September 2006   

Demonstrators  outside Mexican consulate in New York City, September 21. (Internationalist photo)

On September 21, some 150 teachers, professors, trade-unionists, students, leftists and community activists joined in an energetic picket outside Mexico’s Consulate General in New York to “Protest Repression in Oaxaca, Mexico – Defend the Striking Teachers.” (See leaflet with endorsers list.) The picketers were demonstrating militant solidarity with the 70,000 teachers in the southern Mexican state on strike since last May 22, who have braved massive police repression and death squads that have killed at least five strike supporters in the last month.

Maestros oaxaqueños, estamos con ustedes” (Oaxaca teachers, we are with you), the NYC demonstrators chanted. The chant was so loud, in fact, that it was heard all the way to Oaxaca, via a live broadcast from the picket line to the strikers’ station, Radio Plantón (Sit-In Radio). Pictures of the protest were printed in El Diario-La Prensa in New York and La Jornada in Mexico City. On the same day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, members of the teachers union (SEPE) from the steel city of Volta Redonda carried a banner proclaiming: “SEPE-V.R. Calls on the Working Class to Strike in Solidarity with the Teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico.”

The New York protest exceeded the organizers’ expectations, as protesters kept arriving. Soon it was almost impossible to move in the narrow area blocked off by steel barriers set up by the police to cordon off demonstrations. Picketers chanted, “From New York to Oaxaca, fight for the right to strike!” Other chants included, “Oaxaca, Atenco, massacres in Mexico,” “International solidarity with Mexican teachers,” “Defend Mexican teachers against death squad terror” and “¡Viva la huelga de los maestros oaxaqueños!

An important aspect of the Oaxacan teachers’ struggle is the fight against the oppression of the indigenous peoples of this state, where more than a third of the population speaks native languages. One of the signs carried in the September 21 protest carried a greeting in Mixteco from a Oaxacan teacher thanking New York teachers for their support. Another declared in Spanish: “Against Racism, Discrimination and State Terror, Defend the Indigenous Peoples of Oaxaca and Chiapas!” (A large majority of the striking teachers in this heavily indigenous state are women, many from the Zapotec, Mixtec, Mixe, Triqui and other Indian peoples.)

The united-front protest was in response to a call endorsed by more than 70 individuals and organizations, including scores of professors from the City University of New York (CUNY) and teachers from the city’s public schools. For several weeks, union activists from the Professional Staff Congress (PSC, representing CUNY faculty and staff) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) have been gathering support for the protest in support of the Oaxaca teachers. The Internationalist Group and supporters in the PSC and UFT as well as members of the Internationalist Clubs at CUNY played an important role in initiating and building the protest.

The broadcast over Radio Plantón was particularly important, lasting for 25 minutes before the connection was broken. The strikers prepared beforehand to transmit on all the occupied radio stations in Oaxaca. So when the call from New York came in, four other stations (Radio La Ley, Radio APPO, and others) were networked in. Amid the chanting some of the signs carried by protesters were mentioned, among them the call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. A student from the CUNY Internationalist Clubs spoke from personal experience growing up in the state of Guerrero about the racism directed against indigenous peoples in Mexico. CUNY professor Electa Arenal sent greetings to the Oaxacan teachers she had met while attending a tri-national (U.S.-Canada-Mexico) conference in defense of public education there last March.

As demonstrators called to fight for the right to strike, we explained to listeners that under New York’s anti-labor Taylor Law, public sector workers are banned from striking here, yet last December the powerful Transport Workers Union (TWU) shut down the city’s subways and buses for three days. Despite massive fines, the TWUers were unbroken. A spokesman for the Internationalist Group explained to listeners that this was intimately connected to the burning need for a revolutionary workers party, both in the U.S. and Mexico, because all the bosses’ parties supported repression against the strikers. The announcer in Oaxaca said that many strikers had expressed the need for a party representing the working people.

The picket was being broadcast while Oaxacan strikers were beginning a long trek by foot to Mexico City that is expected to last two weeks. Marchers listening to the broadcast from the striker-occupied radio stations called in questions to Radio Plantón to pass on to the protest in New York. One listener wanted to know what unions were represented (dozens of members of the PSC, UFT and TWU). Another asked if any document had been brought to the consulate. We reported that a New York teacher and a high school student had tried to deliver a letter from UFT president Randi Weingarten protesting the repression against Oaxacan teachers, but they were rebuffed.

There is no doubt that the radio broadcast gave marchers trekking through the Oaxacan countryside a real lift hearing the chanting from New York and knowing that there was a large and combative solidarity demonstration in the heart of U.S. imperialism supporting the strikers. Now the right-wing government of Mexican president Vicente Fox is threatening to send in federal forces to dislodge the teachers. Governor Ulises Ruiz has issued an ultimatum for teachers to return to work by Monday, September 25, or he will replace them with scabs and send in the police. It is urgent for the working class internationally to come to the aid of our class sisters and brothers in Oaxaca.

Bloody Repression, Hard Class Struggle

For the last four months the Oaxacan teachers and their supporters have been engaged in a hard and protracted class battle, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Mexico in several decades. On June 14, the governor sent an army of 3,500 riot police to evict strikers camped out in 52 blocks in the heart of the state capital. The repressive forces let off repeated volleys of tear gas (and rifle fire), burned the strikers’ tents, invaded the teachers union headquarters, destroying the strike radio station, and brutally beat anyone they came across. But after a tenacious struggle, tens of thousands of teachers retook the city center.

Two days later 300,000 people marched in solidarity with the teachers. Ever since, the entire city has been in the hands of the teachers and their allies. Police, often masked, periodically sneak into town for nighttime incursions in unmarked vehicles. After one such raid in late August, in which a strike supporter was shot to death by a marauding “caravan of death,” more than 500 barricades were thrown up all around Oaxaca city. The city hall, state legislature, supreme court and governor’s office are all occupied, as well as several radio stations and the state government’s TV channel.

Upon receiving phone reports from our comrades of the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico about the bloody June 14 cop attack on the striking teachers, the Internationalist Group in New York called an emergency protest outside the Mexican consulate on an hour’s notice. The IG initiated a second demonstration at the consulate the following day which was joined by a large contingent from the PSC. Photos of that demonstration were published in the Mexico City daily La Jornada and in Noticias in Oaxaca, the widely read daily newspaper which is supporting the teachers.

Over the next two and a half months, militants of the Grupo Internacionalista were in Oaxaca almost constantly, distributing thousands of leaflets to the strikers and talking of the need for a national strike against the murderous government, the formation of workers defense committees and fighting to forge class-struggle unions to break the stranglehold of the corporatist “unions” which for decades acted as labor police for the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). A particular focus was the GI’s call to break with the popular front around the bourgeois-populist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) led by presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, widely known by his initials AMLO.

This was a key issue among the teachers, since after saying for a month that they would boycott the July 2 elections, the union leadership and their allies in the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) ended up calling for a “punishment vote” against the hated PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) of the bloodthirsty governor Ruiz, which ruled Mexico for 70 years and was still in power in Oaxaca, and against the right-wing clericalist PAN (National Action Party) of Mexican president Fox. This popular-frontist appeal amounted to a call to vote for AMLO and the PRD, which 46 percent of the voters in the state did. At the end of July, supporters of the Grupo Internacionalista held a video showing of the film “Land and Liberty” about the Spanish Civil War and forum on the popular front which drew several dozen strikers.

In August, a youth leader of the GI addressed a mass meeting of 1,500 strike supporters in Oaxaca called by the APPO, declaring that there would be no “democracy” under capitalism for the poor and working people, women and indigenous peoples, denouncing the role of the PRD, and calling for a revolutionary workers party. As PRD supporters attempted to shout him down, our comrade held his ground, while a number of teachers called out to “let him speak.” In the end he got more applause than a PRD senator. Striking teachers crowded around to see photos of the June 14 and 15 protests in New York City and effusively asked IG supporters to convey their thanks to NYC teachers for their solidarity. 198 copies of a new issue of the Mexican edition of El Internacionalista were sold as strikers lined up and called out for copies.

The struggle of the Oaxaca teachers figured prominently in a Grupo Internacionalista forum on “Mexico: Bourgeois Elections and Workers Blood” and “Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Post-Soviet World” held in the Leon Trotsky Museum in Coyoacán (Mexico City) on August 19, the eve of the anniversary of Trotsky’s murder there by a Stalinist agent in 1940. Starting in late August, supporters of the International Group back in New York began agitating and working with activists of the PSC and UFT, to build a labor protest of solidarity with the embattled Oaxacan teachers. UFTers to Stop the War was among the initiators of the demo. Although the union tops refused to endorse, many individual members enthusiastically did.

The IG had a stand at the annual West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn on September 4, selling copies of The Internationalist with several articles on the hot struggles in Mexico. A well-attended forum was held by the Hunter Internationalist Club on September 7 showing a just-completed video produced by the Internationalist Group on “Class Battles in Mexico” (copies of the video are available for sale). On September 9, several hundred leaflets calling for the protest along with a fact sheet on events in Oaxaca were distributed and dozens of endorsements for a protest gathered at the Labor Day parade, despite the wretched Democratic (and in some cases Republican) politics of the pro-capitalist union tops.

On September 14, a “report-back” meeting was held at the City University Graduate Center, sponsored by the Association of Latino and Latin American Students and endorsed by the PSC, CUNY Internationalist Clubs and the Doctoral Students Council. In a room packed to overflowing with more than 60 people, CUNY faculty who recently were in Oaxaca recounted the struggle there and segments were shown from a video shot and being edited by Professor Tami Gold of the Hunter Film Department. After the presentations there was a lively debate with more than a dozen speakers in the audience over the role of the PRD, the nature of the corporatist “unions” in Mexico and the need for solidarity action in the United States.

On September 17, flyers were distributed and 50 copies of El Internacionalista sold at the Mexican Independence Day festival in New York. As momentum built for the picket, an IG spokesman gave an interview on WBAI radio emphasizing key aspects of the struggle in Oaxaca, including the important issue of racism against indigenous peoples. The Hunter Internationalist Club held a sign-making session making dozens of signs. In Mexico City, the Grupo Internacionalista held a forum on the teachers’ struggle, with students who traveled from Oaxaca speaking, at the CCH-Sur preparatory school which was attended by over 100 students. Meanwhile, in Brazil, supporters of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brazil, section of the League for the Fourth International, were pushing for the teachers union there to demonstrate support for the Mexican strikers. In all three countries, the Internationalist video was shown.

These intense efforts prepared the way for the successful September 21 protest. At the picket, an Internationalist Group leaflet was distributed with an update from Mexico on the “Threat of Heavy Crackdown in Mexico.” At the end of the hour-long protest, the crowd was addressed by a number of the participants. An executive board member of TWU Local 100 spoke of the battle for the right to strike and against the union-busting Taylor Law, after which demonstrators again chanted to fight for the right to strike. A prominent member of the PSC spoke of how teachers in Oaxaca had inspired teachers in New York, and of the need for the working class to become active against the war. Protesters chanted “For workers strikes against the war!” and “Defeat U.S. Imperialism!” An activist from the UFT told how the consulate refused to receive the letter from the NYC teachers union, with 150,000 members, against the repression in Oaxaca.

There were also speakers from Grassroots Haiti, the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, the International Socialist Organization, the League for the Revolutionary Party, Progressive Labor Party and the Spartacist League. The speaker from the Internationalist Group emphasized that the key issue is revolutionary leadership: the Oaxacan teachers have certainly shown tenacity and courage, and have massive popular backing, but the strike is undercut by the leadership’s support for the PRD, many of whose members have been scabbing on the strike and whose legislators are now calling to bring in the Mexican federal police to dislodge the strikers. The fight against massive poverty, to defend immigrants’ rights, to defeat the imperialist war on Afghanistan and Iraq, both in Mexico and the U.S., require the leadership of a revolutionary workers party.

The demonstration ended with vigorous chants to fight for the right to strike, denouncing death squad repression, and proclaiming “¡Viva la huelga de los maestros oaxaqueños!”  n

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