Live the Questions

Words of Torah, funny anecdotes about my students, rants about education policy, and observations on politics, progressive Judaism, activism, and culture will all make appearances on this blog. Each post will end with a question for the reader; please respond if you feel moved.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What the teacher's union protests in Oaxaca, Mexico have to do with beating the Neocon agenda

"What teacher's union protests in Oaxaca, Mexico?" you ask. Exactly. This is the biggest story not to have entered the mainstream media this month. My father was in Mexico last weekend and he didn't even find out. (Of course, he spent most of the trip coordinating care for his two aging aunties.)

So what's happening?
On May 22, 70,000 teachers from the state of Oaxaca went on strike to protest cuts to public schools and to advocate for salary increases and more governmental support for education. Much like the federal government in the US, the Mexican government seems to have the unspoken goal of privatizing education and undermining the public school system. So the teachers union (SNTE) went on strike. The protesters have occupied the central square in Oaxaca (Oaxaca is the name of both the state and its capital city) for over a month now. At the beginning of June, they were broadcasting news and reports from the occupied plaza on their own radio station.

The protests gained momentum and the teacher's union members were joined by parents, students, members of other unions, community groups, indigenous-rights groups, Zapatistas, and socialist parties. As often happens with protests (perhaps lamentably), the focus broadened and the protests became a generalized attack on the policies of the current governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz. The groups called for Ruiz's resignation. (See below for what's wrong with Ruiz.)

At 4:30am on June 15th, Ruiz called in around 2,000 members of the state police and special forces to forcibly remove the protesters from the plaza. A military helicopter was used to drop teargas. Many protesters were injured in the raid. There have been some reports that riot police have killed anywhere between 3 and 11 protesters, but I was not able to find this corroborated in the mainstream media, so you can decide whether or not you believe it. It has been documented that protesters have been beaten, attacked physically, teargassed, and arrested in large numbers.

The other thing the riot police did that smacks of oppressive dictatorship was to destroy the radio equipment that the protesters were using to broadcast news and information about their strike. A few days after the raid, the protesters were able to reoccupy the square and continue broadcasting from the university radio station. They are still there.

Many Mexican government officials were worried that the protesters would call for a large-scale boycott of the upcoming presidential elections (July 2nd) or that they would somehow interfere with the election process. The most recent news from the coalition of protesters in Oaxaca is an assurance that they will not interfere with the election.

Why should we care?
1. We should care about everyone's well-being and human rights, and Ulises Ruiz has pretty clearly shown that he is willing to go to extreme measures to repress dissent and to maintain power.
2. Mexico is our neighbor and will either be a major force in advancing the Neocon agenda for our hemisphere or will be able to stand up against that agenda. The elections of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia are hopeful signs that across Latin America people are ready to elect leaders that will stand up to Bush and to the traditional power structures in their own countries. This has a chance of happening in Mexico, too. Their presidential elections, set for July 2nd, will decide between Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a lefty candidate in the mold of Chavez and Morales (although not as radical, which I think is actually a positive thing) and Felipe Calderón, the conservative candidate, who would pretty much be a toady for the Bush administration.

Oaxaca's governor, Ulises Ruiz, is a member of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (what an Orwellian name, eh?), the party that controlled Mexico for most of the 20th century and was only overthrown in the last presidential election. As a holdover from Mexico's days as a one-party "democracy," Ruiz has demonstrated that he still governs with the PRI's Iron Hand approach. Since (as my dad pointed out to me) Mexico has only recently emerged from under the PRI's dominance, the people need to be assured that they can exercise their rights to vote, to express dissent, and to ensure that their government officials have some kind of accountability. There has been an upsurge in grassroots political activity. So Mexico is at a turning-point. If leaders like Ruiz see that they cannot wield oppressive power, then the teachers and other protesters will have brought home a real win for democracy, freedom, and progressive politics in Mexico. That's why I'll be at a protest on Wednesday at the Mexican Counsulate (see below.)

Scroll down for sources of information...

ACTION
Labor/Teachers Rally to Support Striking Teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico
Wednesday, June 28th 4:00-5:30 pm
The Mexican Consulate (27 E. 39th St. between Park and Madison Aves.)

PSC-CUNY, the union of faculty and professional staff at City University of New York, is calling for a picket at the Mexican consulate to support our brother and sister Mexican teachers fighting a bitter, difficult strike in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. We call on the Mexican authorities to stop the violent use of police against the strike, and to meet the just demands of Local 22 of SNTE (National Education Workers Union).

Sources
The NYT's one article: http://http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/22/world/americas/22mexico.html
an amazingly sensitive story from the Houston Chronicle:
http://http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/world/3981476.html
coverage from an "anticapitalist" site:
http://http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/2155
an incredibly negative article from the AP:
http://http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/MEXICO_ELECTIONS_PROTEST?SITE=ILMOL&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
in Spanish
http://http://www.noticias-oax.com.mx/
http://http://blogs.diariovasco.com/index.php/politicaoaxaca/2006/06/

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