On Sunday in Mexico, police fired on teachers demonstrating in Oaxaca, in the south of the country. According to official sources, eight people are dead, more than 50 were injured and 25 others were detained. Local organizations offer a graver toll: 10 dead, over 100 injured and indiscriminate arrests. The teachers have published the names of nine people killed, and a 10th victim has not yet been identified.
Police have admitted to using firearms on Sunday night, but they accuse the teachers of firing the first shots and of being “infiltrated by radical groups.” The protesters in turn denounced the presence of snipers and agents with high-caliber weapons from the beginning of the demonstration. They have dismantled the police’s version with photographs and testimonials, according to which “only at the end, when the agents were already retreating” a “support group of the Federal Police carrying large-caliber weapons” arrived to the location.
Saturday, the teachers of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores del Estado (National Coordinating Entity of State Workers), or CNTE, of Oaxaca held several marches and blocked roads in different parts of the highway. They were backed by student workers and other social sectors affected by the neoliberal policies of Henrique Peña Nieto. Before Sunday’s clashes, 500 teachers were attacked by 800 officers of the Federal Police in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and they denounced the “dirty war” of the local authorities against them, conducted through misinformation.
Since May 15, the Coordinadora is on a war footing in defense of public education, and it has organized pickets and marches in the capital, backed by student and parent organizations. Despite the hard line chosen by state and federal authorities that have threatened to replace teachers participating in the struggle, in some states the strike has affected 95 percent of pre-school, primary and secondary schools.
The CNTE has a mighty power to mobilize its membership, which grown over the years. It has about 200,000 members throughout Mexico, 80,000 of whom work in Oaxaca. It is one of the most combative Latin American unions, fighting for the improvement of living and working conditions for the state worker class. But it also raises more general political issues that are pressing for deep structural reform.
Under the pretext of “improving the educational quality of the country,” the 2013 educational reform, promoted by Peña Nieto, imposed a mandatory assessment of teachers as a condition for access to employment, a better salary and career advancement and for their permanence in the educational system. The teachers are asking, among other things, to derogate this provision, which resulted in thousands of layoffs (and put 9,000 jobs are at risk).
Hundreds of intellectuals and social movements in Mexico and several other countries (from Latin America to Europe and the United States) have signed an appeal to support the claims of the teachers. The document states that it has verified the existence of “a smear campaign coming from several fronts against teachers who oppose the reform and are seeking, first of all, for a dialogue.
The appeal rejects “the brutal repression the federal government is implementing against Mexican teachers,” and it asks Peña Nieto to meet the “just demands” of the CNTE, to release “political prisoners and to guarantees the safety “of the thousands of people who have mobilized against education reform.”
The document concludes that taking away the rights to legitimate social protest “is certainly the main characteristic of an authoritarian state.”