How Mexican Teachers Unions Are Pushing the Presidential Frontrunner Left

Jeff Abbott May 31, 2018

Mexico's presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during a press conference at the National Press Club on March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

As Mex­i­co moves clos­er to the July 1 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, can­di­date Andrés Manuel López Obrador (com­mon­ly referred to AMLO) is sig­nal­ing his sup­port for the thou­sands of com­mu­ni­ties fight­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion across Mex­i­co. López Obrador hails from the Jun­tos Hare­mos His­to­ria coali­tion — a cen­ter-left coali­tion of Nation­al Regen­er­a­tion Move­ment Par­ty, The Labor Par­ty and the Social Encounter Par­ty. He is the for­mer may­or of Mex­i­co City and wide­ly con­sid­ered to be the fron­trun­ner. López Obrador has found a sig­nif­i­cant ally in the Oax­a­can teach­ers of Sec­ción XXII, who are push­ing the can­di­date to take a more left-lean­ing posi­tion on pri­va­ti­za­tion and reject con­tro­ver­sial edu­ca­tion reforms.

On May 12, López Obrador announced in a speech in Puebla that he rejects pri­va­ti­za­tion pro­grams of pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tions. Pri­va­ti­za­tion poli­cies are over,” he declared. Water will not be pri­va­tized; health ser­vices will not be privatized.”

Among the pri­va­ti­za­tion efforts he focused on were the edu­ca­tion reforms passed by Enrique Pena Nieto, call­ing the mea­sures a humil­i­a­tion of the teach­ers.” López Obrador announced in mid-May that he would end the edu­ca­tion reform.

The announce­ment rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of resis­tance to the con­tro­ver­sial reforms, accord­ing to the teach­ers of Oaxaca’s Sec­ción 22 of the Nation­al Union of Edu­ca­tion Work­ers (Sindi­ca­to Nacional de Tra­ba­jadores de la Edu­cación, or SNTE) and The Nation­al Coor­di­na­tor of Edu­ca­tion Work­ers (Coor­di­nado­ra Nacional de Tra­ba­jadores de la Edu­cación, or CNTE).

The teach­ers’ deci­sion to pur­sue an agree­ment with the López Obrador was made in Feb­ru­ary dur­ing the V Polit­i­cal Con­gress of Sec­ción XXII. Eloy López Hernán­dez, Sec­ción XXII’s Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary, announced the deci­sion to influ­ence this elec­toral sit­u­a­tion by ori­ent­ing the con­scious and rea­soned vote towards the bases, to the par­ents of fam­i­ly and soci­ety in gen­er­al, to being guar­an­tors of the pop­u­lar will in favor of the alter­na­tive project of nation” that López Obrador’s cam­paign rep­re­sents. Car­los Bar­riosa, a mem­ber the polit­i­cal sec­tion of Sec­ción XXII, is using a pseu­do­nyn due to con­cerns of polit­i­cal repur­cus­sions. He tells In These TImes that, in pre­vi­ous assem­blies, the teach­ers had decid­ed to either boy­cott elec­tions or to cast null votes.

[The agreement]means one more form of strug­gle against the edu­ca­tion­al reform that the CNTE and Sec­ción XXII have resist­ed in dif­fer­ent ways,” said Bar­rios. There is no con­sen­sus with­in the CNTE itself, but the tac­tic of seek­ing an ally in the elec­toral process is anoth­er way of fight­ing to bring down the nefar­i­ous reform.”

The edu­ca­tion reforms were devel­oped by Pres­i­dent Pena Nieto in Feb­ru­ary 2013 amid wide­spread and sus­tained protests from teach­ers asso­ci­at­ed with CNTE from across the coun­try in Mex­i­co City. The reforms were offi­cial­ly passed into law by the Mex­i­can con­gress in Sep­tem­ber of that year.

The new edu­ca­tion sys­tem includes more stan­dard­ized test­ing, as well as bian­nu­al per­for­mance tests for teach­ers in order to weed out under­per­form­ing teach­ers. Fur­ther­more, teach­ers’ employ­ment, pay and bonus­es become tied to the out­come of testing. 

Many teach­ers charge that the reforms fail to address the prob­lems that the com­mu­ni­ties they serve face on a dai­ly basis, includ­ing the lack of ener­gy in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties, as well as wide­spread pover­ty. They argue that the reforms are tru­ly a masked assault on their labor rights.

Besides strip­ping teach­ers unions of their influ­ence, the reforms also began to per­mit the arrival of char­ter schools into the coun­try. At the moment, there are at least 7 char­ter schools oper­at­ing in North­ern Mex­i­co mod­eled off the Wash­ing­ton D.C.-based KIPP char­ter schools. 

In June 2016, protests against the reforms turned dead­ly when Mex­i­can Fed­er­al Police opened fire on pro­test­ers in the town of Nochixtlán, Oax­a­ca. Eight peo­ple were killed and at least 170 oth­ers were injured.

The Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment of Mex­i­co has also sought to crim­i­nal­ize the lead­er­ship of the union for resist­ing the reforms. At least four lead­ers of Sec­ción XXII are cur­rent­ly incar­cer­at­ed for their protest. Mem­bers of the union hope that the elec­tion of López Obrador would lead to their liberation.

We hope that jus­tice will be done and the AMLO Gov­ern­ment will grant them imme­di­ate free­dom after 5 years unjust­ly impris­oned in max­i­mum secu­ri­ty pris­ons,” said Barrios. 

The reform of edu­ca­tion is just part of the pri­va­ti­za­tion push that began decades ago. Since the finan­cial cri­sis in the 1980s, the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has pur­sued neolib­er­al struc­tur­al adjust­ment reforms. The impacts have been numer­ous, includ­ing low­er wages, and more labor insecurity. 

The admin­is­tra­tion of Pena Nieto has dou­bled down on these reforms, includ­ing over­see­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the nation­al ener­gy com­pa­ny Petróleos Mex­i­canos (PEMEX). The oil com­pa­ny was nation­al­ized dur­ing the admin­is­tra­tion of Lázaro Cár­de­nas in 1938, in what is wide­ly seen as a major accom­plish­ment of the 1910 revolution. 

López Obrador has faced crit­i­cism from pro-edu­ca­tion reform groups such as Mex­i­canos Primero for his alleged dou­ble speak on his posi­tion on edu­ca­tion, lead­ing the can­di­date to state in Feb­ru­ary 2018 that he would not repeal the reform. Yet López Obrador has sought to include the voic­es of teach­ers into the debate over the reforms. Accord­ing to Pro­gre­so, he said in Febrary 2018 you can­not car­ry out an edu­ca­tion reform with­out the teach­ers.” He pro­posed work­ing with the teach­ers to improve the qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion with­out hurt­ing labor rights. 

Among those who hope to see a social­ist can­di­date, López Obrador has been crit­i­cized for his rela­tion­ship with busi­ness lead­ers. Sec­ción XXII has his­tor­i­cal­ly tak­en a crit­i­cal posi­tion to cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions in Mex­i­co. In 2006, the union was at the heart of the upris­ing in Oax­a­ca against the gov­er­nor Ulis­es Ruiz Ortiz, which estab­lished the Pop­u­lar Assem­bly of the Peo­ples of Oax­a­ca. The teach­ers of Sec­ción XXII acknowl­edge that the elec­tion of López Obrador is not the end of cap­i­tal­ism, but rather a step in the strug­gle against neoliberalism. 

We rec­og­nize that the project or polit­i­cal plat­form pro­posed by AMLO and MORE­NA does not rep­re­sent an anti-cap­i­tal­ist gov­ern­ment,” said Bar­rios. But we believe that it can allow dif­fer­ent con­di­tions that allow us to con­tin­ue search­ing for the true social trans­for­ma­tion of a bet­ter world out­side of neoliberalism.”

Jeff Abbott is an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist cur­rent­ly based out of Guatemala. He has cov­ered human rights, social moments, and issues relat­ed to edu­ca­tion, immi­gra­tion, and land in the Unit­ed States, Mex­i­co, and Guatemala. He has writ­ten for the North Amer­i­can Con­gress on Latin Amer­i­ca, Wagin​non​vi​o​lence​.org, and Upside​down​world​.org. Fol­low him on twit­ter @palabrasdeabajo
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