Indefinite Mexican teachers strike – Clashes leave 100 injured and nine dead

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THOUSANDS of teachers are on strike throughout Mexico against the education ‘reforms’ of the Nieto government, which has met their demonstrattions and barricades with state force.

They are winning huge support, and last Friday Zapatista Indigenous groups delivered almost three tons of food to the striking teachers from the CNTE dissident union in the impoverished state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

The Zapatistas moved into action after Mexico City teachers began indefinite general strike action last Tuesday. Supplies were delivered to the CNTE (National Coordinator of Education Workers) union and will be distributed among the striking teachers who are blockading the highways as part of the protests against the education reforms of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Trucks with sacks of food began arriving in the City of Palenque, located in the north of Chiapas and famous for its Mayan ruins, on Friday morning. The National Indigenous Council and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, have long supported CNTE teachers in Chiapas and have publicly criticised the state’s repression of protesters and activists.

The Zapatistas have encouraged teachers affiliated with the CNTE union to keep fighting, especially after the massacre in the Indigenous community of Nochixtlan in Oaxaca on June 19, when 11 people lost their lives. Meanwhile, the Zapatistas’ solidarity has been met with appreciation from the CNTE, whose members are often poor. The teachers have pledged to continue their protests until their demands are met.

Items Zapatista groups have donated include beans, rice, coffee, pepper, squash, sweet potato, cassava and plantain. Another teacher in Oaxaca died last Tuesday from injuries sustained last month after he was hit in the head when police attacked protesters in Nochixtlan.

Jose Caballero Julian taught Indigenous education and was part of a group of teachers who began the national strike against the Nieto government’s education reforms. The police evicted the teachers who were striking outside the Public Education Institute of Oaxaca when Caballero was hit in the head and later hospitalised.

About 800 policemen also cleared roads blocked by more than 500 teachers in the southern state of Oaxaca. The clash lasted hours, and people were bombarded with tear gas and other crowd control munitions. Meanwhile, the CNTE announced they will continue the protests, and warned there will be more road blockades.

Similarly, 20 roadblocks are being held throughout the state. According to the striking teachers, there is no agreement to lift them. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong issued an ultimatum last Friday, saying the time of the blockades had been ‘exhausted’ and that soon they would make a decision to prevent so-called ‘damage’ to the citizens of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

The government plans to lay off tens of thousands more teachers and has also threatened those who are attending the massive protests. The CNTE union has approximately 200,000 members, and numerous local unions and groups have joined the general strike in Tabasco, Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. Parts of southern Mexico are running out of food, medicine, gasoline and other critical supplies.

Despite the promise of talks between the teachers’ movement and the government, the prolonged strike and roadblocks have spread from the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas to Mexico City and other regions of the country. Tensions are particularly high on the road that connects Oaxaca to Mexico City, and the government is threatening to again use force to clear the roads.

Last month clashes between police and protesters left nine people dead and around 100 injured after police tried to stop teachers from blocking roads and highways. There are at least 13 blockades throughout Oaxaca – some in place for more than 20 days. In parts of Oaxaca hit hardest by the food and gasoline shortages, some stores have closed and hotel reservations have been cancelled, threatening Mexico’s summer tourism industry and potentially forcing hotels to lay off staff.

Asked how much longer the government would tolerate the teachers’ roadblocks, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio said in a radio interview last week that the government had reached its limit with the protests, which, he claimed, have been ‘affecting the rights of the majority of people in Oaxaca and Chiapas.

‘We haven’t stopped pursuing dialogue, and we won’t stop, but there must be favourable circumstances… for the dialogue to continue.’ But there has been little dialogue between the CNTE and the Nieto government, which has often resorted to repressing the protesters with security forces, since the education reforms were implemented in 2013.

The government describes the reforms as an effort to establish merit-tested jobs and improve the quality of public schools in Mexico. But the CNTE teachers are demanding the repeal of the education overhaul, which established a regime of teacher evaluations and put an end to longstanding trade union rights.

Teachers are also protesting against the policy that brought an end to Mexico’s national system of teacher training schools, allowing anyone with a college degree in any subject to be hired to teach.

Talks were set to be held between the CNTE and the government on Monday. In a statement released at the beginning of June, the Zapatistas posed the following questions regarding the ongoing national teachers’ strike in Mexico:

‘They have beaten them, gassed them, imprisoned them, threatened them, fired them unjustly, slandered them, and declared a de facto state-of-siege in Mexico City. What’s next? Will they disappear them? Will they murder them? Seriously? Will the “education reform” be born upon the blood and cadavers of the teachers?’

On Sunday, June 19, the state answered these questions with an emphatic ‘Yes’. The response came in the form of machine-gun fire from Federal Police directed at teachers and residents defending a highway blockade in Nochixtlán, a town in the southern state of Oaxaca and roughly 80 kilometres northwest of the state capital, also called Oaxaca.

Initially, the Oaxaca Ministry of Public Security claimed that the Federal Police were unarmed and ‘not even carrying batons’. But after ample visual evidence and a mounting body count to the contrary, the state admitted federal police opened fire on the blockade, killing six.

Meanwhile, medics in Nochixtlán released a list of eight killed, 45 wounded and 22 disappeared. Teachers belonging to the CNTE, a more radical faction of about 200,000 inside of the 1.3 million-strong National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), the largest union in Latin America, have been on indefinite strike since May 15. Their primary demand is the repeal of the ‘Educational Reform’ initiated by Mexican President Nieto in 2013.

The reform seeks to standardise and privatise Mexico’s public education system, as well as weaken the power of the teachers’ union. The teachers are also demanding more investment in education, freedom for all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, truth and justice for the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, and an end to the structural reforms in general.