Oaxaca teachers demand political freedom

Submitted by AWL on 6 June, 2008 - 11:37 Author: Charlie Salmon

Two years after the great uprising, in Oaxaca, Mexico, Section 22 of the Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores (SNTE) teachers union has mounted a fresh 21 day long strike demanding an end to political repression and the democratisation of their union and local schools.

On 22 May 2006 teachers led by Section 22 took strike action demanding increased pay, better conditions and investment into food and uniforms for students.

On 14 June Governor Ortiz deployed one thousand state police officers to break up the strike. Two days later tens of thousands of Oaxacans, backed by trade unions and community groups, marched in defence of the SNTE. Demonstrators seized local radio and television stations, ensured the distribution of food and services and formed the Assamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), a democratic assembly. The events of 2006 — the highpoint of working class struggle for some time — saw teachers, trade unions, community and women's groups take control of the city for five months until a brutal crackdown by state police and armed gangs aligned to Ortiz.

teachers in mexico

Mexican teachers have played an important social role for more than one hundred years. In Oaxaca they are a particularly significant force. Unlike some areas of Mexico, Oaxaca does not benefit from the tourism industry so the input from relatively well paid teachers makes an important contribution to the local economy. But more than that, teachers have used their industrial muscle to influence and transform the lives of the communities they live in and the children they teach. This has been a constant feature of the demands and struggles of teachers in the region.

radical leadership

Section 22 of the SNTE is led by a group of radical teachers organised in the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE). In opposition to the 'charros' (cowboy) leadership — a group traditionally aligned to the Institutional Revolutionary Party — the CNTE has waged a campaign since the 1970s to break the SNTE from a conservative leadership. One of the consequences of the suppression of the Oaxaca uprising was the capture of a number of schools by the rival PRI aligned Section 59 of the SNTE. According to the Narco News website many of the “Section 59 teachers [have] neither classroom experience nor college degrees ... the problem is so widespread as to make it necessary for the state normal schools ... to conduct classes in pedagogy to the teachers”. Perhaps more significant than a lack of qualifications is that those schools controlled by Section 59 have not taken a lead in fighting for reform.

new demands and prospects

Section 22 launched a twenty one day strike on 19 May demanding the “freeing of all political prisoners, an end to the political repression of the movement, the handing over of all Oaxacan schools which are presently controlled by the government to the people and new elections within the SNTE which has a history of corruption” (www.teacherssolidarity.com). Teachers have once again erected an encampment in the city centre (zocalo) where they camp in rotation with union members from other parts of the state. State police are patrolling the periphery of the camp but have not entered as a visible force. A report on libcom.org states that “the strike, supported since day one by the SNTE members in the state of Michoacan, has also seen solidarity by other SNTE members in the states of Guerrero ... and Chiapas”.

As yet there are no signs of life beyond the actions taken by the SNTE. Oaxacans will have the brutalisation and murders of 2006 fresh in their memories. But the actions of Oaxaca’s teachers, in 2006 and again today, are significant for Mexican politics and instructive for the international working class movement. Rather than evade or confuse the role of the state and bureaucracy like the Zapatista movement (active in the neighbouring Chiapas), the workers of Oaxaca took on their corrupt union leaders, took control of a whole city and fought back against brutal police action. That the teachers of the SNTE continue their struggle is an inspirational message of belief in workers democracy and struggle.