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Refusing to Travel La Via Chilena·. Working-Class Women in Allende's Chile Camilla Townsend "Take me with you," I said. "I can't, Eva." "Aren't there women in the mountains?" "No this is a man's war, but better times wiU come, and then we can love each other under different circumstances." ... In his eyes, I would never be independent. Huberto had thought that way since he could think at all; it was not likely that the Revolution was going to change him. I realized that our problems were not related in any way to the fortunes of the gueriUas; even if he achieved his dream, there would be no equality for me. . . . His revolution would not change my fate in any fundamental way; under any circumstances, as long as I Uved I would still have to make my own way. Perhaps it was at that moment I realized that mine is a war with no end in view.... Yes, Elvira had been right: you have to be tough, life is a dogfight. From Eva Luna by Isabel AUende, niece of Salvador AUende On Wednesday, December 1, 1971, approximately five thousand women gathered in the late afternoon at the Plaza Baquedano in Santiago, Chile. They proceeded to march through the downtown streets, shouting anti-government slogans and banging empty pots and pans. While many of the women were middle class and even upper class, many others were in fact from working-class neighborhoods. Poor women along with the elite marched to protest the government of the Unidad Popular (UP), led by Salvador Allende, which had among its goals the gradual redistribution of wealth in accordance with socialist justice. In explaining this phenomenon to themselves, the Right claimed that these were women of superior feminine virtue who had seen through the Ues of those who wanted to impose a Marxist dictatorship, and thus wished to defend their beloved country. The Left, on the other hand, pitied such ignorant, tradition -bound women who could be so luUed by deceitful enemies as to ignore their own true class interests. In reaUty, however, neither side was presenting an accurate picture of what had happened on December 1. Nobody had asked the working women why they were there. © 1993 Journal of Women-s History, Vol. 4 No. 3 (Winter) 44 Journal of Women's History Winter The presence of these women was indicative of a larger problem the AUende government had in attempting to gain the support of unorganized working-class women. Members of the government insisted that they had poor women's interests in mind. In addition to striving toward their primary goal of gradual socialization of the economy, officials made some more immediate changes, such as opening neighborhood centers to provide free milk and health care. They also talked about women's potential in new ways, introducing what one historian has called a "creative ambiguity" in dialogues which traditionally had foUowed certain scripts.1 Despite their efforts, however, the UP faüed to attract a majority of the working women they claimed to defend. As has happened in other times and places, the women were often simply dismissed as "tradition bound" or assumed to be controUed by the church, whose priests frequently disapproved of the changes advocated by the left-wing coaUtion of parties. If poor women did choose to agree with the priests, however, few of the spurned leftists made significant attempts to understand why. A possible explanation may be found in viewing the question from the perspective of the working women themselves. Until recently, due to the poUtical situation in Chile, any project involving the testimony of working-class women's experiences under the UP has been untenable. Now, as Chilean women begin to speak more openly, it is possible to sort out the evidence gathered thus far. This article attempts to organize what we presently know about the decisions working-class women made in the years of the Popular Unity government, and suggest some interpretations. The problem can best be understood only after coming to terms with the historical background of both labor activism and left-wing parties in Chile, and exploring the roles played by women in...


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