Letter from Mexico: CNTE teachers’ goal: autonomous learning

From the September-October 2015 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Héctor

Mexico, DF—Since its split from the official teachers’ union in 1979, the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) has been struggling for autonomy, new labor relationships and a non-capitalist educational model.

In September 2013, tens of thousands of people—teachers outside the CNTE, students, parents and activists—demonstrated throughout Mexico to show their rejection of the government’s privatizing educational reforms. Since then, the CNTE has been working intensely on the design and realization of an alternative (autonomous) educational model.

CNTE teachers in union chapters from around Mexico march in Oaxaca city to protest the government’s so-called educational reforms.

One year later, September 2014, the state-instigated disappearance and murder of 47 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal school pushed dissident teachers to assume a new political role: They have been the main supporters of the parents’ search for their missing children. By doing so, the teachers have made clear that their struggle is not isolated. They understand their struggle as a part of a nationwide battle against capital and its corrupt governments.

In Guerrero, Michoacán, Chiapas and Oaxaca—states with a major presence of rural teachers—and also in Mexico City, teachers’ solidarity with the parents of the Ayotzinapa students was concretized by the call to boycott June elections, with significant success in some places. “We don’t want to vote on criminals,” they said, echoing the demand of the Ayotzinapa parents, and they organized to partially stop the “electoral circus.”

At the same time, the government’s drive to impose the so-called “educational reform” did not stop. Evaluations to determine whether teachers are “competent” workers or not—and, therefore, if they should be fired—have intensified, especially in this last year. In response, teachers from the CNTE have blocked buildings where such evaluations were supposed to take place, and exhorted teachers belonging to the official union not to submit to them. The demand of the dissident teachers is clear: the state should immediately cancel the “educational reform.”

In July, the government attacked the teachers by firing all the members of the CNTE who worked at the Public Education State Institute of Oaxaca (IEEPO). Since then CNTE issued a national call both to boycott the 2015-2016 school year beginning at the end of August, and to have a national workers’ strike.

At first sight, the militant dissident teachers could be seen as a minority (compared to the teachers who belong to the official union). However, as Marx said about the 1844 Silesian workers’ strike, their “small” struggle carries within itself the dignity of the universal.

A march for Ayotzinapa. Photo by Jazbeck.https:// www.flickr.com/photos/jazbeck/15424744587/

A march for Ayotzinapa. Photo by Jazbeck.https://www.flickr.com /photos/jazbeck/15424744587/

This has been proved practically by other groups, including teachers not in CNTE, or with no experience as activists, who have become more sympathetic to CNTE demands. They, too, have experienced the punitive effects of the “educational reform.” Similar teachers’ struggles can now also be seen in Santiago, Chile, and in the U.S. in Chicago among other cities.

The success of these struggles depends, of course, on the revolutionary activity of the teachers, on how they are able to relate to other workers, students, parents, activists, etc. At the same time, success depends on how they follow up with the creation of an alternative educational model that would deepen their search for authentic autonomy. The success of the teachers’ struggles depends on how they are able to face revolutionary tasks, in practice as well as in theory.

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