Johnny Hazard : Mexico City Rocked by Massive Teacher Protest

Teachers mobilize in Mexico City, Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Photo by Alejandro Mancilla / The Rag Blog.

Militant teachers’ strike:
Massive protests continue in Mexico

The actions were a continuation of protests against an education ‘reform’ package first passed by Congress on new President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office.

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | September 5, 2013 

MEXICO CITY — Thousands of teachers, mostly members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), remain camped out in the center of Mexico City after having initiated a series of protests that have included blocking the airport for a day, blockades at the two major television networks in demand for equal time (they received three and five minutes, respectively), and marches that have forced the closure of various major thoroughfares and Metro stations.

Massive marches took place on Sunday, September 1, and Wednesday, September 4. The actions were a continuation of protests against an education “reform” package passed by Congress on new President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office.

There were also actions in other parts of Mexico including an hour-long shutdown of the border bridge by teachers in Juárez. A demonstration by teachers in Los Cabos blocked the airport there.

The actions of the CNTE do not represent, numerically, the biggest demonstrations in recent Mexican history, but have proven to be the strongest; the anti-election fraud movements of 2006 and 2012, and the militant protests after 45,000 electricians were arbitrarily fired by the federal government in 2009, pale in comparison.

Federal police mobilize in response to militant teachers’ action on Wednesday, September 4. Photo by Alejandro Mancilla / The Rag Blog.

With the protests of Chicago teachers this year and last, the demonstrations in Mexico City represent the most significant resistance to big-business-based education reform thus far.

September 1 is, by law, the day the president delivers his annual report (“informe,” similar to the State of the Union address). This year, the teachers planned to interrupt it or block roads leading to the Congress, so the president postponed his presentation until the next day, Monday, and had his top cabinet official hand over the written report to the Congress.

There was a march of about 50,000 teachers, with numbers disproportionately from Oaxaca. Since there were thousands of police and soldiers awaiting them at the Congress building, they began marching instead toward the presidential palace  Less than halfway, the rank and file (especially, again, those from Oaxaca) — after receiving news that the Congress had already begun meeting to pass a remaining set of “reforms” that day — demanded to go to the Congress.

So the marchers turned back towards the Congress building. As they got closer, some in the crowd — many of them not teachers — got into confrontations with police. There were a few arrests of “ultra” protesters — including young urban “anarquistas” as well as bystanders and independent reporters. Most of these arrests occurred  miles from the original march route, as the police had surrounded marchers and forced them to a distant location.

A group of 30 police horses were spooked by loud noise when officers took them out of their trailers near the Congress building and they stampeded through downtown Mexico City, causing quite a stir and substantial damage, especially to their paths, and a number of horses were injured as a result.

Monday and Tuesday, the Senate met to approve the reforms. Several Metro stations and at least three major avenues were closed all day — by the cops, not by the protesters — an example of how the ostensibly leftist city government is cooperating with its federal allies, in this case by creating traffic problems and blaming the teachers.

Wednesday brought a 24-hour work stoppage by teachers, including many in Mexico City, and a massive “insurgent mobilization.” Again, about 50,000 teachers and supporters gathered at the national auditorium, near the presidential residence, leading to speculation that the plan was to surround and shut down the residence, known as “Los Pinos.”

Demonstrators rally in Mexico City on Wednesday. Photo by Alejandro Mancilla / The Rag Blog.

But, perhaps because President Enrique Peña Nieto left Tuesday for the G-20 summit in Russia, the marchers instead headed toward other federal office buildings. After hours during which a group of teachers’ representatives were inside negotiating with low-level government officials, the marchers were still on the streets, in the rain, blocking a stretch of “the most beautiful avenue in Latin America,” Paseo de la Reforma — and were making plans to return to their encampment and launch similar actions on Thursday, including the possibility of a nationwide work stoppage.

Tens of thousands of teachers in the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca are already on strike. Teachers — who have been disproportionately blamed for students’ low academic achievement — are demanding that they be evaluated by means other than simple standardized tests and that, in turn, president Peña Nieto and the television networks also be evaluated.

Among the non-teacher participants Wednesday were a girl of about five years old with a T shirt that read, “Today I didn’t go to school. I came here to defend public education” and hundreds of women from the Triqui indigenous group of Oaxaca in their bright red traditional dresses.

Peña Nieto’s annual report — echoed constantly in advertising paid for by the government to promote its agenda — promised 120 days of major transformations in Mexico. That is probably true, but it remains to be seen whether the changes will be the ones that he has in mind.

Representatives of the CNTE have announced their intention to stay in Mexico City at least until Sunday, September 8, to participate in a rally organized by opposition political leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador against the privatization of the petroleum industry, and it is likely that they will try to hold out until September 16 to impede official Independence Day celebrations that take place every year in the Zócalo (central square) of Mexico City, exactly where the CNTE has its enormous tent city installed.

[A former Minneapolis teacher, Johnny Hazard now lives in Mexico City where he is a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México and author of Con estos estudiantes: La vivencia en la UACM, a book about that alternative university.]

See earlier Rag Blog coverage of the continuing Mexican teachers’ protests by Johnny Hazard and Shirley Youxjeste.

The demonstrators included young urban “anarchistas.” Photo by Alejandro Mancilla / The Rag Blog.

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1 Response to Johnny Hazard : Mexico City Rocked by Massive Teacher Protest

  1. Leslie C. says:

    Mr. Hazard–Thanks for your continuing coverage. I appreciated your earlier report in which you explained the situation of the CNTE as the dissident caucus inside the SNTE. Does public antipathy toward the corrupt Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the SNTE, diminish popular support for the teachers’ opposition to the education “reform”?
    I do recall that the 2006 CNTE strike in Oaxaca led to and provided leadership for the amazing popular struggle against the hated governor of that state.

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