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Chile: Social Organizations and Associations
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Social Organizations and Associations


Professional societies are also well established. The largest ones, aside from the teachers' organization noted previously, are those for lawyers (about 12,000 members), physicians (about 14,500), and engineers (about 11,500). Affiliation figures for most of the more than thirty professional societies were unavailable, but there are at least 100,000 members in such associations aside from teachers. If these figures are added to those for membership in business groups and unions, it appears that about a third of the labor force is involved in occupationally based associations.

The organized groups of Chilean society have long played an important role in the nation's political life. The elections in some of them -- for example, in major labor federations, among university students, or in the principal professional societies -- usually have been examined carefully for clues to the strength of the various national political parties. Most of the nation's university and professional institute students, totaling 153,100 in 1989, belong to student federations. The various associations also make their views known to state or congressional officials when issues of policy that affect them are debated.

Some associations traditionally have been identified with particular political parties. This was the case, to a greater or lesser extent, with Masons, fire fighters, teachers' federations, and the Radical Party (Partido Radical); union confederations and the parties of the left; employer associations and the parties of the right; the Roman Catholic Church, as well as its related organizations with the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador); and, in recent decades, the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano -- PDC). Many of the most militant party members have also been active in social organizations. In addition, party headquarters in local communities often have served as meeting places for all kinds of activities. The Radical clubs of small towns in the central south are especially active, often sponsoring sports clubs as well as the formation of fire departments.

Chilean social life also has definite subcultures, with the main lines of cleavage being proximity to or distance from the Roman Catholic Church and social class. The schools that parents select for their children closely reflect these subcultural divisions. The latter are also strongly mirrored in associational life, as Chileans tend to channel their sports and leisure activities into organizations within their subculture. Schools, churches, and unions contribute to this pattern by being foci for such organizing. In addition, there are some clubs and centers related to specific ethnicities, such as Arab, Italian, or Spanish clubs, even though, as noted previously, such identities traditionally have been much less salient than religion and class. Occupational associations have been an important component of class and social status identities in Chilean society, with most of them affiliating people of like occupations regardless of their religious identities or preferences. Although this has helped diminish the significance of religiously based identities, the leadership divisions and conflicts within the nation's associations can often be traced back to those subcultural differences. People's political preferences follow the subcultural lines of cleavage as well in most cases.

Social organizations did not fare well under the military government. Those that were perceived to be linked, however loosely, to the parties of the left were subjected to sometimes severe repressive measures. This was particularly the case with labor unions, whose activities were suspended for more than six years. They were only permitted to reorganize under new legislation beginning in 1979. Moreover, most associations, including those of business groups, were hardly ever consulted on policy matters, and, in the absence of normal democratic channels for exerting influence, they found their opinions and petitions falling on deaf ears. Eventually, the most prominent social organizations joined in voicing their discontent with the military government through what was called the Assembly of Civility (Asamblea de la Civilidad), and their efforts contributed to the defeat of President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (1973-90) in the 1988 plebiscite. The only organizations that thrived under the military government were the women's aid and mothers' clubs, which were supported by government largesse and headed at the national level by Pinochet's wife, Lucía Hiriart.

With the return to democracy, social organizations recovered the ability to pressure Congress and the national government. The new government opted for explicit solicitation of the opinions of important interest associations on some of the policies it was considering. It also fostered negotiations between top labor and business leaders over issues such as labor law reforms, minimum wage and pension levels, and overall wage increases for public employees. These negotiations led to several national agreements between state officials and business and labor leaders, thereby inaugurating a new form of top-level bargaining previously unknown in Chile.

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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