Despite Facing Threats of Force, Mexican Teachers Continue to Strike
As Mexico’s general strike spreads to the political centers of Mexico City and Monterrey, John Ackerman says international solidarity can play a role in preventing the use of governmental force
DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor, joining you in Baltimore.
Across Mexico, tens of thousands of teachers and other working people have been on strike since May. Just yesterday, another teacher died due to police-inflicted injuries during a protest in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Also this week, public school teachers in Mexico City have joined in the action. They’re now on day three of an indefinite general strike.
Joining us to speak about the latest developments in Mexico is John Mill Ackerman. John is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and editor in chief of the Mexican Law Review.
Thanks so much for joining us yet again, John.
JOHN MILL ACKERMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, MEXICAN LAW REVIEW: Thank you, Dharna. Pleasure as always to be on The Real News.
NOOR: So, John, teachers are now mobilizing in 11 Mexican states, 11 of 31. Could we start with just a bit of a refresher for our new viewers by talking about what they’re protesting against, about the proposed neoliberal reforms by President Enrique Peña Nieto?
ACKERMAN: Yeah. Well, the education reform specifically is designed to push out the more experienced teachers, who are inspired by a long legacy of humanistic critical education, which envisions teachers as being community leaders. And what’s being replaced is a new model of OECD and World Bank neoliberal education reforms, which are basically–the first step are applying standardized tests to school teachers in order to justify firing them. This doesn’t go along with any set of serious investment in education or a more full rethinking of educational curriculum. All we have is application of standardized tests in order to justify affecting labor rights. And as a result, teachers all throughout the country from the South, and now including the North–Monterrey, Mexico City–are now protesting, and it has become a much larger struggle, not just about teaching education, but about neoliberalism, about labor rights in general.
NOOR: Last time you were on The Real News, about a week ago, a little over a week ago, you spoke about mobilization in Mexico City that was beginning in solidarity with the teachers by the MORENA Party. And now public school teachers through Mexico City, the capital of the state of Mexico, are on strike. So can we talk a bit about what the reaction has been like from officials in Mexico City and/or in the state of Mexico?
ACKERMAN: Sure. Yeah. Well, this is really without precedent in both Mexico City and Monterrey, which are the two most important economic centers and political centers in Mexico. The teachers have taken to the streets. This has been rare, ’cause most of the teachers’ mobilization has been in the South. And there was this big march we talked about in Mexico City as a site of protests. But actually the teachers of Mexico City and of Monterrey coming out in the streets is a very new development.
The government has, fortunately, not resorted to extreme force yet. There was already, of course, this great massacre of June 19, which has created this uprising. And last Friday, on June 30, the secretary of government, which is sort of the vice president of Mexico, openly threatened the teachers that if they didn’t go back to work and if they didn’t leave their blockades and the highways and the streets throughout the country, he would have to resort once again to force. He even used language which hearkened back to the student repressions of the ’60s and the ’70s.
But fortunately, the last week, the government has had to take a step back from that, while the teachers have not taken a step back. They’re moving forward. I think one of the most important factors in this is the international supervision which is happening in Mexico today. People are becoming increasingly aware that the Mexican government is out of hand, out of line. And attention from The Real News and other places, I think, is helping to empower civil society in Mexico.
NOOR: OK. And let’s also turn back to Oaxaca. The demonstrations were spearheaded by the teachers union, CTNE, and they were sort of spearheaded in the state of Oaxaca. Yet another teacher just died again because of police violence in the state of Oaxaca. I know that the CTNE was planning to meet with the state government on July 11, but the Oaxacan government said they would only meet if the union ends street blockades. What will become of this? Will the meeting take place? Will the union back down? Will the government back down?
ACKERMAN: Now, right, this teacher had been injured previous to the other massacre, the Nochixtlán massacre [incompr.] was on June 11, when they were protesting at the state education offices in Oaxaca.
Now, there is a negotiating table (mesa negociación) taking place in Mexico City between the secretary of government (Osorio Chong) and the union, all the different protesting teachers unions from five different states. This has not actually made any progress yet. But the teachers have been doing a good job of keeping the agenda as a general issue of the defense of public education and keeping their different contingents together from the different states, because what the government has been trying to do is to buy out, co-opt, and repress each of the different teachers groups, and they’ve been coming together and also joining with society in Oaxaca and with larger causes.
So, for instance, yesterday there was also a negotiation between the [incompr.] parents [incompr.] the students and the secretary of foreign relations, which has been folded into this whole issue [incompr.] demands to the Mexican government. And that negotiating table actually just broke down yesterday, and the [incompr.] parents are now protesting against the secretary of foreign relations.
So, as you can see, Mexico is going through a very intense process of social mobilization. The government is increasingly becoming discredited. There was a poll just this last Tuesday put out by actually a pretty mainstream newspaper which demonstrates that Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president, now has the lowest public approval ratings that any president has had in modern history, for the last 50, 60 years. And so this is actually good news, ’cause this means that people are waking up to the fact that this authoritarian presidency of Peña Nieto no longer gets the job done.
NOOR: And can you talk a little bit more about the response from the federal government of Mexico?
ACKERMAN: Yes. Like I said, last Friday, Osorio Chong, the vice president, secretary of gobernación, came out with very open threats that he would go in and violently attack the teachers once again. There have been–but he hasn’t done so, at least for the last week. He’s been under control.
I think they’re kind of waiting for the movement to die out on its own. They’ve offered these negotiating tables to give an impression that they’re willing to negotiate. But they’re holding back this use of force and threatening with that. Up to now this has not happened, but it’s very important for the international community to be aware.
And that’s really our big protection in terms of civil society in Mexico, ’cause that’s what the Mexican government really cares about: they don’t care too much about local civil society; what they really care about is international opinion. And if we can keep that eye on Mexico, then it’ll be much more difficult for them to resort to force, and they will have to reconsider this education reform, ’cause that’s the central demand of the teachers, not for raising salaries. They of course are defending their jobs, but the big issue that’s on the table is public education. And we need to rethink what educational reform is all about and take into account Mexico’s long history of public education instead of just moving so quickly into this neoliberal vision of private education and technocratic education.
NOOR: Well, we fully intend to stay with you, John, and continue to cover the fallout and the continuation of the strikes throughout the country of Mexico.
ACKERMAN: Thank you very much, Dharna. A pleasure to speak with you, as always.
NOOR: Thanks so much.
And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.
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