The Internationalist  
  March 2013  

For a Nationwide Strike to Smash Capitalist Education “Reform”!
Labor Cop Gordillo Busted to
Crush Teachers’ Resistance

March of dissident teacher unionists in Chiapas on March 4. Altogether about 200,000 Mexican teachers stopped work for 48-hour strike against education “reform” and the imposition of a new corporatist “union” leader by the government of Enrique Peña Nieto. (Photo: Noticias)

Elba Esther Gordillo and Enrique Peña Nieto when they were allies, at the dedication of the offices of Section 36 of the SNTE, November 2010. (Poto: La Jornada)

MARCH 4 – At dusk on February 26, Elba Esther Gordillo, “president for life” of the corporatist National Union of Education Workers (SNTE by its initials in Spanish) was arrested at the airport in Toluca on orders of Mexico’s attorney general. The headlines shouted, “Elba Esther Toppled!” “Elba Prisoner,” “Elba’s Empire has Fallen.” She was arrested in a military operation involving undercover agents posted in San Diego, California and various airports across Mexico, two Navy aircraft that tailed her private jet and after her arrest transferred the leader of the SNTE to the hangar of the Attorney General’s office [in Mexico City], where a caravan of ten armored vehicles awaited her. With the streets blocked off by security forces, they took her to the Santa Martha Acatitla women’s prison in Mexico City. With this spectacular show of state power, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto put government agent Gordillo, a faithful servant of Mexio’s capitalist governments for over three decades, behind bars. The charge: money laundering, misappropriation of SNTE funds and organized crime. In other words, corruption.

To anyone knowing the first thing about Mexican politics, this was obviously a settling of scores at the highest levels of power. For misappropriation of funds and obscene corruption you could arrest nearly the entirety of the country’s ruling politicians, high-level bureaucrats and military and police commanders. The representatives of capital couldn’t care less that La Maestra (“The Teacher”) Gordillo led a gilded life at her palaces on San Diego’s Coronado Island with extravagant shopping sprees (US$2 million in two years, which works out to an average of $3,000 a day) at the luxury Neiman Marcus department store and her constant plastic surgeries. Elba Esther Gordillo was the perfect target in order to promote Peña Nieto’s privatization agenda. You couldn't miss the fact that her detention took place one day after the coalition government of the PRI, PAN and PRD[1], formalized in the “Pact for Mexico,” promulgated the infamous education “reform” law that was passed in record time by the obedient national Congress and state legislatures. The Elbazo was intended to crush any resistance from the side of the teachers.

Gordillo’s corruption was legendary, but it was protected and even sponsored by successive governments as payment for her services, which ranged from fixing the elections of senators, governors and even presidents to suppressing rebellions of teachers. We of the Grupo Internacionalista have repeatedly pointed out that the SNTE is not a workers union, but like the other corporatist labor bodies in Mexico, a state institution, a labor police agency whose purpose is to prop up the regime and regiment the workers. Now “the boss” has outlived her usefulness and it was decided to dispense with her. Nevertheless, we also warn that the initial gleeful reaction by many teachers to the news of her arrest is profoundly mistaken. Dissident currents among the teachers, particularly the CNTE (National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers), have made a monumental error in cooperating with, and even egging on, the attorney general’s “investigation.” The demand of class-conscious teachers must be: Peña Nieto, hands off the teachers!

Only the most gullible could think that the PRI president would act in defense of union rights, or to safeguard union dues, as he alleged in his statement on the case that was broadcast the next day on every radio and television station in the country. His action was intended to reinforce corporatism, not to promote union democracy. What we have here is a governmental crisis, which was made clear when Peña Nieto called an emergency meeting at Los Pinos, the presidential mansion, of all 32 state governors (29 attended), some of whom owed their positions to La Maestra. Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet, who as secretary of government (interior minister) under president Ernesto Zedillo in 1994 was responsible for the horrendous Acteal massacre – of 45 indigenous members of a religious collective “Las Abejas” (The Bees) who were murdered as they prayed in Chenalhó, Chiapas – is not an ally but a sworn enemy of the workers, who has declared that the only educators who will have a say in his “reform” will be those selected by the government.

All of Gordillo’s crimes – and they are much worse than the official charges – were extolled by, or committed in the service of, the same criminal state that now wants to try her. Gordillo’s detention is a cover for the drive by the new PRI regime to tighten the screws of government control over the teachers. The response of the workers to the fireworks around the arrest of the SNTE’s capo must be to break the corporatist shackles, expel the charro[2] bureaucracy imposed by the capitalist state, organize a great independent union of the entire education sector and break politically with all the capitalist parties, from the tripartite governing coalition of PRI-PAN-PRD to the minor parliamentary parties (Party of Labor [PT], [3] Citizens Movement[MC], and AMLO’s MORENA).

Elba’s Empire

La Maestra Gordillo is a murderer of teachers who has  been placed in the dock by the bourgeois rulers who installed her as general secretary of the SNTE in 1989, a year of roiling teachers struggles that shook the country over and over with half-million-strong strikes. She herself said to reporters in 2006, “I came to the union by way of a decision by the Mexican State… In difficult situations like that… the executive is what counts.” (Proceso, 2 March). As we wrote in 2006:

“The president of the national ‘union,’ the SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was appointed by the Secretary of Government at an all-night meeting in the secretariat, after her predecessor (Carlos Jonguitud, also a PRI flunkey) had been ‘resigned’ hours earlier in a meeting with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Between them, Gordillo and Jonguitud are responsible for ordering the assassination of more than 150 SNTE dissidents. Lately, with the PRI’s power eclipsed, Gordillo transferred her institutional allegiances to the [Vicente] Fox regime, and set up a new ‘party,’ the PANAL (National Alliance Party), to support the PAN candidate [Felipe] Calderón.”

–“GEM: Caboose of the Mexican Popular Front”, The Internationalist No. 25, January-February 2007

The state that employed the murderer Gordillo, which is responsible for over 90,000 deaths in the past six years, which is an enemy of the militant teachers, has no right to judge its agent. Those who should judge this criminal are the colleagues and families of the teachers who fought against the corporatist control embodied by Carlos Jonguitud Barrios and later by Gordillo herself, and who because of this were shot, tortured and disappeared at the express orders of the charro clique  (the misnamed “Revolutionary Vanguard”) of the SNTE. The most famous case is that of the teacher Misael Núñez Acosta, murdered in January of 1981 by three judicial police officers of the state of Mexico[4], who were contracted for that purpose by Ramón Martínez Martín and Elba Esther Gordillo, who at the time were General Secretary of the SNTE and its Secretary of Labor and Conflicts in Preschool Education of Section 36 in the Eastern Zone of the Valley of Mexico, respectively.

The paramilitary group led by Humberto Alcalá Betanzos (center), the founder of Section 59 of the SNTE and PRI politician in Lalloaga, Oaxaca (2009).

The crime against Misael Núñez was followed by the killing of more than 150 teachers in the subsequent two decades under the patronage of Gordillo in conspiracy with the government and the party which have cast her out of office and imprisoned her. Gordillo’s culpability for the murder of teachers extends up to the present day. At the end of the convulsive struggles in Oaxaca led by the dissident Section 22 of the SNTE, affiliated to the CNTE, Gordillo created a Section 59 made up of scabs and hired killers to help the government of Vicente Fox (of the PAN) to fight Section 22. In the subsequent years death squads of “Section 59” have killed CNTE teachers again and again. Only a few examples:

  • On 28 August 2009 the teacher Artemio Camacho Sarabio was gunned down in San Pedro Jicayán, a town in the Costa region of southern Oaxaca, when a contingent of teachers tried to retake the bilingual school “Libertad,” which was occupied by PRI loyalists and members of Section 59.
  • In May 2009 Leonor Ortiz Barriga, the president of the Parents Committee of a middle school in San Pedro Totolapan, 50 miles southeast of Oaxaca who took part in the struggle of Section 22 to retake schools taken over by Section 59, was murdered.
  • On 4 April 2011, the teacher of indigenous education Luis Quiroz Quiroz was assassinated. He also took part in a mobilization to retake a bilingual school.

Now with the arrest of Gordillo, the SNTE, just as corporatist as ever, remains an arm of government control. La Maestra’s anointed successor, Secretary General Juan Díaz de la Torre, was installed as president by amending the statutes in the early morning hours after the president’s arrest. But before he could take on his new office in the national council meeting in Guadalajara, according to La Jornada (28 February) he travelled to the capital: “the agreement to keep Díaz de la Torre was sealed in a negotiation with the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, after which the [SNTE] leader travelled to Mexico City, where he met with the secretary of government, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who transmitted to him the message of the president.” This “decision of Los Pinos” stipulated that the new president of the SNTE would promise “not to interfere in the case of Elba and to reach agreement in the matters of wage negotiations and education reform.”  Immediately, the new charro boss announced his full support for the reform.

The message is clear: as it was in the past, the SNTE will be instrumental in implementing the bosses’ attacks on the teachers that it regiments. In this case, the process of “universal evaluation” of teachers which has now been elevated to “constitutional status” (so that it cannot be altered by union bargaining or laws passed by Congress) will be used as a pretext to fire tens of thousands of teachers. Sections affiliated to the CNTE, a dissident current that has not broken with the SNTE but effectively acts as an independent union, will be under particular scrutiny. The CNTE has organized work stoppages of hundreds of thousands of teachers, and bourgeois governments since the PRI regime of Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988) have tried to destroy it. Gordillo was a top leader of the PRI, serving as head of its Congressional delegation and general secretary of its executive council for several years. But as leader of a corporatist labor institution her fundamental loyalty was to the state, and thus she also served the PAN governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón.

Today it is more urgent than ever to break out of the corporatist straightjacket that binds the teachers to the bourgeois state. With SNTE decapitated, another boss was imposed within a matter of hours to carry on the job that Gordillo was no longer capable of executing. It is necessary for militant teachers to take control of their destiny by severing all ties to the state. Currently there is a profusion of organizations that claim to represent the teachers. Besides the SNTE and CNTE, there is the National Democratic Executive Committee of the SNTE (CNDE, associated with the PRD), a supposed Union of Education Workers led by Carlos Jonguitud Carrillo, son of the former SNTE strongman, and other lesser formations. Those who are in the SNTE must fight to throw out the entire corporatist bureaucracy that runs it and which is crystallized in thousands of “commissioners.” In every school, in every workplace, education workers committees must be formed which would take charge of expelling these bureaucratic henchmen from the facilities.

The independent currents must reject all state interference in their affairs and in the internal affairs of the workers movement in general. The bosses’ government has no right to touch or to regulate the funds contributed by the workers, nor to grant or deny recognition to union leaders (with the arbitrary toma de nota) or to register unions, much less to impose or remove leaders at its whim, as it has done since the first charrazos after the Second World War, whose purpose was to expel communists and class-struggle union militants of any sort. This is class war, and we do not accept the intervention of the state (whether through its executive, judicial or legislative branches) in the affairs of our class. The goal of class-conscious workers must be, together with unions at the universities like the STUNAM and the SITUAM, to build a genuine workers union across the whole education sector, completely independent of the state and without the least political ties to any of the bourgeois parties.

For an Open-Ended National Strike Against the Privatizing Education Reform!

The Elbazo of Enrique Peña Nieto aims to obscure the real intentions of the new government: to impose an administrative and labor reform on teachers in Mexico that strips them of the rights they have gained and subjects them to a bosses’ dictatorship. It is therefore urgent to begin to organize mobilizations of unions in the education sector, with the aid of the whole workers movement, to stop this capitalist attack cold. Already the teachers of Guerrero have been on strike since the end of February and independent sectors have called for a 48-hour strike of teachers nationwide on March 4-5. For these actions to be effective tit is necessary for them to transcend the narrow limits of pressure politics to which the leaders of the CNTE would confine them. Even though they recognize that the arrest of Gordillo is a settling of scores among the rulers and they oppose Peña Nieto’s education counter-reform, they are offering to cooperate with the government in prosecuting its case against her. This is a suicidal gesture, which the government will shortly use to “investigate” them as well.

In an article in defense of the rural teachers of Michoacán, we recently wrote about the fraudulent “Accord for Quality in Education” presided over by Elba Esther Gordillo and her ally Felipe Calderón:

“With their ‘market orientation’ from the most elementary grades, the ‘education reforms’ under this rubric aim to drastically reduce the governmental budget dedicated to primary education and to dramatically diminish enrollment in public higher education. They aim at training rather than an education that would contribute to the emancipation of the most impoverished sectors. What they want least of all that students should be educated to think critically and be able to express themselves to defend their interests.”

– “ACE: Alianza Burguesa Contra la Educación ¡Defender las normales rurales!(ACE: Bourgeois Alliance Against Education: Defend the Rural Teacher Training Schools!), supplement to El Internacionalista, November 2012

Peña Nieto’s counter-reform and the Pact for Mexico are the continuation of the ACE. Now that the reform is being implemented, it is necessary for teachers in elementary, middle and high schools across the country, and likewise for the university workers unions, to mobilize in defense of their jobs and to make education a real right. The militant teachers of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacán have shown the way with their work stoppages last year that prevented the administration of ACE tests.[5] Now the need is posed for a national strike of unlimited duration of the whole education sector, with the support of the industrial proletariat, to stop capitalism’s educational counter-reform.

The obstacle to this necessary mobilization is a dual one: on one hand, the corporatist SNTE continues to be a labor police force that blocks the mobilization of the teachers in defense of the positions they have gained; on the other hand, the CNTE, the CEND and other unions in the education sector are heavily subordinated to the bourgeois “opposition.” The PRD of the Chuchos (Jesús Zambrano and Jesús Ortega)[6] is part of the Pact for Mexico, and in this capacity the PRD not only gave its endorsement to the education “reform,” but its chiefs were in the front rank of the “distinguished” sponsors who celebrated the law going into effect. The followers of AMLO’s MORENA, for their part are once again following a “legal strategy,” as they have done before with disastrous results, such as in the case of the 44,000 electrical workers fired by Calderón, petitioning the bourgeois courts for individual injunctions. This is being pursued not only by the CNTE but was also the strategy of the SNTE under Gordillo, in a timid show of insubordination that cost La Maestra dearly. The strategy of both does not go beyond the limits of pressure politics focused on the bourgeois parliament.

In addition to all the defensive measures and mobilizations there is an urgent need to forge a truly class-struggle, revolutionary leadership among education workers. Such a leadership would insist on total political independence from the bourgeois state and all bourgeois parties and politicians. Only by fighting a revolutionary struggle will it be possible to effectively break the ties that bind the teachers to the bourgeois state. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his unfinished essay “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (August 1940): “The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”

Break with all bourgeois parties and politicians! Forge a revolutionary workers party!

[1] PRI: the Revolutionary Institutional Party of president Peña Nieto, which governed Mexico for seven decades and recently returned to power. PAN: the clerical-rightist National Action Party of ex-president Felipe Calderón. PRD: the bourgeois nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution, whose former standard-bearer and recurrent presidential candidate was Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “AMLO” left the badly tarnished PRD in September, but this does not signify any fundamental change in his old party or his new bourgeois political vehicle, MORENA (Movement of National Regeneration).

[2]Charro: corporatist “union” or leader. Literally: cowboy. In an anti-communist purge of the Mexican railroad workers union in 1948, the government installed a new leader, Juan Díaz de León, who liked to dress up in cowboy outfits. Accompanied by the Mexican army and police, Díaz de León’s forces stormed the union’s headquarters and arrested the union’s president. This was quickly followed by charrazos (the imposition of government-designated leaders) in other unions, marking the watershed in the transformation of Mexico’s formerly left-led unions into agencies of the capitalist state.

[3] The PT has never been any sort of working-class party but was phantom party set up by former PRI president Carlos Salinas de Gortari to compete with the PRD for workers’ votes.

[4] The state situated around the national capital, Mexico City, which is in the Federal District.

[5] See “Teachers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Stop Work to Stop High Stakes Test”, The Internationalist special Issue, Summer 2012.

[6]Los Chuchos: factional opponents of former PRD standard-bearer Andrés Manuel López Obrador who now control  the party while AMLO has left to build his new vehicle, MORENA.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com