The strike started May 22 when 70,000 teachers, members of Section 22 of the national teachers union SNTE, walked off the job demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Teachers in Oaxaca state are among the lowest paid in the country.
The fight expanded after a failed attempt by the police to break up the teachers encampment in the state capital June 14. After that assault, a coalition of political, student, union, indigenous, and other organizations formed the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Thousands of protesters occupied the capitals main plaza, took over several radio stations, and are blockading City Hall and state offices.
Underlying these class tensions are the social conditions in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico. It has the highest rates of infant mortality, death during childbirth, and malnutrition in the country. Living conditions are even worse for the large indigenous population, which also faces systematic discrimination. In recent years these conditions have led to numerous peasant struggles for land, and workers demands for improved conditions and against police brutality.
Enrique Rueda, head of the teachers union in Oaxaca, said October 3 that the SNTE would not take part in negotiations until Gov. Ulises Ruiz resigns because we cant sit at the same table with those who have always repressed and exploited the people. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated the Mexican national government for 70 years. Many in the protest coalition are supporters of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), one of the three main bourgeois parties along with the PRI and the National Action Party (PAN).
The strike and protest movement have become a national issue. On October 3, Section 18 of the SNTE announced that its members in Michoacán, a nearby state, would launch an indefinite strike if the government used military repression against the Oaxaca strikers and APPO. The teachers union in 14 other states has also pledged to join such a work stoppage. On October 12 dozens of students began an occupation of Oaxacas Autonomous University Benito Juarez in support of the protests.
The bosses and government stepped up their pressure against the strikers. Employers in Oaxaca carried out a 48-hour strike September 28-29 demanding the government act to crack down on the protests, which have cut into the tourist industry. President-elect Felipe Calderón demanded that incumbent Vicente Fox put an end to the conflict before Calderon assumes office December 1. Both are members of the PAN.
Governor Ruiz ordered the teachers to return to work as of September 26, although virtually none obeyed, and cut off the wages the strikers had continued to collect until then.
Fox stated October 2 that as long as there is the possibility of reaching an agreement were going to insist on it, but if a deal isnt reached, breaking the law must always be impeded and should be punished.
Over the previous weekend, hundreds of soldiers and navy troops massed at the Oaxacan port of Salina Cruz and began patrolling the area, including marching a good distance inland toward the capital city. Protesters reported that military helicopters were carrying out low flights over their camps. They responded by building barricades with bags of cement and tree trunks.
The tentative agreement between Section 22, APPO, and Abascal reportedly includes that state authorities would release 18 jailed teachers and their supporters and drop charges against 300 others, and that the Mexican Senate would consider the proposal to remove Governor Ruiz. Before the agreement was even discussed by the rank-and-file union members, however, police resumed their attacks and harassment of the protesters and the occupation and protests continue.
On the Picket Line
Goodyear tire strikers win solidarity
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