This article by the Socialist Workers Party (Partido Obrero Socialista, POS) from their journal El Socialista (September 2013) describes protests by teachers that have swept Mexico in recent months. The National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) is the official Mexican teachers’ union. The National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) is a militant caucus within SNTE.
Read more about the issues and the status of the fight at www.pos.org.mx.
With demonstrations and urban guerrilla-style methods, more than 30,000 teachers mobilized from Oaxaca to Mexico City, threatening the federal government, the legislature, and the Federal District government of Mexico City. They won some modifications to new legislation governing labor relations.
Educators mobilized when they learned that Congress would meet the third week of August to approve three laws detrimental to education and labor rights. Their anger deepened when they realized that the government, the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) had deceived them and not taken into account what teachers said about these laws in a dozen forums held in previous months across the country.
It seemed that the laws would be approved without major protests. In mid-August, just 50 Oaxacan teachers occupied the Zócalo, Mexico City’s public square.
But soon the first thousands of teachers arrived in the city. Late on Monday, Aug. 19, they arrived without warning at the headquarters of the Chamber of Deputies and clashed with police. When teachers in Oaxaca saw these scenes on TV, it fired their outrage, and thousands more immediately took off for Mexico City. As always, they paid for all their own food and transportation costs.
They were ready to do almost anything to prevent the laws’ passage. They were not afraid to fight the police, be arrested, sleep on the floor, eat badly, endure rainstorms.
They brought all their experience in street fighting gained in 2006 in the teacher uprising in Oaxaca against former PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) Governor Ulises Ruiz. They know how to throw a trailer across a street in seconds to block it. Many teachers brought pliers to tear down fences to use as barricades against police on horseback. By arriving in mass numbers, the teachers knew how to carry out “ant operations” whereby they escape into buildings to avoid arrest.
The majority are women. Female teachers waged psychological warfare against the anti-riot police with challenges and insults, saying they were going to repeat the “medicine” of 2006 — when federal police sent to Oaxaca lost two battles in the city streets.
According to Ofelia Rivera, a teacher and POS leader, “The most disciplined and most mobilized sector are the teachers of bilingual education, who give classes in Spanish and an indigenous language.” The teachers came with their camping gear — tents, lamps, blankets, food, and portable stoves. Miguel Linares, an Oaxacan professor and member of the national POS leadership, concludes that the authorities “underestimate Section 22 [of the SNTE], which they are used to seeing in crisis.”
Section 22 distrusts its main leaders because of past betrayals, like those of Alcalá Betanzos y Rueda Pacheco. Moreover, the conciliation of some leaders of “political groups” with the PRD government of Gabino Cué, Oaxaca’s current governor, is notorious. Many teachers characterize their leaders as incompetent. But, despite this, when the chips were down, thousands mobilized and suspended their lives for more than two weeks to oppose the evil known as “education reform.”
They shocked the city. Every day thousands of teachers left their encampments to demonstrate on major streets and blockade buildings. Joaquín López Dóriga, a news anchor for Televisa, who never bothered to hide his hatred for the teachers, had to recognize their impressive discipline, willpower, audacity, and precision in effectively carrying out each action to pressure the government.
The teachers of the CNTE have shown to all of Mexico’s people an example of fighting spirit, tenacity, and determination.