Monday, September 9, 2013

Teachers in Mexico defend public education

For several years, Mexican public school teachers have been fighting tooth & nail against government attempts to apply neoliberal policies & privatize public education. But the bureaucracy of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), which represents 1.5 million teachers & education staff, is so corrupt & has its head so far up the government’s ass that it has supported these measures.

Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of SNTE for 25 years, was corrupt, autocratic, & tied in to the government--which allowed her to have a private jet, Swiss bank accounts, & mansions in several cities, including in the US. Mexican authorities arrested her in February 2013 when her private jet arrived at Toluca airport after a spending spree in California. She is accused of embezzling $2 billion pesos ($156,816,000 USD or €119,242,600 euros). The government appointed Juan Díaz de la Torre, one of Gordillo’s most groveling lieutenants, as the new union head. Whatever happened to unions electing their own leaders!?

They didn’t arrest Gordillo because of corruption & grand larceny nor because of her tepid, self-serving opposition to neoliberal education policy. De la Torre is as ardent a supporter of the neoliberal reforms in education as sycophancy requires but without the personal control Gordillo exercised over the union which might prove an obstruction to government implementation. The power shake-up is really more about breaking up growing union dissension among the ranks.

Last December, the newly-elected Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto rammed through changes to Mexico’s constitution to wrest any say in education from the union & put it completely under government control, changing how teachers are hired, fired, & evaluated. The proposals are a rendition of US neoliberal education policy called “No Child Left Behind,” considered a weapon of mass destruction lobbed at public education.

Thousands of teachers all over Mexico have mobilized in defense of a democratic union & for free, public education. Within the SNTE, a dissident caucus (formed in 1979) called The National Coordinating Committee of the Teachers Union (la CNTE) has long been organizing public opposition & in some places have come under severe & violent repression. Teachers in Oaxaca & other states have protested the deleterious affects these reforms would have on indigenous cultures but also the exclusion of poor children from public education. The OECD, an international agency which supports neoliberal economic policy in Mexico, including in education, maintains in its education report that Mexico now has near universal enrollment in primary & lower secondary education--”close to 100% of 5-14 year-olds participate in education.” Speaking of having your head stuck in the nether regions! This assessment makes a mockery of the millions of homeless children & the thousands working as peddlers to support their families.

For the past few weeks, thousands of teachers from around the country have been flooding Mexico City--marching, rallying at the president’s house & Mexican congress, blocking highways, disrupting international air travel, interrupting or forcing cancellation of sports events. More than 8,000 teachers have set up camp in Mexico City’s central Zocalo square. Meanwhile in Oaxaca, 70,000 school teachers went on strike against the “reforms” after the school year started on August 19, affecting over one million school children. In this photo teachers march to the presidential palace in Mexico City (on Aug 28th). Nice work, teachers! We couldn’t be prouder of you! Our fullest solidarity.

(Photo by Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

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