial. Student protesters in April 2012 were still rejecting the government concessions. When elections took place in December 2013, against a background of widespread public activism, student leader Camila Vallejo stood for Congress and the socialist Michelle Bachelet became President, promising educational, constitutional and tax changes to promote greater equality. But the coalition government was then divided on reforms in 2014, and the debate took place primarily at the parliamentary level.
The developments in Chile were quite widely reported, but much of the literature is in Spanish. We list below a number of commentaries and analyses, mostly available online.