Oaxaca, Mexico: Unions Derail Teachers' Strike
The deepening of the crisis makes the workers’ conditions of life worse by the day and engenders expressions of real discontent. In the ICC press, we have written about the important mobilizations of the French workers and students against the CPE. The strikes of the metal workers in Spain have expressed a similar decisiveness, combativeness, and clarity, even though they have not had the same magnitude. Even in a country in the periphery, like Bangladesh, there are opportunities for the class to have important experiences of struggle, although with greater difficulties. And in Mexico, too, discontent has led to the outbreak of struggles in recent months, most notably by the Michoacan mine workers, and the public schoolteachers in Oaxaca. While these struggles demonstrated potential strength and resolution, the ruling class took the lead and directed the struggles toward real traps, sterilizing combativeness by mystifying and delaying reflection and the development of class consciousness.
The death of 65 workers in the Pasta de Conchos mine, caused by the dangerous conditions of work under which the miners are obliged to labor, sparked discontent among the miners. Low wages fueled the miners’ anger even more. But their struggle was sterilized by the union, which put itself at the head of the movement, supported by bosses and government, with the aim of derailing the workers’ discontent in the dead-end of the defense of corrupt industrialist Gomez Urrutia, who is currently in conflict with the government (1). This manipulation eventually led the miners into confrontations with the police, during which 2 miners were killed.
Similarly, the combativeness expressed by 70,000 Oaxacan teachers as they struck for wage increases, ended up suffocated in an interclassist movement led by the City of Oaxaca Popular Assembly (APPO), which, regardless of its radical and autonomous pretenses, has no class orientation whatsoever. The strike began in May, as yet another in a long list of springtime teachers strikes over the past 26 years in impoverished Oaxaca state, where teachers are among the most poorly paid in Mexico. Most striking teachers earn from $400 to $600 per month. As they often do, the striking teachers set up an encampment in the central plaza of Oaxaca. On June 14, governor Ulises Ruiz ordered police, armed with tear gas and clubs, to disperse the encampment. Dozens were injured, but the strikers held fast and quickly became a rallying point for farmer groups, university students, and leftists of all stripes, who rushed to the town and created the APPO which claims to govern the town, or at least the part of town that they have occupied and barricaded off.
But the APPO is far from being an embryonic form of a workers commune. It is an interclassist organization, dominated by leftist and union structures in which one can find such diversity as Stalinists and supporters of the Zapatistas’ 6th declarations side by side. The APPO drains the workers’ strength by leading them into mobilizations that have no coherent objectives, dominated as they are by the desperation of those classes in society that have no future. Desperation and voluntarism help to create a fertile soil for provocation by generating demoralization and isolation.
This is best illustrated by the manipulation of the Oaxaca teachers. First, the SNTE (teachers’ union) kept the teachers in isolation through a long, drawn out strike. The Mexican government then attacked the strikers with its repressive apparatus, the police. The workers successfully resisted the aggression, but the demands around the wages and conditions of work, which showed that teachers are part of the working class, and that, as such, they directly confront exploitation, are gone, and the discontent has been derailed toward the ‘improvement’ of Oaxaca democratic order, a thoroughly bourgeois, not a proletarian, preoccupation. For example, with proletarian demands like wages now no longer in the forefront, the APPO has demanded the removal Oaxaca governor, Ulises Ruiz, in order to facilitate the search for “…a new leadership and a new democratic and popular constitution for the city of Oaxaca,” (La Jornada, 8/24/06), as if a new bourgeois constitution corresponded to the interests of the working class.
In the face of these events, the workers need to reflect on whether changing one governor for another will in any way change their condition of exploitation, and whether it is at all possible that a system based on exploitation and oppression can generate laws that benefit the workers.
The defense of the system’s democratization = defense of capitalism
This derailment of the struggle by a fake radicalization has benefited the bourgeoisie, which has also used the struggle as its own arena. The bourgeoisie has in fact used the massive demonstrations and the desperate responses to put pressure on certain sectors of the dominant class to the detriment of others. Already at the time of the intervention of the SNTE we could see the differences between sectors of the bourgeoisie. With the aggravation of the conflict the various bourgeois gangs try to influence or put pressure on the workers, either through provocations or by allowing the conflict to drag on.
It is important to keep in mind the attitude the different fractions of the bourgeoisie kept for the duration of the conflict. Even though they express political differences, some personalities and groups of the ruling class have united behind Oaxaca’s governor. This is the case, for example, with Felipe Calderon, presidential candidate of the PAN who won the July elections contested by Manuel Lopez Obrador. The federal government’s attitude towards alliances and ruptures is also significant. For instance, the government allowed the conflict to escalate, but its aim was to isolate Ulises Ruiz. Let’s remember, for example, that Fox’s spokesman made a veiled accusation against Ulises Ruiz’s use of paramilitary groups, used to take back the Oaxaca radio station which the APPO had occupied, while Ulises Ruiz was careful about denying any such intervention.
Throughout the movement, the bourgeoisie did not care to show its bloody face as it killed, tortured, and jailed, but all along it was very careful not to lose control of the movement. Even though some sectors of the bourgeoisie may be weakened, the system as a whole has strengthened while the working class’ confusion has deepened.
We also need to point out that, even though the APPO does not represent class interests, the working class looks at it sympathetically because, in appearance, this organization seems to be critical of the ruling class. However, it is precisely the sympathy of the workers that the left apparatus of the ruling class uses in order to strengthen its own trap. What is now called ‘peaceful popular insurrection’ is hailed as an example to follow. If this was an example in the negative, now the campaign is about extending such ‘peaceful insurrections’. This is how confusion deepens among the workers, and the pro-democracy campaign strengthens. For instance, Lopez Obrador’s proposal to carry out a ‘democratic national convention’ on September 16 gained credibility thanks to the ‘example’ set by the Oaxaca ‘peaceful insurrection’. In this way, the bourgeoisie moves to demolish all discontent and feed illusions in democracy and the possibility of a betterment of capitalism through ‘…new representatives who will make of the country that which all of us aspire to.’ (Excerpted from the Popular Assembly of the People of Michoacan, 8/20/06.)
The conditions of misery under which the working class lives cannot be changed with a change of representatives in office, by the laws, or by an extension of democracy. On the contrary, these are instruments used by the ruling class to tie the workers’ hands and have them believe that capitalism can offer a better life.
Based on an article by Cloe, translated from
Revolucion Mundial , organ of the ICC in Mexico. October 2006.
1. The confrontation between Gomez Urrutia and the Secretary of Labor is nothing but the tip of the iceberg of a more serious confrontation going on within the bourgeoisie. Behind it, we find the confrontations between mining interests, where political alliances and business disputes are mixed. This is why it’s not surprising that some businessmen openly support the union behind which Gomez Urrutia stands, while others promote the union in support of the federal government.