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(en) Mexico, Oaxaca, From Teachers' Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge

Date Sat, 09 Sep 2006 15:48:17 +0300


The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and
so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from
all parts of Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly inspiring
people throughout this nation. In the meantime, the situation in
Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty, with much seemingly dependent
on the power struggle centered in Mexico City over the presidency.
Those currently in the saddle are doing everything possible to insure
continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but the majority of Mexicans may be
ready for much more fundamental changes. Education, true
education, is indeed subversive. Adelante!

Oaxaca shares, with Chiapas and Guerrero, the distinction of being
the one of the three poorest states of Mexico. These three bastions of
extreme poverty, albeit among the richest states of Mexico in natural
resources, lie along the Pacific coastline in southeastern Mexico.
Oaxaca is flanked to its east by Chiapas and to its west by Guerrero.
Its population, about 3.5 million (2003 estimate), is unique among
Mexican states in containing the largest fraction, 2/3, and the largest
absolute number of people with indigenous ancestry.

Which of the 31 states holds top place for corruption would probably
be impossible to measure in this intensely contested Mexican arena,
as highlighted in the fraudulent July 2, 2006 presidential election, but
for sure Oaxaca merits high placement on the corruption scale.
Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the indigenous
population is among the most impoverished. Naturally they are very
sympathetic to the struggles of indigenous peoples in other parts of
Mexico to better their lives, such as the attempts of the Zapatista base
support communities in Chiapas, that have declared themselves "in
rebellion" and asserted their autonomy, often at great cost due to state
and federal efforts to crush them.

The 70,000 or so teachers in the state educational institutions, state
employees, are, by Oaxaca standards, far from poor. They are part of
the state's "middle class". So it's not as though the majority of poor
people are usually very sympathetic. This quarter-century-long
tradition of a Oaxaca teachers' strike each May never before was
much more than a nuisance for the city business people, for a week or
so, until the union and the state government negotiated a settlement,
the teachers ended their occupation of the city center and returned to
their homes throughout the state.

Why was this year so different?

It will come as no surprise to los Americanos that in Mexico, as in the
U.S., there are 'conpany unions'. But here, south of the border, the
'company' is the ruling party of the federal government, a big
'company' indeed. The National Union of Educational Workers (El
Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo, SNTE) is a very large
and powerful union, hierarchical in structure. For over 70 years the
SNTE had been in bed with the government of the ruling party, the
Revolutionary Institutional Party, El Partido Revolucionario
Institucional (PRI). In fact, until recently, the General Secretary of
SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was second from the top of the PRI
leadership, just below Roberto Madrazo.

Section 22 of SNTE is the Oaxaca part of the National Teachers
Union. Among Mexican teachers there is another formation, the
National Educational Workers Coordinating Committee (Comité
Coordinador Nacional de Trabajadores Educativo CNTE). In Oaxaca
the CNTE, whose members belong to SNTE Section 22, play a
leading role in setting Section 22 policy. Section 22 has long been
regarded as one of the most militant, independent sections of SNTE.

On May 15, National Teachers' Day in Oaxaca, the leadership of
Section 22 of SNTE declared that if their negotiations with the state
government did not progress, they would initiate a state-wide strike
the following week. The teachers were demanding an upgrade in the
zonification of Oaxaca, which would increase the federally-designated
minimum wage for the state. The "logic" (i.e. rationalization) of the
federal government for having lower legal minimum wages in poor
states like Oaxaca is apparently that it's cheaper to live in a more
impoverished region than in one with a higher average income. Such
an upgrade of Oaxaca would affect waged workers in Oaxaca who are
paid the minimum wage, but would not affect those paid above the
minimum, like the teachers. For themselves the teachers demanded a
salary increase. Their other demands involved improved school
facilities and meeting students' needs. Much of the money supposedly
budgeted for education is siphoned off by corrupt officials. There is no
accountability, a process not even legally required in Oaxaca and no
bookkeeping.

Negotiations from the 15th to the 22nd between the union and the
state, instead of moving towards a compromise agreement, became
even more acrimonious. Beginning May 22, a large group of teachers,
other education workers, family members, allied individuals and
members of allied organizations, numbering perhaps between 35,000
and 60,000 (hard numbers are impossible to know) occupied the
center of Oaxaca City - the large central park (the zócalo) and some
56 blocks surrounding it - with their encampment. Local business,
hotel and restaurant owners were, by and large, critical because of
financial losses caused by the disruption. Quite normal. The ritual of
an annual teachers' strike was by now about a quarter century old. But
never before had it been so large, so prolonged. Even now, no end is in
sight.

During a period of barely three and a half weeks, May 22 to June 14,
the strength of the teachers' opposition to Governor Ulises Ruíz
Ortíz continued to grow, with additional adherents nursing their own
grievances against the dictatorial regime allying with the formidable
SNTE contingent. Frequent marches, and two mega-marches, the
first on Friday June 2 with between 50,000 and 100,000 (the police
and SNTE estimates, respectively), and the second on Wednesday,
June 7, with 120,000 brought to the city demonstrations of size and
vehemence never before seen here. I watched the June 7 march from
the parapet on the north side of the Plaza de Danza as endless
mockery of Ulises Ruíz paraded past, demanding boisterously that
he leave the governorship. Undoubtedly there were state spies in
civilian clothes with cameras, cell phones, video cameras and tape
recorders, but no one seemed in the least intimidated or cautious. The
entire event was permeated with a sense of peoples power.

On June 14, when Ulises unexpectedly ordered state police to carry
out a surprise early pre-dawn attack on the sleeping teachers (many of
them women with their children), destroying their tents and other
camping gear and firing tear gas and bullets, even using a police
helicopter that sprayed tear gas on the campers, to drive them out of
the city center, he ignited a mass uprising throughout the state and
beyond. The teachers fought back, drove out the police after about
four hours, recapturing the city center and gaining admiration
throughout the state for their gritty determination not to be terrorized
into submission.

In his year and a half in office since December 1, 2005, Ulises had
succeeded in generating a powder keg of hatred across the state
towards him because of his tyrannical rule. This included his overt
attempt to destroy the state's largest-circulation daily newspaper,
Noticias de Oaxaca , his destruction of much-loved parts of the capital
city's world-famous cultural patrimony, numerous killings by armed
thugs tied to the ruling party, in communities struggling against
corrupt and oppressive state-appointed municipal administrations. In
sum, it was his attempt to rule by "excessively overt" terror, including
kidnappings, jailings on baseless charges, torture, and death, and
always impunity for the state thugs terrorizing the people, that turned
the population en masse against him.

Moreover, history was against him. Fresh in peoples' memory was the
sadistic early May attack in San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State by
federal, state and municipal police, and the outrage against the
authorities then - incarceration and worse for the victims, impunity for
the perpetrators. There was a pervasive sense that in such a society,
everyone is a "political prisoner unto death". A multitude of civic
organizations in, and outside of, Oaxaca swarmed to declare their
solidarity with the teachers. Immediately after the attack the teachers
announced, and two days later led a huge march, their third
mega-march, with 400,000, that included many new adherents. They
all demanded URO's resignation or removal from office.

The show of strength quickly led to formation of a statewide assembly
that termed itself the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca,
Asemblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca .. Though instigated as a
result of the teachers' initiative and the ugly state repression, the
assembly went far beyond the teachers' original demands, which had
been limited to educational matters. Ousting a hated governor had
been done before on three occasions in Oaxaca. Not trivial, risky of
course, but not by itself a revolutionary act.

APPO is established, sets revolutionary goals

In addition to the immediate third mega-march on June 16 (two days
after the assault), the popular movement of teachers and other
members of civil society held the first state-wide popular assembly the
following day, just three days after the attack of June 14. In this
precedent-breaking assembly meeting, the Popular Assembly of the
People of Oaxaca ( (APPO, by its initials in Spanish) adopted a truly
revolutionary program by declaring itself the supreme authority in
Oaxaca, and asserting the illegitimacy of the entire political structure,
which had ruthlessly run Oaxaca as a PRI-terrorist-controlled state for
nearly 80 years.

APPO's deliberately broad representation evidently excluded any
explicitly political groups, i.e. it was to be a "non-political" formation,
truly a peoples' government. As Nancy Davies wrote in her report,
"Popular Assembly to Oppose the State Government", its initial
meeting on June 17 "was attended by 170 people representing 85
organizations." Included, or at least invited, "were all the SNTE
delegates, union members, social and political organizations,
non-governmental organizations, collectives, human rights
organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of
the entire state of Oaxaca." Its intention was to be open to all the
citizens of the state. There was no attempt, so far as I know, to
exclude wealthy people from the assembly. Naturally, most very rich
people who saw their interests served by the URO regime would not
want to be involved in an effort to remove him and the rest of the
governing apparatus, but wealthy 'mavericks' who rejected social
injustice were evidently welcome. The only 'absolute requirement' for
participation was agreement that Ulises must go.

Flimsy barriers such as those that had not prevented the police assault
of June 14 were clearly inadequate. APPO adherents went about
establishing stronger barricades against future invasions. They began
commandeering buses, some commercial, as well as police and other
government vehicles, using some of them to block access roads to the
zócalo and other APPO encampments. Other of the commandeered
vehicles they used for transportation.

APPO's major strategy for bringing pressure to bear on the
government, in order to force either URO's resignation or his legal
removal, has been to literally prevent the institutional government
from carrying out its functions: legislative, judicial and executive (i.e.
administrative). The tactic deserves to be called aggressive civil
disobedience, meaning that APPO adherents carry out their forceful
"illegal" actions as civilians (unarmed, i.e. no firearms). Some of them
have poles, iron rods, and even machetes, but these are for
self-defense. The culture here is not one of 'turning the other cheek'.
They don't sit down and pray if police attempt to beat them. They have
blocked highways, occupied government buildings and made a good
many tourists and potential tourists reconsider Oaxaca as a desirable
destination, thereby shaking the economy

As for 'winning the hearts and minds' of Oaxaqueños, the 'hearts'
part of the task has been in large part already accomplished, thanks to
the arrogance and aggressiveness of URO - the hatred he managed to
sow since taking office as governor on December 1, 2004 and which
he's now reaping. Even people who are not thrilled with APPO are so
disgusted with URO that they are more likely to be passive rather than
actively opposing APPO by supporting the governor.

Winning minds, as APPO well knows, is essential. They have made
that a major part of their work. The government and its corporate allies
fully realize the importance of what people think. The media of
communication are therefore a prime arena in the contest to influence
peoples' consciousness.

The fight for the communication media

The very first action of the state forces in their pre-dawn attack on
June 14 was to destroy the teachers' radio station, Radio Plantón. It
had been serving not only as a source of pro-teacher propaganda since
the start of the strike, but as a vital communication link broadcasting
(within its limited range) 24 hours a day. Soon after the Radio
Plantón equipment was smashed, students at the Benito Juarez
Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO in its Spanish initials)
seized the university's station, a licensed station with a much more
powerful transmitter, and kept it going non-stop in support of the then
rapidly-growing rebellion. The student-operated UABJO station was
attacked several times, first on June 22, and eventually put out of
commission after a diversionary tactic the night of August 8 enabled
three people who had earlier infiltrated the movement to enter and
throw sulphuric acid on the equipment, ending, at least for a time,
those broadcasts.

Revolutions are not, by their nature, tidy affairs. There is no simple
chronology according to which, at certain key dates, one important
group of actors halts its activity and a different group takes the stage.
Rather, a multitude of groups fills the stage at any given time, and the
flow of activity is continuous - no separation of the actions marked by
curtain calls. Thus it may be a questionable effort to try to divide the
flow into phases. While the attack of June 14 did clearly mark a
separation of events into two different phases, the ensuing struggle
has been, and will likely be a continuous flow. Nevertheless, the action
of the women who seized the state television and radio stations on
August 1 so powerfully upped the ante in the struggle to control the
communication media that I will say that act initiated a third phase of
the struggle.

On July 1, the day before participants in La marcha de las caserolas
(the march of women beating their pots and pans with wooden
spoons) went on to seize the state TV and radio stations, only Radio
Universidad was broadcasting for the popular movement. By then it
had been on the air daily for almost of seven weeks. It was to continue
for another 8 days until the sulphuric acid attack shut it down. But by
then Channel 9, TV Caserolas as some folks dubbed it, had been
broadcasting 8 days.

The move to seize, or as a graffiti on the wall of the control room at
the transmission tower phrased it, to re-appropriate facilities paid for
with the peoples' money, was a bold escalation in the struggle for the
media. Channel 9 and FM 96.9 covered the entire state. For 3 weeks,
from August 1 until the early morning assault on August 21, the
"voices and images of the people" dominated these normally
state-controlled airwaves in the struggle aimed at "winning the minds"
of the people, although of course the powerful national corporate
channels, TV Azteca and Televisa continued their pro-state
broadcasts. But what a vision of hope sprang from the screen those
three weeks! Ordinary people in everyday clothes spoke of the reality
of their lives as they understood them, of what neo-liberalism meant to
them, of the Plan Pueblo Panama, of their loss of land to developers
and international paper companies, of ramshackle rural mountain
schools without toilets, of communities without safe water or sanitary
drainage, and so on, all the needs that could be met if wealth were not
being stolen by rich capitalists and corrupt government agents.

And not all was about Oaxaca and its problems. The horizon of
consciousness reached abroad as, on one occasion that Nancy
mentioned to me, Channel 9 broadcast a documentary videotape of
living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. One can
only imagine the level of global grassroots solidarity if the media,
worldwide, were controlled by popular groups instead of transnational
corporations.

This flood of uncontrolled, unmediated, spontaneous communication
among the population must have terrorized the former economic and
political rulers of Oaxaca by the threat it posed, but they dared not try
a repeat of their June 14 heavy-handed attempt to crush the popular
uprising. Rather than risk another open failure the state authorities
pursued a strategy of clandestine warfare, as described vividly by
Diego Enrique Osorno in his 28 August special report from Oaxaca to
Narco News . The desperate authorities pursued their so-called
Operation "Clean-Up". As Narco News stated, "Following the CIA's
'Psychological Operations' Manual for the Nicaraguan Contras, the
State Government Has Unleashed a Bloody Counterinsurgency
Strategy to Eliminate the Social Movement".

The onslaught by these clandestine heavily-armed police officials and
state thugs on the transmission facilities of TV Caserola and Radio
APPO up on Fortin Hill above the city revealed the government's
panic. This assault, in the very early hours on Monday 21 August,
totally destroyed the control equipment housed in a building at the
base of the transmission tower. The racks of electronics were smashed
and sprayed with automatic weapons fire, bullet holes only inches
apart in some of the panels, which I photographed that Monday
evening. There are, as explained to me by a student friend involved
with one of the movement radio stations, several components that
made up the state's TV and radio stations: 1) the studios where
interviews, news reporters, panel members, etc. met, 2) a repeater
station whose antenna received the signals from the studio building
and "bounced" them to the transmission station, and 3) the
transmission facility atop Fortin Hill, which broadcast the programs to
the entire state.

By knocking out the transmission tower facility the
government-directed thugs insured that APPO could not operate the
occupied state TV and radio stations. The damage wrought at the
transmission control room was a shocking double admission: 1) the
URO government knew it was unable to retake and hold each of the
three components of its broadcasting stations, and 2) the impact of the
APPO broadcasts was an intolerable threat. Therefore they destroyed
a key component of what they surely regarded as their own governing
infrastructure.

The battle for the air waves continues. Later that day, the 21, having
lost the use of Channel 9 and FM 96.9, APPO groups seized twelve
commercial radio stations belonging to nine different companies. The
number of seized stations broadcasting for APPO varies from time to
time. This morning (29 August) we were able to pick up three, one
AM and two FM at our location below the base of Fortin Hill. Apart
from radio, the movement produces and distributes a great deal of
printed material, videos and CDs, and seeks to spread its point of view
by all means of communication. Radio of course remains particularly
important.

On August 16 and 17 a national forum was held in Oaxaca to discuss
"Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca." Sponsored by
fifty organizations within Oaxacan civil society, as Davies wrote, it
provided "an opportunity to analyze the crisis and propose alternative
solutions from the perspective of civil society, including a new
Oaxacan constitution, and by implication, a blueprint for the nation."
The basic problems that beset Oaxaca exist throughout Mexico and
so it is not surprising that the invitations to attend brought people from
all parts of Mexico. What is taking place in Oaxaca is clearly inspiring
people throughout this nation.

In the meantime, the situation in Oaxaca remains full of uncertainty,
with much seemingly dependent on the power struggle centered in
Mexico City over the presidency. Those currently in the saddle are
doing everything possible to insure continuance of PAN/PRI rule, but
the majority of Mexicans may be ready for much more fundamental
changes. Education, true education, is indeed subversive. Adelante!

George Salzman was a long-time maverick physics faculty member at
the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus. Now retired, he has
lived for seven years in Oaxaca. He can be contacted at
george.salzman@umb.edu
--------------------------------

# Teachers Seize Radio Stations in Oaxaca
http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/F9909302-D7A3-48F0-998E-19A2A91D9126.htm
# Recent APPO Statement: Red Alert in Oaxaca!
http://www.ainfos.ca/en/ainfos18388.html
# La repression continue a Oaxaca - Mexique (fr)
http://www.ainfos.ca/fr/ainfos06127.html
-------------------------------------------
From Teachers' Strike Towards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge
In Oaxaca - By GEORGE SALZMAN - Oaxaca, Mexico August 30, 2006
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