Saturday, October 18, 2008

Teachers Strike in Mexico


As the teachers' strike in Morelos, south of Mexico City, nears the
two-month mark, supporters in the Coordinadora Nacional de
Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), the best-organized dissident
faction of the national union, the SNTE, installed a human blockade in
front of the national office of the Department of Education in Mexico

CNTE spokesperson Artemio Ortiz Hurtado said:
"Not even with force can they convince us that their reforms are to
improve the quality of education. What this is about is open
privatization, where neither teachers nor parents are considered." He
went to state the the CNTE will denounce "all repressive acts against
Mexican teachers, but especially those of Morelos. Toward this end, we
will look for contact with various social organizations and groups of
intellectuals and ask that they join with us in international
expressions of protest."

Ortiz Hurtado spoke in the aftermath of an attack on Thursday, October
9 by two thousand forces including state, federal and local military
and police forces with tanks, against parents who had blocked a
highway in Xoxocotla, 40 miles south of Cuernavaca, for 11 days in
support of striking teachers. There were 16 arrests, ten injuries, and
reports of warrantless house-to-house searches (Twin Cities style) and
the disappearance of at least five residents. This was the third such
police-military action in Morelos during the week.

Teachers in Cuernavaca and other communities remain camped out in the
plazas of their communities, though there is talk of a negociated
settlement to unblock certain Cuernavaca streets and sidewalks at the
request of storekeepers.


Twenty thousand of the 25,000 of the teachers in the state of Morelos,
an hour south of Mexico City, have been on strike since the school
year started August 18. According to La Jornada de Morelos, a local
outlet of the national left newspaper La Jornada, the decision to walk
out came spontaneously. Teachers in Morelos are members of Section 19
of the Sindicato National de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE). They
argue that the general secretary of the section was imposed by the
national union leadership and doesn't represent them. (SNTE president
Elba Esther Gordillo imposed new directors on the dissident Section 9
in Mexico City just before the strike in Morelos started. She changed
the site of the convention so many times that the real delegates
couldn't arrive, and a group of non-teachers hastily "elected" a
non-representative slate.)

Teachers were asked to attend assemblies in their towns and regions
for a presentation of the Alianza por la Calidad Educativa
(ACE—alliance for quality in education), a deal that had just been
announced by the "illegitimate" president, Felipe Calderón, his
secretary of education, self-help book author Josefina Vázquez Mota,
and Gordillo. (Many of us criticized the late American Federation of
Teachers president Al Shanker for racebaiting, for redbaiting, for
perpetuating himself in power; Gordillo makes Shanker look like Mr.

The ACE, which is an "agreement," not a law, mandates testing of
teachers, a new, more all-enc Teachers in Morelos attended the
assemblies in August to be informed about the ACE, but they began to
walk out of the assemblies and organize, and soon they were camping
out in the plazas of most cities and towns in the state, blocking
highways and, conversely, occupying toll booths from time to time and
letting people pass free. (The highway from Mexico City to Acapulco
passes through Morelos.) In Cuernavaca, capital and biggest city of
the state, the state house is on the main plaza, now occupied at any
given moment by hundreds or thousands of teachers. They are subject to
a negative campaign on the part of the state and federal governments
and most news media. One tactic is to call them lazy and selfish, to
which they reply that it would be easier to be at home and at school
than to be camping on the street during the rainy season.

The ACE is an "agreement", not a law, encompassing standardized test
for students, punishment for schools whose students don't attain high
scores, and various other "reforms" modeled after the ones that are
working so well in U.S. urban schools. It also contains some changes
in hiring procedures that on the surface would seem like progress,
like eliminating the practice of teachers' transferring their
positions to their children or even selling them. (These practices
were invented by people like Gordillo, who now denounce them as
aberrant and the work of amateurs. Some teachers, beat down by low
salaries, cling to any "benefit" they have.) Normal school graduates,
who historically have been guaranteed jobs, now will be hired only if
they score well on the new test.

When teacher test results were announced, normal school graduates had
generally scored lower than private school graduates. This prompted
Gordillo to announce, with the president and secretary of education
standing by subserviently, a plan to close normal schools and convert
them into vocational schools that would train the same students to
work in tourism. After the protests began, she denied having said
this, in an apparent attempt to pacify the dissidents.

Unlike their comrades in Oaxaca in 2006, the teachers of Morelos had,
until last week, escaped police repression but, also unlike their
counterparts in Oaxaca, they've made few alliances with parents,
students or the public at large, with the notable exception of
communities like Xoxocotla. One of the reasons appears to be that they
are unable or unwilling to rebut the claim of some news media that
their principal or only demand is to keep the right to will their
positions to their children. A tour of the tent city in Cuernavaca on
September 15, when there were about 2,000 teachers on the streets in a
six-to-eight-block area, turned up a few signs claiming this "right,"
many opposing the ACE in general terms, many demanding recognition of
the economic rights of teachers, many attacking Gordillo and her local
counterpart, a few invoking the revolutionary legacy of Emiliano
Zapata and thus of the state of Morelos (rural teacher Otilio Montaño
helped Zapata write the Plan de Ayala in 1911). The banners that spoke
directly about education attacked the latent privatization of
children's education and of teacher training that the ACE represents.

Teachers in Mexico City and various other states, especially
Michoacán, Baja California Sur, Yucatán, and Guerrero, are engaging in
similar battles in their regions.

Elba Esther Gordillo, SNTE president, is a special case. In 2003, she
was elected Secretary General of the Partido de la Revolución
Institucional (PRI), while retaining the leadership of the union. She
was then elected to the Congress where she became the coordinator of
the PRI, a position akin to that of majority leader. (The PRI was the
ruling party for many years until the election of Vicente Fox of the
PAN in 2000 and still wields enormous power in many states.) An
internal PRI conflict forced Gordillo out of the congressional
leadership. She disappeared for awhile to her multi-million dollar
home in San Diego (bought with guess who's dues?) and later emerged as
the founder of a new party, PANAL, whose voters and candidates tend to
be teachers still loyal to hack unionism.

In the 2006 presidential elections, Gordillo forged an alliance
between the PANAL and the PAN to oppose her old PRI rival Roberto
Madrazo and the left populist candidacy of Andrés Manuel López
Obrador. The film Fraude: México 2006, directed by Luis Mandoki and
released this month in the U.S. (possibly under another name),
documents how Gordillo called PRI governors during the final hours of
open polling centers on election day and told them things like: "The
PRI is finished I suggest that you call Felipe (Calderón) and sell him
what you've got."


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