Monday, August 19, 2013

It's back to school day in Mexico, but continued teacher strikes idle almost a million students in Oaxaca

Labor unions show relentless opposition to PRI education modernization efforts

Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca -
Classes resumed today for millions of Mexican elementary and secondary students, but even before thousands of school houses had opened their doors a powerful teachers' union called strikes in the southwestern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, which could quickly spread to other areas.

The union, La Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), told about 70,000 of its members to boycott classes in Oaxaca. The state has a population of 3.9 million, slightly over a million of whom are enrolled in school. Local officials reported that only about 40,000 were in classes this morning, with an estimated 977,000 stuck at home. Authorities said that as many as 13,000 schools were affected by the strike.

The situation is a repeat of educational labor troubles which plagued the impoverished Pacific coast region last spring. For months tens of thousands of Mexican teachers have protested educational reforms advanced by the new Institutional Revolutionary Party government last December, right after it took office. The most important reform, and the one which raised the most furor, requires teachers to be evaluated by an autonomous body rather than by their own unions, and to periodically submit to professional competency exams. The goal is to establish and enforce uniform national standards, replacing often less demanding regional and local evaluations which many teachers want to maintain.

The measure, which was embedded into the nation's core law as a constitutional amendment, easily passed both houses of the federal congress and was signed into law by PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto earlier this year. It is now awaiting final approval by the country's 32 separate jurisdictions.

Teachers filed almost 600 lawsuits challenging the educational reforms. But on June 7 a federal court in Mexico City dismissed all the actions, saying it had no authority to intervene since a pending constitutional amendment, not a mere statute, was at stake. That hasn't stopped educators from protesting, however. Illiteracy, rudimentary education hold back 40% of Mexico, while teachers in three states again form picket lines.

On Apr. 19 members of another union, Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación de Guerrero (CETEG), besieged the state capital of Chilpancingo de los Bravo in neighboring Guerrero, demanding that local legislators "opt out" of the federal amendment, which of course they had no legal power to do. Strikers and their fellow travelers virtually shut down the statehouse, forcing the Guerrero congress to temporarily transfer its seat to Acapulco, 55 miles away. Guerrero erupts as angry teachers besiege state capitol

A week later thousands of teachers - in some instances backed by civilian police forces and local militias - went on a rampage in Chilpancingo, attacking and destroying the state headquarters of four of Mexico's major political parties, from the far left to the right. Guerrero on verge of civil meltdown, as teachers riot.

Many Oaxaca parents expressed frustration with teachers today.

"We had to worry about buying the clothes and school supplies and all that. But we got it done, and the kids really wanted to go to their classes and learn. But it looks like they'll have to wait for another day to put on their uniforms. In the meantime they'll just be lying around home, being lazy. That's the way the educational system works here," said one.

Union bosses and strike leaders say their members are out for the long haul. CNTE and CETEG have scheduled protests in Mexico City today, where they've also called for work stoppages. No violence has resulted yet, as it did last spring, but organizers say they'll fight fire with fire if the federal or state governments employ force against them.

It could be a very long school year in Mexico.

Sept. 5 - Students and their parents marched today in the state capital, demanding that teachers return to their classrooms immediately. They've already missed the first three weeks of school.
Sept. 22 - Tomorrow the strike enters its sixth week, and 1.3 million children remain without classes to attend. More than 13,000 schools are closed.

Oct. 14 - School strike ends six weeks after it began: Maestros vuelven a las aulas en Oaxaca
Sept. 4 - Teachers' union ups the ante, calling indefinite strike in Chiapas
Aug. 31 - Oaxaca freezes pay of striking teachers
Aug. 30 - Oaxaca education at the mercy of omnipotent syndicate
Aug. 29 - Teachers' union calls for nationwide strike, while officials warn they're ready to use force
Aug. 25 - PRI government shows no resolve against thug teachers

Two other education notes. Addressing serious imbalances in the nation's school system, president Peña Nieto said today his administration would undertake a thorough review of teacher pay inequities, which have resulted in some schools and students excelling while others lag far behind. "In the weeks ahead we'll present a package of reforms to correct the situation, and to get matching federal funds to the states." Peña Nieto also promised that under the new constitutional education reforms, with their tougher evaluation mandates, teachers' legal rights will be fully respected. Many fear losing their jobs.

Although free public education in Mexico is supposed to mean just that, some schools charge a "head tax" of 400 or 500 pesos per student. That's about $35 apiece, money which is simply not in the average family's budget. Moreover, as the graphic below illustrates, families spend a lot on back to school clothing and supplies, with almost 40% shelling out an average of 2000 pesos, or over $150 USD per child.

Schools in Jalisco, a very poor state despite the fact that it is home to Mexico's second largest metropolis, offered free supplies to all with the help of federal subsidies. Today PRI Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval was a very popular man at one Guadalajara school, where he appeared with other state officials to personally hand out brand new mochilas - back packs - filled with supplies for primary and secondary age students. Everybody loved him for it.

May 26 - Mexican population is soaring, and most are young
June 12 - 59% of Mexicans remain trapped in underclass

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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