Letter from Mexico: Police kill defiant teachers in Oaxaca

From the July-August 2016 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Héctor

Chicago Teachers Union members outside the Mexican Consulate on June 22 in solidarity with Oaxaca teachers. Photo by Micah Uetricht.

Chicago Teachers Union members outside the Mexican Consulate on June 22 in solidarity with Oaxaca teachers. Photo by Micah Uetricht.

Since May 15 (Teachers’ Day in Mexico), members of the National Coordination of Educational Workers (CNTE)—the independent branch of the official teachers’ union—have been taking actions to protest the “educational reform,” a labor discipline enacted in 2013 that the government has tried to impose since then. Teachers have had daily demonstrations and sit-ins not just in Mexico City, but in several other states.

However, the government says it won’t have any dialogue with the teachers unless they submit to its “reform.” Furthermore, the only “dialogue” it knows is repression, which has escalated from taking over the sit-ins, to attacking demonstrators with batons and tear gas, to murdering nine people and injuring more than 40 on June 19 in a blockade in Noxchitlán, Oaxaca.

Teachers, on the other hand, in spite of the strong repression, say that they won’t give up their protests until the government cancels such “reform.” The teachers are not alone: An important part of Mexican society has shown its support for them, marching with them, bringing food and money to the sit-ins, and more.

This support includes, in particular, students and parents from Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas and elsewhere, who have declared that if the government fires the dissident teachers or tries to replace them, they will occupy the schools. This solidarity wouldn’t have been possible without the close bond that the teachers have built through years and years with their communities, especially in these rural and Indigenous regions.

The Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) have recently published three communications on the importance of the teachers’ struggle. They place the teachers’ struggle alongside the other resistances that are taking place nationwide.

The repression from the state, which has been directed not just against teachers, but against the people who support them, has given birth to its opposite: unification of resistance. As a teacher from Chiapas stated: “The larger the repression, the more the people wake up and the movement grows. If state violence escalates, so does [mass] organization.”

The teachers’ struggle is not for particular prerogatives—as the government wants us to think—but has a universal dimension. It is the struggle of all workers against neoliberal labor rules, and it carries the seeds of a new educational model: non-capitalist, at the service of the whole society. The struggle of the teachers is, therefore, not alone theirs, but everyone’s.

This is not just a slogan. As we have seen, hundreds of thousands of people have realized that and given flesh and blood to such an idea. We are, therefore, at a new moment of protest in Mexico. How can we help to develop it, in order that we concretize the possibility of a new, truly human world that the teachers’ struggle carries within itself?

First, we’d have to listen to the teachers’ experiences and thoughts, to be with them, to understand them. That is, to realize that movements from below consist not alone of muscle and of demonstrations, but that through them come mind and reason, concepts of social change, of uprooting the old and construction of the new: teachers’ experiences, conditions of work, ideas for an alternative educational system.

But this is not all. We also have to ask: What is the meaning, the significance, of this new moment carried out by the masses? To answer this, there has to be also a solidarity of ideas, a development of an emancipatory vision, a new Humanism for our day. Such a vision that is rooted in the voices and actions from below, that is organic to them, that is with them—is not something abstract or purely theoretical, but a revolutionary force that helps to make leaps in the human quest for freedom.

Can we then help to recreate such an emancipatory vision at this moment, when the struggle of the teachers has put us at a turning point of history in Mexico? This is the task that, for revolutionaries, for collectives of activist-thinkers, is most urgent. Are we up to it?

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