For years, many Mexican teachers have been protesting against privatizing and union-busting education reforms. One protest this past Sunday, June 19, in the Oaxacan town of Nochixtlan ended in gun fire leaving at least 9 teachers and their supporters dead and more than 100 wounded. Reports disagree on the origin of the violence. Federal Police chief Enrique Galindo said masked individuals unaffiliated with the union were behind much of the violence, lobbing Molotov cocktails and shooting at police and civilians. Local witnesses say federal and state police are responsible for the killings.
The protests are organized by CNTE – Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación or National Coordinator of Education Workers – an offshoot of the older national union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE). Most see SNTE as closely allied with the ruling party, PRI, and it has been charged with corruption.
CNTE was formed in the southern, high poverty, part of Mexico. Many teachers are products of normal schools and teacher-training programs under attack in current reforms. And so, apparently, are members of the general populace and the police force, as graffiti can be seen in Oaxaca saying: “Police, remember who taught you to read.”
Sundays protests were prompted by the arrest of union leaders, Francisco Manuel Villalobos Ricardez and Ruben Nuñez, as well as the firing of thousands of teachers involved in an earlier work action. Following the shootings, Mexican President Nieto said he was ordering an end to the conflict. Even after this, however, officials arrested yet another union leader. Eugenio Rodriguez Cornejo was detained on suspicion of “aggravated assault and unlawful deprivation of liberty” relating to an incident in late 2015. CNTE supporters believe leaders are being deliberately targeted in a federal campaign of intimidation.
The Mexican government and CNTE leaders entered into a dialogue on Wednesday, but it was suspended until Monday with the government insisting that it still supports approaches to ending the conflict that don’t hurt established educational reforms and union leaders insisting on change.
In solidarity with the teachers of Oaxaca, six thousand marched in Monterrey, Chihauhau, and other northern cities. In addition, Chicago Teachers Union – which has positions of solidarity with CNTE going back several years — staged a die-in at the Mexican Consulate in Chicago. The Badass Teachers Association also stands in solidarity.
Look for a solidarity action at the upcoming People’s March for Public Education and Social Justice. Massachusetts teacher and activist Gus Morales discusses on the June 23 Education Town Hall.