Mexican Teachers Fight Corporate Reform

Illustrator: David Bacon

Preschool teachers from Huatulco at the plantón (occupation) in the main square of Oaxaca.
Photo David Bacon

“What they’re doing to us is subtle genocide,” Euterio Garcia, an Indigenous teacher from Oaxaca, Mexico, told reporter Shirin Hess. “I am a bilingual teacher for Chinanteco and Spanish. I have no materials with which to teach my students, no books, nothing. There is no light or water in the village, and no proper plumbing. This is what motivates many of us.”
Garcia is one of about 80,000 members of the National Coordinator of Education Workers Union (CNTE), a dissident faction within the national teachers union (SNTE). The CNTE is leading an increasingly militant and broad-based struggle against an education “reform” package that is being implemented, without teacher input, by the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The history of the reform package is eerily familiar to education activists in the United States: It was designed—behind closed doors—by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a multilateral free-market organization, and by Mexicanos Primero, an education think tank founded, according to Hess, by “some of the richest and most politically influential men in Mexico.” It includes elevating English to the second language while ignoring the many Indigenous languages at the center of Mexico’s rich cultural mix, punitive teacher evaluations, compulsory standardized testing of teachers every two years, an increase in privatization, and a constitutional change that holds teachers and parents responsible for maintaining the physical infrastructure of schools. The SNTE, which the CNTE sees as corrupt and in collusion with the government, has endorsed the reform package.

Resistance to the corporate reforms has spread throughout Mexico, particularly since a massacre on June 19 in the rural Oaxacan town of Nochixtl‡n, where police killed nine civilians and wounded 100 when they broke up a peaceful demonstration. At least 22 people have been disappeared. Simultaneous demonstrations at 57 different points in Mexico City forced authorities to end school three days early. The last week in July, teachers in Chiapas set up a highway blockade on a main thoroughfare.

Police and other armed groups used military-grade force to break the blockade, injuring at least two teachers. The violent repression from the government has brought students, church organizations, trade unionists, parents of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students, and the Zapatistas into the movement.

According to La Jornada opinion editor Luis Hernández Navarro: “The movement has turned into a true hurricane.” As academic activist Gustavo Esteva told Democracy Now!: “This is a very complex war. It did not start in Oaxaca. The teachers’ struggle, it is a global struggle. It started in Colombia, in Brazil, in Chile, in the United States—everywhere. And today we are in a war trying to say a very firm ‘no’ to this kind of education.”

The Oaxacan teachers have developed an alternative reform proposal based on four main principles: democracy, nationalism, humanism, and communitarianism. It emphasizes the importance of supporting Mexico’s diverse cultures and the need to provide all schools with basic infrastructure, including bathrooms and electricity. The goal of the demonstrations include freeing activists who have been imprisoned, employment security, payment of salaries withheld because of participation in demonstrations, and a fair dialogue with the government about the direction of education in Mexico.

Based on reporting by Shirin Hess (“Oaxaca’s Teachers Movement Not Thwarted by State Terror,” Waging Nonviolence, June 17, 2016), Marta Sanchez at Teacher Solidarity, and Luis Hernández Navarro at La Jornada. See also “Facing Bullets and Prison, Mexican Teachers Stand Up to Education Reforms,” by David Bacon, Equal Times, Aug. 2, 2016.