An Unequal Partnership: Deputy Giorgio Jackson Discusses Trade & the Future of Progressive Politics in Chile
You were a leader in the 2011 Chilean student protest movement. What do you see as the similarities between student organizing and your work as a member of the Chamber of Deputies?
I think as a student representative I was busier than I am now. We worked every day, full time, even on the weekends, from early in the morning until late at night. I was elected representative the year that a huge social movement around higher education exploded in Chile. The similarities are that you are facing different structures of power when you are a student. You try to make internal reforms, but also externally you are a stakeholder in national reforms. But it is less professional, of course, more informal.
The Lower Chamber is supposedly more professional. You are given all the opportunities to be a professional; sadly not all of my colleagues take that seriously. My perception in these two years is that the Representatives are not as passionate as my colleagues in the student movement. The distinction is motivation: when you are a student, it is not a profession, it is a vocation.
There are professional politicians in whom I don’t see passion. It is frustrating to try to push your efforts, only to be slowed down because of a cap on passion.
What do you see as the role of young people in electoral politics?
We grew up, most of us, after the Berlin Wall fell. So we grew up in a, let’s call it a moment of consensus. In Chile it was the same year the dictatorship fell. The 1990’s were a time when the political discussion was not as polarized as it is now. We didn’t grow up with the consciousness of being a political actor; I think we are just beginning to understand that.
People under 35 and even 30 have a lot of power in terms of population. But we don’t commit to politics. We mostly work in activism—education, poverty, or environmental issues. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, they discussed ideology. I don’t know if it was because of fear or lack of interest, but our parents did not transmit that to us.
What does the concept of ‘progressive politics’ mean in the context of Chile?
In Chile we start from a right wing context; in terms of the different policies that drove the economy for the last two or three decades, we are far to the right of Latin America. As a generation, what we are trying to accomplish is a series of victories on social rights. For example, education is an issue of concern because we see how inequality and segregation condemn or privilege different classes. An ideological discussion emerges because of that pragmatic problem.
In 2011, [the student movement] failed to change the system because the elected representatives and the government didn’t want to oblige or properly consider our demands. We ended up discussing democracy. If a huge amount of people, 60 or 70 percent in some polls, wanted [reform], how could the government that is elected for the people, by the people, deny that? You start to question what democracy means, and if there are mechanisms in place to solve these differences.
From this pragmatic point of view, we started discussing a model of democracy. When you think about a democracy model, you start to think about other areas of development, like the economy, health, our grandparents’ pensions. You start to figure it out as a political individual. I think that many of the students who mobilized in 2011 started that process, but there is a distinction between knowing that, and getting into politics. There is mistrust between those who are already conscious about the different aspects of living in society, democracy, power, etcetera, and [those who] are willing to take the next step of taking that apart.
I think that is fear; it’s mistrust, even despair. The changes are not coming in a 100-meter race, they’re coming in a marathon. We don’t have a recall process. We don’t have referendum power. You start to ask yourself, “Why aren’t they there?” Somebody forbid it, why? You start to understand, and figure out that there are a lot of people who don’t want to enter into politics until there are more opportunities. It’s a vicious circle.
It is a treaty that tries to consolidate a way of understanding commerce and trade which I do not agree with. The cost for developing countries to enter into this “equal relationship” with countries that are most developed is very unequal because of the accumulation of wealth and the capacity for distribution of labor in different countries. When you structure treaties like this, you consolidate some division of work.
The strongest reason I object to the TPP is the chapter on intellectual property. This chapter consolidates and in many cases exceeds prior trade agreements. Developed countries accumulate far more patents, copyrights, and intellectual property assets than developing nations. So the developing countries are paying for their involvement in this non-material privatization of knowledge.
The way that the TPP understands intellectual property rights, especially in terms of pharma and agricultural products, from my point of view, is a wrongheaded understanding of the opportunities that bring us new technologies. For the first time in history, we have abundance with no marginal cost. I think that intellectual property laws, in general, try to minimize the role of creation by only assigning value to the work of the research or the creation process when there is a good or product that sells in the market.
It’s not that you should erase intellectual property rights; you should rethink them. The creation process should be valuable itself, not just the product they make. Today, less than one percent of artists or scientists live on income from property rights. They have contracts. They live because of their work. There is a huge space to change the paradigm of intellectual property in an economy that will be driven in the next 10, 20, 100 years by the knowledge economy. TPP minimizes the possibility to rethink this system.
In Chile [the TPP] was a secret negotiation. I think that all around the world, the process lacked a democratic look at the cons, academic study of evidence that demonstrated that we are going to be better with the TPP than without. At least in Chile, the government is pushing approval of the TPP not because we are going to win something, but because the cost of saying no is higher. That is not the way that we should legislate.
What lessons can the US socialist movement learn from your work?
I think we have a lot to learn with the current campaign that Bernie Sanders leads. Political engagement is 90 percent emotion and 10 percent rationality. When people vote, they are not going to vote because of a rationalization, they are going to vote because of emotions. Language is so important for simplifying complex ideas to further discussion. Globally there is a reinterpretation of the challenges of left-wing movements, maintaining the heritage of the left wing movement of the past, but condemning the bad practices and horrors as well.
That is the challenge, not only here in the US, but in Chile as well, using social media. The emotions that you can transmit through audiovisual material, to put some complex idea in a simple way. It is not trying to reduce the debate, just trying to move someone. If you have the best paper in the world, and you are not able to move someone with your idea, you are just not going to have influence. I see that in Bernie’s campaign. We don’t have common places to share the good practices of international progressive movements or to try and put pressure on the progressive movements that harm our cause because of their horrors and abuses.
Featured photo: http://www.eldivisadero.cl/noticia-36500