Teachers rise up, face repression in Oaxaca
By John Kalwaic
In the city of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico teachers have started massive protests against neoliberal education reforms. These protests have come at a time when many Mexicans are protesting corruption in their government. The teachers came into conflict with Mexican police and troopers have frequently fired on them, killing several of the teachers. This has been a mirror of another rebellion in Oaxaca that took place in 2006 and led to what was known as the Oaxaca Commune. Mass demonstrations started again when the government of Mexico and its president Enrique Peña Nieto wanted to impose an educational reform bill from 2013 that imposes new teacher evaluations and tests on the education system.
Many teachers say that the tests and evaluations do not reflect the needs of students in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tabasco, Chiapas and other predominately indigenous areas of Mexico. The reforms had been dictated to the Mexican government by international organizations like the World Bank and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and then promoted by the government. The government’s reforms have led to the dismissal of nearly 10,000 teachers so far.
The union that represents the teachers is the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has fought back against these proposals. In May 2016, the Mexican government stopped negotiating with CNTE over the implantation of the reforms made three years prior: this is when the protests started. Because the government would not negotiate with them, the CNTE launched a massive strike in southern Mexico, which started on May 15. During the strike there were cases of police and troopers firing on demonstrating teachers, and on May 25 the situation grew extremely tense as police brought military-style vehicles. The police then shot rubber bullets at demonstrators. On the same day, May 25, tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City in solidarity with the CNTE teachers. On May 28, striking teachers in Chiapas took over the central media radio stations including Sistema Chiapaneco de Radio y Televisión (Chiapas Radio and Television System) and the Chiapas channel. A reason for this has been the mainstream Mexican media’s negative portrayal of the struggle as demonstrations of “radical teachers.”
From June 11 to June 13 barricades began to form again in Oaxaca as more demonstrators battled with police. Many at this point were wondering whether the Oaxaca Commune of 2006 would re-appear again in 2016 in reaction to President Nieto’s “education reforms.” On June 19 the Mexican government made good on its threats to attack striking teachers. Twelve people were killed and many more were injured. At the time many teachers had also already been arrested in the previous weeks. In response to the June 19 attack, the guerrilla group known as Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (the EZLN, or Zapatistas) in Chiapas released a solidarity statement for the CNTE teachers of Oaxaca, condemning the “cowardly act” of President Nieto’s government repression. Doctors from the medical group #YoSoyMedico17, which includes pediatricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, joined 200,000 physicians in a general strike on June 22 in solidarity with the CNTE teachers and also against Nieto’s universal health system reform. Many doctors and medical staff in Mexico believe Nieto’s medical reform is often the same as privatization of healthcare.
Support for the CNTE teachers has come from all over the world. On June 22 the Chicago Teachers Union conducted a solidarity demonstration for the CNTE teachers in front of the Mexican Consulate. It remains to be seen whether this uprising will end in another Oaxaca Commune, a narrow policy victory, or just more repression.
With files from Telesur TV, Popular Resistance, Left Voice, Common Dreams, Roar Magazine, and Abc 7 News.