Mexico's Teachers Unions, disrupting Mexico City and Oaxaca
September 5, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Since late August, tens of thousands of protestors have taken over Mexico City's already chaotic streets. They've repeatedly closed down the main boulevard, chased lawmakers out of Congress, and even shut down the thoroughfare to the airport, forcing tourists and travelers to walk to terminals under police escort. Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto was forced to postpone his address by one day and move the venue to the secure grounds of the Presidential residence. The protesters are the country's teachers, who are angry about a set of reforms being debated in Congress, which have now passed, with some compromises to appease the teachers unions.

This isn't the start of this years actions in response to President Peña Nieto's efforts to reform education in Mexico. This past February, Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the teachers union, was arrested on suspicion of embezzling $200 million from the union for personal use. Ms. Gordillo has been called Mexico's most powerful woman, as Mexico's teachers' union is the largest labor syndicate in Latin America. In April, dozens of masked members of the teachers' union in Guerrero State attacked the local offices of the four major political parties, smashing windows and overturning furniture. They also set fire to the office of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to which Mr. Peña Nieto belongs.

But the history of strikes in the capitol are nothing compared to the strikes in Oaxaca, which have been an annual occurrence for decades. The largest contingent of Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) is Section 22 of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), the Oaxacan teachers' union. The history of Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) is also long and storied, as covered in this academic review of the association.
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love teachers but I'm having a hard time getting behind the protesters' desire to continue the tradition of selling and inheriting teaching positions.
posted by bearwife at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This has gotten waaay out of hand, with Mexico City's jefe de gobierno (basically, mayor) doing little or nothing to aleviate the disturbances caused to the cities streets and big-deal spots like the main airport. The maestros are, in my opinion, showing themselves to be little more than good-for-nothing groups of people doing a lot of damage to the city and to their own "cause" and image. They are not fighting for better education, teaching conditions, schools, or fair wages. They are protesting because education reform is finally beginnging to consider that maybe teachers should have evaluations and teaching posts shouldn't be inherited or passed among family members and other such things that have been comfortable conditions for the teachers but terrible conditions for teaching.
Back in their home states of Oaxaca and Michoacan, among others, parents are having to take classrooms and teach whatever they can, instead of letting their kids keep on getting weeks upon weeks of nothing.

I'm in Mexico (the country not the city) if that matters.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:39 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unions are often accused by whoever is opposing them, as being corrupt. Usually, it's not true. Unions may battle for one thing or another that people may or may not agree with. That said, the Mexican Teacher's Union - especially it's leadership - is hopelessly corrupt. What's especially appalling about this situation is that public education in Mexico is seriously lacking in quality, and results. Any attempt to create reforms always brings out these protests. This is one union that I want to see broken, or radically reformed - in addition to having some of its principal leaders indicted for high crimes.

I have spoken to Mexican educational reformers who can't get past square 1, because it might cause a change in embedded "teaching culture", even though those reformers have shown superlative results in test after test of their student subjects.

btw, one effect of the preposterously low quality of Mexican K12 education is that many Mexican immigrants to America are badly educated, thus creating more of a burden on their new home country. Example: about 50% of all new births in California are in Latino families (mostly, Mexican). Only 50% of the mothers of these children have the equivalent of an 8th grade education, with little appreciation for what the power of education can bring.

Mexico needs to step up and improve K12 education, period. The unions are working hard to keep that from happening. The unions need to lose this fight.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:43 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


The unions need to lose this fight.

This union and this fight, definetly yes.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:55 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever the problem here, I am damned sure that the 'solution' to this "labor syndicate" will be some rich asshole getting even richer.

'Hi. I make standardized tests, and I can sell them to your school system for $500 a pop. Don't worry about the costs, just take it out of the workers' salaries...or consider it an..."educational cost" and take it out of the students' money for books. Hahahahaha! I couldn't hold that laugh in. anyways, Cha-Ching!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:37 PM on September 5, 2013


I was in Oaxaca earlier this year and one of my tour guides was also a teacher. We spoke about the protests and he gave me his view of things. Essentially he didn't want to protest, didn't agree with the protests or what it was trying to achieve, but felt like he had no choice. From what he said, teaching positions are heavily influenced by the unions (or syndicates as he called them), and if you aren't protesting then you will be lucky to get any job at all.

From what he said corruption is endemic, that those at the top openly flaunt the benefits of said corruption (private planes, houses overseas etc) while the education system, the teachers and general population suffer.
posted by Admira at 7:47 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the post's use of the term "labor syndicate". It sets this organization aside from legitimate labor unions.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:15 PM on September 5, 2013


An inherited teaching position? How ridiculous is that?
posted by zardoz at 8:31 PM on September 5, 2013


An inherited teaching position? How ridiculous is that?
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art — if they desire to learn it — without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but to no one else.

-- Line 2 of the Hippocratic Oath
No more ridiculous than the above I guess.
posted by Talez at 8:37 PM on September 5, 2013


oneswellfoop: "I like the post's use of the term "labor syndicate". It sets this organization aside from legitimate labor unions"

It's also wrong. "Sindicato" is simply the Spanish word for labor union.

It's also important to note that there are two organizations here. One is the SNTE, the famously corrupt union which was until recently led by Elba Esther Gordillo, which is not particularly protesting this reform (they're not for it, but they're not out on the streets).

The other is the CNTE, which is not really a union, it's a looser organization, and was founded as an alternative to the SNTE, amongst other things because the SNTE was perceived as corrupt. The CNTE was founded in the 80s by teachers in Oaxaca and other poor rural parts of Mexico, especially in the south. They're the ones who are out on the streets now, and according to them, this reform will result in the partial privatization of Mexican education.

I'm not intimately familiar with the text of the reform, and privatization might be an exaggeration, but I do know there is something in there about having parents pay more of materials and expenses involved in certain subjects, like computing and physical education. Presumably there will be some sort of economic aid for poor families, but it also seems the CNTE aren't entirely wrong.

Of course, they might be using that as an excuse to protest their loss of cushy privileges too. It's hard to tell. Even viewed from here in Mexico City, things are rarely as simple or clear-cut as they seem.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:48 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


to appease the teachers unions

The word "appease" has such an extended meaning that I don't think it's appropriate to ever use unless in the same sentence as "Nevill Chamberlain."

There are perfectly good synonyms "accommodate" "placate" (and my personal favorite "mollify") which carry no baggage from Munich.

Unions fight for what's good for their members. That's what they are supposed to do. The idea that unions should fight for social justice or some greater good is just wrong. Teacher's unions are not there to make schools better - they exist so that teachers can get better pay, benefits, job protection. Frankly a "teacher's union" should not give a damn about the quality of schools or the quality of education - only the quality of teacher's jobs.
posted by three blind mice at 4:08 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You cannot divorce the job from the working environment, for any profession. In this example, teaching students who are hungry and teaching with insufficient resources to communicate the lessons makes the job of the teacher harder. So to say that teachers unions should only focus on the teacher's pay and benefits is short-sighted at best.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:57 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: It's also important to note that there are two organizations here. One is the SNTE, the famously corrupt union which was until recently led by Elba Esther Gordillo, which is not particularly protesting this reform (they're not for it, but they're not out on the streets).

The other is the CNTE, which is not really a union, it's a looser organization, and was founded as an alternative to the SNTE, amongst other things because the SNTE was perceived as corrupt. The CNTE was founded in the 80s by teachers in Oaxaca and other poor rural parts of Mexico, especially in the south.


Thanks for this clarification. The reports I've read haven't clearly split the two efforts.

[CNTE are] the ones who are out on the streets now, and according to them, this reform will result in the partial privatization of Mexican education.

Some people involved are saying that this is just the first of a number of efforts to privatize more of Mexico's industries, warning that the energy industries will be next.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2013


I'm in Mexico City this past week and what I've heard ranges from:

* No idea what's happening. (From a single middle-class middle-aged Mexican woman)
* Teachers are being forced to take a "test" that is rigged and they will all fail so they will have to pay a "licensing fee" to be re-qualified. (2nd-hand knowledge from a US musician who was playing a show)
* No idea of specifics, but it's part of a broader neo-liberal agenda of the PRI that has been trying to push this agenda through since the 80's (From a late-20's Mexican academic)

And keep in mind, all these come from childless individuals. I haven't spoken with anyone with kids in Mexican schools, and even if I did it would be lopsided to someone D.F.

The commercials they have been playing on TV are also pretty over the top. Lots of slick graphics and animations. Full playlist from the GOB here.
posted by wcfields at 12:56 PM on September 6, 2013


It seems to me that part of the problem is that this is a big reform package with a lot of very different and to an extent unrelated stuff in it. Some of it's good and sorely needed, but I'd be very unsurprised if the PRI didn't also take advantage of this opportunity to consolidate power, privatize in part, and so on.

It's the same thing with the energy reform. Opening up for some public-private partnerships would probably be a good idea, along the lines of Norway (Mexico is one of only three countries in the world with a government monopoly this strict on energy production), but I can't say I particularly trust the PRI to do it in a reasonable and fair manner, instead of just lining their own pockets.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:55 PM on September 6, 2013


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