Mexico UNAM Strike:
with the Cardenista Popular Front!
On April 20, students at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) occupied their campuses in a strike to protest a drastic "fee hike"–in effect the introduction of tuition–that would mean the exclusion of tens of thousands of poor and working-class students. Now in its third month, the struggle at the largest university in Latin America (260,000 students) has been the object of virulent denunciations and threats from Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, while all the bourgeois parties have called for an end to the strike. However, the student strike has won the support of significant sectors of the labor movement, including university workers, electrical workers (themselves facing the threat of privatization) and militant teachers, who occupied the center of Mexico City for weeks.
The Grupo Internacionalista/México has actively intervened, emphasizing that what is posed is a sharp class struggle and calling for a joint strike of UNAM (students and workers), SME (electrical workers) and CNTE (primary and secondary school teachers). The GI has also fought for and helped organize worker-student defense of the strike against threatened attempts to break it. We print below a translation of a 23 June 1999 supplement to El Internacionalista on the strike. The leaflet included motions (see below) presented by supporters of the GI in meetings of different facultades (schools) and at the Strike General Council (CGH).
PRI, PAN and PRD Demand an End to the Strike, Threaten Police Repression
Strike at the Crossroads
Break with the
Cardenista Popular Front!
Two months after it began, the student strike at Mexico’s National University (UNAM) is approaching a decisive juncture. In recent days senators from the PRI and the PAN [the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and rightist National Action Party] have called for using “public force”–in other words, a police assault–to “rescue” UNAM, while spokesmen for the PRD [Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’ bourgeois-nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution] and the bourgeois media have launched a hysterical red-baiting witchhunt. “UNAM Imperils National Security,” screams Reforma (21 June), basing itself on reports leaked by the Ministry of the Interior (Gobernación) and “various intelligence sources.” Proceso (20 June) rails in true McCarthyite style against supposed “ultras” and even “mega-ultras” in the UNAM Strikers General Council (CGH). “Distinguished” professors demand that the federal and Mexico City governments, run by the PRI and PRD respectively, go after the strikers with an “iron hand.”
They claim the university administration has already given in by declaring that student student cuotas (fees, or tuition) will be “voluntary” and that strikers will receive “amnesty.” However, this would leave intact the drastic tuition hike (from 20 centavos to almost 1,378 pesos [approximately US$150] a year, equivalent to a month’s pay for many skilled workers) so that payments can be made “obligatory” after the wave of protests recedes. As for the supposed amnesty, it would be inapplicable to those accused of offenses against persons or property. Now, under a hail of threats and escalating provocations, including the threat of state repression as in 1968 [when hundreds of student protestors were murdered in the Tlatelolco Massacre], a dialogue is supposed to be held with UNAM rector Francisco Barnés in the Chamber of Deputies. In this supposed dialogue, the CGH representatives will be subject to the direct pressure of the bourgeois politicians who have repeatedly demanded an end to the strike. To follow this path, as the CGH proposes, will lead to defeat and the abandonment of the defense of free public university education which tens of thousands of students have been fighting for over the course of more than 60 days on strike.
How can this onslaught, unleashed by all the bourgeois parties and the capitalist state apparatus, be resisted? It is not enough for strikers to dig in at Ciudad Universitaria [University City, the huge UNAM campus in Mexico’s capital], foraying out periodically for so-called “forceful actions” like blocking roads and highways. What is required is a fundamentally different strategy, a class-struggle program and leadership to mobilize the tremendous power of the proletariat, the only class capable of stopping the escalation of repression currently being readied and defeating the bourgeois front that has been formed against this strike. As for the hue and cry over the temporary shutdown of a number of research institutes, it’s obvious that all UNAM facilities should be shut tight and that the STUNAM university workers union should have stopped work and been part of this strike from the very beginning.
The Grupo Internacionalista has insisted that to win, the strike must be extended! Really forceful actions are needed–not to inconvenience a few motorists but to break the encirclement and siege of the strike that the authorities are organizing, and to hit the ruling class where it hurts. The STUNAM, the SME electrical workers union, the CNTE teachers movement and other union sectors should join the UNAM students in a powerful joint strike, against the attempt to undercut public education and privatize the electrical industry. It is also urgent to organize worker-student defense against the repressive onslaught.
La Jornada/José Antonio
An outcry has been raised against the supposed “politicization” of the strike. The reality is that from the outset this has been a fight against the PRI regime’s policy of privatization, which obeys the directives set forth by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which have spurred attacks against university students in a whole series of Latin American and European countries. UNAM rector Barnés, a puppet of Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, doesn’t hide his politics. He wants cops on campus and strike militants in jail. Some “dialogue”! But it’s not just the PRI. While at the beginning various politicians from the bourgeois-nationalist PRD expressed vague sympathy for the UNAM strike, today the PRD is leading the campaign to sink the strike. They claim that “ultras” want to cause problems for the Mexico City government headed by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Meanwhile, Cárdenas himself declared that “if there are roadblocks we will use the police force to unblock them” (El Economista, 17 June).
The Grupo Internacionalista has emphasized since the beginning of this struggle, as we have stressed for many years, that it is necessary to break with the Cardenista popular front and forge a revolutionary workers party. As we noted in a leaflet last March, the student leaders who follow the PRD, “like the university administration itself and the heads of the ruling PRI, PAN and PRD..., view this conflict as a prelude to next year’s elections, and they want to avoid any problems for Cárdenas’ presidential campaign” (see “Workers, Students–For a Class-Struggle Mobilization Against the Bourgeois Attack,” The Internationalist No. 7, April-May 1999). Now our warning has been fully confirmed. Columnist Carlos Ramírez recently wrote that “Cárdenas and the Mexico City PRD...had to confront complaints from strikers that they were maneuvering to prevent the outbreak of the strike in order to avoid damaging Cárdenas’ chances in the year 2000” (El Universal, 7 June).
Ramírez revealed that local PRD leader Carlos Imaz, a founder of the CEU (University Students Council) which led the 1987 UNAM strike, along with the head of the PRD parliamentary group in the municipal legislature, Martí Batres, a leader of the 1990 UNAM strike, met with CGH leaders, and that UNAM rector Barnés asked Cárdenas to intervene to put an end to the strike. It was subsequently reported that Cárdenas had met secretly with strike leaders and that the plan to declare the tuition hike “voluntary” was negotiated directly with the head of the Mexico City government. Since then the unconditional followers of the PRD in the CGH–organized in the Red de Estudiantes (Student Network), the “historic” CEU tendency and the Comité Estudiantil Metropolitano (Metropolitan Student Committee)–have gone all-out to lead the strike into the channels of “dialogue,” the better to sell it out, following the pattern set by Imaz and Martí Batres. This is how the ambitious make a career for themselves in the PRD. Yet the so-called “ultras” of the Left Student Bloc (BUI) follow the same line, just a step or two behind.
In the case of the En Lucha (In Struggle) tendency, based in the School of Sciences, its representatives said towards the beginning of the strike that they opposed the Barnés “dialogue,” but then they voted in favor of accepting the administration’s proposal. Others, such as the leaders of the Political Science students, want a bit more of a brouhaha. But to what end? Their aim is to pressure Cárdenas and the PRD so that they in turn will put pressure on the PRI. Other groups, such as the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS), which is part of the pseudo-Trotskyist Morenoite tendency, or the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS) and the student journal Contracorriente, talk about imaginary general strikes, which is their all-purpose formula. But they too conceive of the struggle as simply a democratic one, and tail after the PRD.
For its part, the Grupo Espartaquista de México (Mexican section of the International Communist League) has been strikingly absent from this convulsive struggle, paying occasional brief visits to the massive strike assemblies. Since they now deny the very existence of a popular front which ties the workers to Cárdenas and his PRD, they do nothing to fight against it. Meanwhile, they have taken up the slogan of “national sovereignty,” the watchword of the nationalists and popular frontists. In contrast, the Grupo Internacionalista has fought for a class-struggle leadership against both the self-proclaimed Cardenistas and the BUI leftists, insisting that the strike confronts a capitalist onslaught which can be defeated only by openly combating the bourgeois PRD and launching a revolutionary working-class offensive.
Last week the government of president Ernesto Zedillo decided to invest 22 billion pesos (US$2.4 billion) in Banca Serfin to save it from bankruptcy. This is more than three times the UNAM budget. The bank bailout will total 850 billion pesos (US$92 billion), more than the entire public foreign debt. The seven Mexican members of Forbes’ list of the world’s richest men have personal fortunes totaling more than 200 billion pesos (US$22 billion). Compare these sums with the few million pesos they want to squeeze out of low-income families and students through the fees pushed by Barnés! It’s clear that the purpose of the Barnés Plan is not to raise funds but to exclude tens of thousands of students from the largest university in Latin America.
The UNAM strike has awakened widespread sympathy among the working people of Mexico City and other areas. The fight to defend free public higher education coincided with protests by the SME (Mexican Electricians Union) against plans to privatize the electrical industry. Shortly thereafter, thousands of members of the CNTE teachers movement carried out sit-ins for several weeks in the Zócalo (Mexico City’s central plaza) and in front of the Secretariat of Public Education, demanding a 100 percent wage increase, cancellation of plans to “municipalize” primary and secondary education, as well as the satisfaction of the UNAM strikers’ demands. Yet in the 39 days of the teachers’ sit-in, the CGH leaders never made a serious effort to unite these struggles in a single fist. At the same time, the leaders of the CNTE, and above all of the SME, eventually demobilized the union ranks instead of launching a joint counteroffensive. Throughout this period, the Grupo Internacionalista insistently called for a joint strike together with the SME and CNTE.
While the UNAM administration hardens its position, the bulk of the student leaders and activists have opted for the perspective of negotiations, calling for dialogue with Barnés and/or his sidekicks. Instead of orienting to the working class, they focus on so-called “civil society,” asking the petty, medium and big bourgeoisie to mobilize in their favor. This will be the popular-frontist approach of the Front in Defense of Free Public Education which is making its debut today. This has been and will continue to be the policy of the EZLN in Chiapas. But the agreements which the Zapatistas negotiated with representatives of the federal government have not been carried out, nor will any deal negotiated with the UNAM administration under the auspices of the Mexican Congress. The reality is that harsh repression, such as occurred in 1968, could be unleashed at any moment. We all know what happened in 1968 on the night of October 2 [the Tlatelolco Massacre], but few talk about what happened earlier that day. Representatives of the students’ National Strike Council (CNH) met with representatives of president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz to arrange conditions for a “dialogue”; they thought they had achieved “positive results” (Luis González de Alba, Los días y los años ). The next day, after the massacre which claimed hundreds of victims, the CNH delegates found themselves in jail along with hundreds of other students.
We call for the abolition of the UNAM administration and its replacement by student-teacher-worker control of the university; for the abolition of tuition (fees) and for subsidies to students who need them in order to complete their studies. It is clear that these demands cannot be won by a movement which limits itself to the striking UNAM campus. Repeated marches by CNTE teachers and the enthusiastic participation of SME electrical workers in UNAM student demonstrations show the potential for a struggle which extends to the proletariat. But in order to realize this perspective, what is required is a revolutionary leadership fighting to mobilize the working class to break with the Cardenista popular front and forge a revolutionary workers party based on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution. In semicolonial countries like Mexico even “democratic” questions can be resolved only through socialist revolution extending to the heart of imperialism in the U.S. If the Mexican bourgeoisie says the UNAM strike poses a threat to “national security,” our response must be to wage the struggle on an international and class-struggle level.
No capitulation! Extend the strike to win!
Grupo Internacionalista/League for the Fourth International
Motions presented by the Grupo Internacionalista
to the "Dialogue" Trap! Extend the Strike!
WHEREAS, the UNAM administration’s “dialogue” proposal is nothing more than a trap aimed at negotiating an end to the strike at the lowest possible cost;
WHEREAS, it would be an illusion to think that the administration, instrument of the bourgeoisie at the head of the university bureaucracy, can reform itself to serve the interests of students, the workers and oppressed;
WHEREAS, the imposition of “fees,” a means of class exclusionism, is part of the onslaught of privatizations and anti-union attacks which also threatens the electrical workers and teachers currently in struggle; and
WHEREAS, what is needed is to win the strike, abolishing tuition and other restrictive “reforms” (such as elimination of the automatic entry to UNAM after graduation from affiliated secondary schools); to abolish the administration and establish worker-teacher-student control of UNAM, to guarantee access to a free quality university education for all, with a living stipend for all who need it; therefore be it
1. To categorically reject the “dialogue” with the university authorities and strikebreakers;
2. Not to end the strike but rather to extend it to other universities (Metropolitan University, Polytechnic Institute, Chapingo, etc.), schools and key sectors of the workers movement, as part of a class-struggle fight against the bourgeoisie’s onslaught of repression and starvation measures against the working people. For a joint strike of the UNAM, SME and CNTE, now!
with the Cardenista Popular Front!
WHEREAS, after more than two months of arduous struggle, the UNAM strike has gained the support of hundreds of thousands of workers and others who identify with this struggle against the capitalist onslaught and hope it will lead to a fight against this system of hunger and misery; and
WHEREAS, the bourgeois authorities are threatening to use violence and repression to terrorize the strikers, from the administration’s attempts to instigate an attack by hired thugs (porros) against the UNAM schools, to the commission of the Chamber of Deputies which is seeking to pressure an end to the strike alleging the “risk and imminence of a violent confrontation”; and
WHEREAS, the strike has been the target of arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and provocations of all types, including the rape of a young woman activist; and
WHEREAS, the Mexican presidency and Interior Ministry (Gobernación) practice large-scale political espionage and are whipping up a “red” scare in the media, while the Mexico City government is now threatening to unleash its police, with Cárdenas himself stating that “if there are roadblocks we will use the police force to unblock them,” one day after the riot police and mobile units dispersed homeless people in Iztapalapa; and
WHEREAS, the Mexican Employers Association (COPARMEX) is demanding that Cárdenas intervene to resolve (i.e., put an end to) the university strike, while all the bourgeois parties (including the PRI, PAN, PRD and smaller parties) have issued a joint declaration demanding an end to the strike at the same time as the Cardenista popular front deploys its forces for that purpose; therefore be it
1. To organize a worker-student defense to defend pickets and protect the strike. To seek the active participation of the union movement, in particular its most combative sectors. To organize a defense based on mass mobilizations through commissions chosen by the various schools and faculties, responsible to their assemblies and integrated into a central coordinating body.
2. To confirm the prohibition of the “General Directorate for Protection of the Community” (campus cops) on the university campus–police, guards and porros (hired thugs) out of the secondary and preparatory schools, University City and other schools! We call on the STUNAM to expel campus security guards from the union.
3. To mobilize the students, workers, teachers and students’ families to stop the strikebreaking provocation of “off-campus” classes and exams.
4. To restructure the CGH so it will be capable of leading an all-out struggle, forging a class-struggle leadership that definitively rejects the treacherous “dialogue” with Barnés and his clique and which would take the necessary measures to extend the strike in order to win.
5. To form a joint committee to coordinate efforts with the STUNAM, CNTE, SME, the Colegio de Bachilleres union and other sectors that join the struggle.
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