Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mexican March Against Nafta

Photoessay by David Bacon
Truthout Photoessay, 2-13-14

Part One - Teachers and Electrical Workers March

On Friday, January 31, two huge marches took place in Mexico City to oppose the corporate reforms of Mexico's economy and politics, on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Marchers opposed especially the most recent reforms -- the privatization of the oil and electrical industry, the introduction of U.S.-style standardized testing and attacks on teachers, and the labor law reform that will weaken unions and give employers the right to hire temporary and contingent workers.

Teachers in the National Coordinadora of Education Workers (CNTE) and members of the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) marched in the morning. The unions of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and their allies marched in the afternoon. The morning march included about 2000 participants, including hundreds of teachers from Oaxaca, who have been camping out since the beginning of the school year in a planton in the Plaza de la Republica. The afternoon march included tens of thousands of people.

The division reflected the participation in the afternoon march of large contingents of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, the most left of Mexico's three major parties. The UNT invited Cuauhtemoc Cardenas to be the march and rally's sole speaker. Cardenas is the son of Lazaro Cardenas, Mexican President in the 1930s who expropriated the property of U.S. oil companies and nationalized the industry. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas ran for president twice, and was denied victory by massive fraud in 1988. He then helped organize the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which he formally leads.

Cardenas invited the participation of the PRD in the march. Teachers and the SME then withdrew to organize their own march, because the PRD deputies in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies had supported the education reform, and failed to oppose strongly the energy reform. In addition, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, former Mexico City mayor and the PRD's presidential candidate in the last two elections, registered a new party, MORENA, the day before the march. Lopez Obrador announced that it would not run joint election campaigns with the PRD, and did not participate in the afternoon march.

While the internal problems of the progressive movements Mexico are an obstacle to the growth of an effective movement to oppose corporate globalization, many advances have been made in the last 20 years in which the North American Free Trade Agreement has been in effect. The left governs Mexico City and several states, although the PRD has deep internal divisions and many people are leaving to join MORENA.

At the time NAFTA went into effect in 1994, solidarity between Mexican, U.S. and Canadian unions and popular movements hardly existed. Today solidarity networks share a common political perspective and are capable, at their best, of organizing mass actions that express the rejection of the free trade model by a majority of people in each country. The two marches in Mexico City coincided with simultaneous marches and demonstrations in many cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Binational organizations exist today as well, coordinating opposition. The Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB) organized marches and rallies a few days later in Oaxaca, Baja California and California. "We oppose the structural reforms of energy, education, finance and politics, because they respond to the needs of transnational corporations and harm indigenous and marginalized people," said FIOB binational coordinator Bernardo Ramirez. "We reject as well the mining concessions and the privatization of public services and industries, such as water, education and electricity. They are robbing Mexicans of their national wealth, and condemning a majority to poverty, and with it, forced migration."

A striking teacher walking through the teachers' encampment, or planton, in the Plaza de la Republica. Leftwing teachers, members of the National Coordinadora of Education Workers, have been living here in protest of the education reform that would impose standardized testing, like that in the U.S. The Region Mixteca is part of the state of Oaxaca, which has the largest union of radical teachers in the country.

A striking teacher from the state of Guerrero wears a red star on his cap, as he walks behind the banner in the teachers' march against education reform on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A teacher from the state of Guerrero holds a banner with the face of Lucio Cabañas, who led a guerrilla struggle against the Mexican government in the 1960s and 1970s. Cabañas was a teacher, and a founder of the Party of the Poor. Radical teachers in Guerrero and other states look up to him as a hero because he organized poor farmers in the countryside to fight against the oppression of the government and landlords.

Teachers from Miahuatlan, a municipio in Oaxaca, march carrying a sign identifying the region they're from, and saying "Not One Step Backwards." Are they happy because it's a pleasant day for the march, or because they believe in what they're marching for?

The march of teachers and fired electrical workers turns from the Reforma onto the street leading down to the Zocalo. In the most luxurious hotels in Mexico City government officials and corporate executives meet and make the decisions and polices that the marchers are protesting. To the wealthy, these marchers are upsetting the natural order of the world they control.

Young teachers from Oaxaca hold a banner announcing their support for their counter reform program, PTEO, which their union has designed as an alternative to the government education reform that their march is protesting. They call the government plan "poison" because it threatens to take social consciousness and the love of teaching out of the schools.

As teachers march around him, a young boy pushes a cart up the street, loaded with goods for a sidewalk stall. Thousands of boys like him start work very young to support their families, and stop going to school. Behind the marchers rises the luxurious Hotel Melia, which towers over the dome of the monument to the Revolution that promised to favor the poor over the rich.

A masked young man carries a handmade sign saying, "Rebellion is life, Submission is death." He and members of the Red and Black band of anarchists march in support of the teachers and electrical workers. Others of this group carry signs accusing the subway system of robbing workers and the poor. Mexico has a long history of anarchist movements going back over a century.

The broken-down van of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) drives in front of the banner held by fired union members. In the window is a sign supporting the presidential campaign of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who was a progressive mayor of Mexico City. Forty four thousand workers were fired when the federal government dissolved the state-owned power company for the city, as a prelude to passing a constitutional amendment allowing it to be privatized.

Behind the march of the teachers and electrical workers come the city workers with brooms and trash cans to sweep the streets, and remove all traces that the marchers had passed by only minutes before.

(Part Two - National Union of Workers March, follows in a separate message.)

Interviews with David Bacon about his new book, The Right to Stay Home:

Book TV: A presentation of the ideas in The Right to Stay Home at the CUNY Graduate Center

KPFK - Uprisings with Sonali Kohatkar

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