Oaxaca Teachers Fight to Protect Students and Community from Reforms
Elena Lara of Oaxaca's Section 22 unveils a banner for reporters during the teacher occupation of Mexico City's main square. (Jeff Abbott)
On the morning of July 31, the Oaxaca offices of Mexico’s ruling party, the Institutionalized Party of the Revolution (PRI), were in chaos. Activists from Oaxaca’s Section 22 of the Mexican Teachers Union stormed the premises, throwing computers and filing cabinets from the second floor to the ground as the public looked on. The teachers then set up camp in Oaxaca’s main square, Zocalo, an occupation that has since lasted for weeks.
The action was the latest maneuver from Mexican teachers against the neoliberal education reforms implemented by President Enrique Peña Nieto over the last year. Beginning in early 2013, Peña Nieto began passing sweeping policies that - among other changes - reasserted government control over education, tied instructor pay to student evaluation results, and restricted the bargaining rights of teachers throughout Mexico.
On May 1, in recognition of International Workers' Day, Section 22 teachers led other dissident teachers unions of Mexico on a four-month occupation of the central square of Mexico City. Police evicted the teachers in August 2013; they then moved to the Monument of the Revolution, where a camp still remains. After Congress passed Peña Nieto’s laws just a month later, Oaxaca teachers revolted again - and they’ve kept up the pressure ever since. The attack on PRI's offices is just another incident in the long line of unrest that has come with the party’s 2012 return to power.
Much of this discontent is rooted in Oaxaca’s political and social climate. As the most diverse state in Mexico with a high indigenous population, many Oaxaca’s students speak different dialects or come from rural backgrounds. Because of this, teachers say, the policy changes from the Peña Nieto administration are unrealistic and oppressive.
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