Oaxaca teachers strike: Protest and echoes of insurrection

From Roarmag, we share below a report on the militant teachers strike in Oaxaca, mexico, which the State authorities  seem determined to crush by whatever means necessary.  With the toll of detained, wounded and killed rising, what seems to be at stake here is not only putting an end to a teachers’ protest against proposed national education reforms (what is essentially a neo-liberal labour reform to break the power of the teacher’s union), but the desire to prevent (and the fear of this happening) any re-birth of the “Oaxaca Commune” of 2006, and the spread of such revolutionary gestures to other regions of the country.

Mexican police brutally attack Oaxaca’s striking teachers

Scott Campbell, Roarmag (21/06/2016)

Ten years after the Oaxaca Commune of 2006, teachers in the Mexican state are back on the barricades — and once again the state responds with brute force.

In a statement released on Friday, June 17, 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? The ‘education’ reform will 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 kilometers northwest of the capital city of that state, also called Oaxaca.

Initially, the Oaxaca Ministry of Public Security claimed that the Federal Police were unarmed and “not even carrying batons”. 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. On Monday, the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), the teachers union leading the strike, said ten were killed on Sunday, including nine at Nochixtlán.

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 Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013.

A neoliberal plan based on a 2008 agreement between Mexico and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the reform seeks to standardize and privatize 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 neoliberal structural reforms in general.

The state has refused to even talk to the union, instead deploying thousands of federal police and gendarmerie to areas where the strike is strongest — primarily Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán and Mexico City, though also in states such as Guerrero, Tabasco and Veracruz.

A late night attack on June 11 against a teachers’ encampment blockading the Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education (IEEPO) by more than 1,000 police led to teachers and residents quickly mobilizing and establishing barricades and highway blockades in the early morning hours of June 12. Also on Saturday, the top two leaders of the CNTE’s Oaxacan branch, Section 22, were arrested in Oaxaca and Mexico City, and 24 arrest warrants issued for others in leadership positions.

The Nochixtlán blockade was one of those erected on June 12 and for a week had been successful in preventing hundreds of federal forces from reaching the city of Oaxaca. Dozens of highway blockades were in place by June 14, the day that tens of thousands came out to the streets to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the beginning of the five-month-long 2006 rebellion.

The CNTE controlled 37 critical spots on highways throughout the state, blockaded in part with 50 expropriated tanker trucks. The blockades were so effective that ADO, a major first-class bus line, indefinitely cancelled all trips from Mexico City to Oaxaca and federal police began flying reinforcements into airports in the city of Oaxaca, Huatulco (on the coast), and Ciudad Ixtepec (on the Isthmus).

On Sunday morning, the federal and state police attack on the people and teachers of Oaxaca began in earnest. Nochixtlán defended its blockade against a four-hour police assault, resulting in the previously mentioned nine deaths. Police took over the local hospital and forbid entry to anyone not wearing a uniform. The wounded demonstrators were treated in churches and schools, likely resulting in more deaths due to lack of necessary treatment.

The next police attack on Sunday occurred at the blockade in Hacienda Blanca, 11 kilometers north of the city of Oaxaca. There police fired tear gas from helicopters, including into the school being used as a makeshift medical center, and there were reports of live ammunition being fired.

After breaking the blockade, they began going door-to-door looking for people in hiding. The police advanced into the municipal boundaries of Oaxaca and heavy clashes occurred in the Viguera neighborhood at the Juárez Monument. Police again used live ammunition, wounding a young man who later died of his wounds, making him the tenth fatality of the day. Another death occurred near the blockade in Juchitán, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, when a reporter covering the protests was shot by “unknown subjects” in circumstances that remain unclear.

Sunday night, police began cutting power to various sections of the city and public transit was suspended, raising fears that federal and state forces would attempt to take the city and the teachers’ encampment in the main square (the Zócalo). As of this writing, such an attack has not occurred and around 30 highway blockades remain in place in Oaxaca, along with barricades in the historic city center. Police and gendarmerie did attack a blockade in Salina Cruz, a major port city, but it was successfully defended by teachers and residents.

Monday saw at least 40,000 people march in Oaxaca to protest Sunday’s state violence. Eighty-one civil society groups issued a “humanitarian alert due to the armed State attack on a civilian population.” Of note is that none of those killed on Sunday were teachers. Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cué claimed that teachers are in the minority on the blockades. This was an attempt on his part to delegitimize the struggle, but it instead speaks to the growing solidarity sparked by the teachers’ strike.

Also on Monday, prominent Oaxacan artists released a call for an end to state repression and a “cultural barricade against repression” was held that afternoon. The Oaxaca Minister of Indigenous Affairs resigned in protest and students took over the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (UABJO), including its radio station, Radio Universidad.

Teachers in neighboring Chiapas organized blockades at major points in the capital city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Nine people, including journalists, were detained at a solidarity demonstration in Mexico City. The arrested women were threatened with rape by the police and were sexually assaulted. All were later released.

The situation continues to develop and change rapidly. One thing is certain: ten years after the birth of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), the ember of resistance has ignited again, as has the desire and brutality of the state to stomp it out once and for all.

(Scott Campbell is a radical writer and translator based in Oakland, California. He previously lived in Mexico for several years, including Oaxaca. His pieces appear frequently on El Enemigo Común and It’s Going Down.)

 

 

For further information/analyses of the current strike, see the sites of the Jacobin Magazine and Teacher Solidarity.

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A joint statement of solidarity with the striking teachers was released by the National Indigenous Congress of mexico and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) …

FROM WITHIN THE STORM

Joint Communique from the National Indigenous Congress and the EZLN on the cowardly police attack against the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers and the indigenous community of Nochixtlán, Oaxaca.

June 20, 2016

To the People of Mexico:

To the peoples of the World:

Faced with the cowardly repressive attack suffered by the teachers and the community in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca—in which the Mexican state reminds us that this is a war on all—the peoples, nations, and tribes who make up the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation say to the dignified teachers that they are not alone, that we know that reason and truth are on their side, that the collective dignity from which they speak their resistance is unbreakable, and that this the principal weapon of those of us below.

We condemn the escalation of repression with which the neoliberal capitalist reform, supposedly about “education,” is being imposed across the entire country and principally in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Michoacán. With threats, persecutions, beatings, unjust imprisonments and now murders they try to break the dignity of the teachers in rebellion.

We call on our peoples and on civil society in general to be with the teachers who resist at all times, to recognize ourselves in them. The violence used to dispossess them of their basic work benefits with the goal of privatizing education is a reflection of the violence with which the originary peoples and rural and urban peoples are dispossessed.

Those who delight in power decided that education, health, indigenous and campesino territories, and even peace and security are a commodity for whoever can pay for them, that rights are not rights but rather products and services to be snatched away, and they dispossess, destroy, and negotiate according to what big capital dictates. And they intend to impose this aberration through bloody means, murdering and disappearing our compañer@s, sending our spokespeople to high security prisons, making shameless torture into government marketing, and with the help of the paid press, criminalizing the bravest part of Mexican society, that is, those who struggle, who do not give in, who do not sell out, and who do not give up.

We demand a halt to the repression against the teachers in struggle and the immediate and unconditional liberation of ALL political prisoners.

We invite all of the peoples of the countryside and cities to be attentive and in solidarity with the teachers’ struggle, to organize autonomously in order to remain informed and alert in the face of the storm that is upon all of us, knowing that a storm, in addition to its turmoil and chaos, also makes the ground fertile where a new world is always born.

From the mountains, countryside, valleys, canyons, and barrios of the originary peoples, nations, and tribes of Mexico.

Never Again a Mexico Without Us!
National Indigenous Congress
Zapatista Army for National Liberation
Mexico, June 20, 2016

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The Oaxaca protests of 2006 also began with a teachers strike, in the month of May, which very quickly gained more radical forms in response to State-police repression.  By mid-June, the city was in open rebellion, with labour unions, popular associations and collectives, cooperatives taking over the city and governing themselves through the APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca/The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca).  In the weeks and months to follow, the APPO would come to occupy/appropriate local radio and television, government buildings, and assume a collective self-management of the city.  In late November, the “Oaxaca Commune” would finally be repressed through State violence (some 27 people would be killed by the police) but the tensions of the past remain, as does, more importantly, the memory of the possibility of autonomy.

There are many sources for reflections on the events of 2006.  Among them, we may suggest the following: Roarmag, Libcom.org, Upside Down World.

Video (in spanish): Oaxaca: Between Rebellion and Utopia

 

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