Power of Labor
For almost four months, more than 70,000 teachers in the largely indigenous state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico have been waging a militant strike and facing murderous repression. The attacks on Oaxaca teachers follow massacres of striking miners, steel workers and townspeople of San Salvador Atenco. Meanwhile, in Mexico’s on-going electoral crisis, President Vicente Fox surrounded the Mexican Congress with armored personnel carriers (tanquetas) while federal police beat Congressmen. In protest against this militarization, opposition legislators blocked Fox’s final presidential address to Congress. Mexico is poised on a razor’s edge. In response to the threat of new repression, New York area labor activists are calling for a demonstration of solidarity with the Oaxaca teachers on Thursday, September 21.
Here is the background: On June 14, an army of 3,500 riot police attempted to evict a huge strike encampment (plantón) in the center of the state capital. Scores of teachers were badly beaten, some within an inch of their lives. Police burned tents, invaded the teachers’ union hall and smashed the strikers’ radio station (Radio Plantón) while firing tear gas grenades on the crowd from a helicopter. But after three hours of pitched battle, tens of thousands of strikers drove out the police and took back the Zócalo, the city’s main plaza. Oaxaca city has been in the hands of the striking teachers ever since. Now, however, Oaxaca teachers face a new wave of deadly repression as death squads kill strikers and units of the Mexican army are entering the state.
The striking teachers have massive popular support against the repressive government. In June, July and August, hundreds of thousands of Oaxacans came out in repeated “megamarchas” to demand the ouster of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. In response to government attacks, strikers took over the governor’s office, city hall, the state legislature and supreme court. To counter the lies spread by pro-government media, teachers occupied five radio stations and a television station, which is now being run by a women’s collective. The state government responded by sending in armed thugs who fired on the TV studio with machine guns and destroyed the station’s antenna. Unmarked SUVs with police and masked gunmen make nighttime forays into the city.
In late August a “caravan of death” of 40 vehicles carrying police and gun thugs careened through the city, killing an architect. The strikers responded by throwing up more than 500 barricades throughout the city. Around the state, dozens of city halls have been taken over by strikers and repressive local bosses thrown out. Currently, negotiations are underway in Mexico City between the strikers and the federal government. But while top officials talk of “facilitating” Congressional hearings on the teachers’ call to oust the hated Governor Ruiz, they are surreptitiously sending counterinsurgency troops into Oaxaca to “investigate” spurious claims that the strike is linked to guerrilla groups. Large-scale repression could be launched at any moment. So far, five strike supporters have been murdered by police and gunmen, while a number of strike leaders (Catarino Torres Pereda, Germán Mendoza Nube, Erangelio Mendoza González y Ramiro Aragón Pérez) have been jailed.
Oaxaca strikers urgently need international workers’ solidarity. In response to the bloody June 14 police attack, an emergency demonstration was called on an hour’s notice outside the Mexican consulate in New York City. A second protest the next day drew a large contingent from the Professional Staff Congress representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York. News and photos of the NYC demonstrations were published in Mexico. This greatly encouraged the strikers in Oaxaca, who fervently thanked New York trade unionists for their support. Now a strong demonstration of solidarity with the Oaxaca teachers is needed. We urge unionists to add their voices to this call and bring friends and coworkers on Thursday, September 21.
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