Is workers’ power on the agenda in southern Mexico?

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Over a million people filled the streets of Oaxaca city on Nov. 5 in the sixth “Mega March” against the brutal government repression of 70,000 teachers on strike statewide and their supporters. In response to an uprising that began to build in May, police have detained over 100 people and killed more than 20, including at least two children.

The demonstrators — women and men, students and the elderly — chanted for the immediate resignation of Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and a complete withdrawal of 3,400 federal police deployed by Mexican president Vicente Fox in late October.

As part of their invasion, federal police raided the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO) on Nov. 2 and attempted to silence Radio Universidad, the campus station taken over by the movement. Alongside women, teachers, other unionists, and indigenous people, students have brought a vibrancy that is sustaining the rebellion. Youth from the UABJO and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México have been part of protests and encampments from the start.

Students have confronted police repression by fighting back and building barricades to protect themselves. On Nov. 2, they achieved a remarkable defeat of the police, who were beaten off campus after six hours of fighting. But the battle for the radio station, and for Oaxaca’s future, continues.

¡Arriba! The southern state of Oaxaca, along with its neighbors Chiapas and Guerrero, is one of Mexico’s poorest, and is governed by a tyrant who may as well have been teleported from the Middle Ages. Its people are sick of the economic devastation caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement and decades of neoliberal land-grabbing and profiteering.

The recent theft of the presidency from popular favorite Andrés Manuel López Obrador has only fanned the flames of their outrage.

The revolt of Oaxaca city has been courageous and uplifting since it began, when thousands of indignant and belligerent women took to the streets and led the takeover of state legislative buildings, the municipal palace (city hall), and several TV and radio stations.

From mid-May to late October, the city center, or zócalo, was occupied by striking teachers and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Uniting over 350 organizations to demand the ouster of governor Ruiz Ortiz and to support the striking teachers, the APPO is a loose coalition including labor unions, NGOs, and political and indigenous organizations. It has stood strong against government repression.

In October, a leader of the teachers’ union made a settlement with the government over the heads of the rank and file. But many strikers have refused to go back to work. They cite fraudulence in the vote on the settlement, the fact that their demand for Ruiz to step down has not been met, and the consequent likelihood of violent reprisals against them.

Some have called the developments in Oaxaca the “Latin Americanization” of Mexico in reference to mass uprisings that have deposed heads of states in South America in recent years. And signs are that this might be true, especially since the APPO model has spread to other Mexican states, among them Michoacán and Guerrero.

Dual power? The APPO has made the normal capitalist powers inoperative in Oaxaca. The governor, state legislature, city hall and courts have not conducted business in Oaxaca city, the state capital, for over five months. The APPO took control of the zócalo by blockading all major roads around the city. It provided healthcare to oaxaqueños and established its own security detachments and kitchens.

All this has led some leftists and progressives to describe the APPO’s achievements as a case of dual power. This is a very exciting concept. But dual power in whose hands, and to what end?

From a Marxist viewpoint, dual power means dual class power, with the working class in direct competition with the capitalist class for control of the state. This is what was attained in the course of the 1917 Russian Revolution through the growth of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, or soviets.

It seems premature to characterize the situation in Oaxaca in the same way.

Over the months, the APPO’s agenda has become more multi-issue. Its constitution declares the rights to bilingual and culturally sensitive education, recognizes the autonomy of indigenous groups, and calls for women’s equality and equality between homosexual and heterosexual unions. This is an uplifting program.

But it is not yet an explicitly anti-capitalist program posing an unequivocal challenge to the existing government. The APPO needs this clear identity, along with clearly workingclass leadership, if it is to continue to advance. Otherwise, its direction will be set by the politicians of bourgeois parties and NGOs who are included in its membership, and it will cease to be anything meaningful for the poor and oppressed.

The call for solidarity. The striking teachers of the National Coordinating Union of Education Workers (CNTE), a militant section of the national teachers’ union, understand what is at stake in Oaxaca and have a definite appreciation that the problem is capitalism.

The CNTE describes itself as “a preparatory school for the general struggle against the bourgeoisie and its state with the goal of destroying the capitalist system.” The union also declares itself to be “in solidarity with the struggle of other peoples and … the countries which continue to claim socialism as a just and democratic society.”

The APPO, too, has made multiple calls for national and international solidarity. And in forging this solidarity, the role that U.S. workers can play is particularly important. Because the root of the problems facing oaxaqueños is global imperialism, led by U.S. corporations, the U.S. working class has a weighty responsibility. And, ultimately, the best solidarity U.S. working people can extend to Oaxaca is to elevate class consciousness here and to engage in a fight against capitalism at home.

Immediate action is also needed. To learn more about the assembly’s demands and follow developments, visit www. Join or organize protests at local Mexican consulates or embassies. Talk to coworkers about the heroic struggle of the teachers of Oaxaca, and push for U.S. organized labor to support them. As workers united by one global system of exploitation, their fight is ours!

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