Mexican Teachers Flex Muscle, But Parents Pushing Back

Tens of thousands of teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico are set to return to schools after they called off a strike that lasted for nearly two months and that kept almost 1.3 million children from school. Their return, however, may be disrupted by disgruntled parents who are yet to get over their actions.

Oaxaca teachers are notorious for frequent strikes and violent protests. In 2006, teachers and left-wing political allies took over the colonial city of Oaxaca, the state capital, for five months, halting authorities such as judges and police from working.

According to Jose de Cordoba of Wall Street Journal, the teachers went on strike to protest President Enrique Pena Nieto’s push to overhaul Mexico’s education system. The strike underlined the political muscle of the Oaxaca-based Section 22 as it strives to become the backbone of a national protest movement against the President. The radical unit of the National Coordinator of Educational Workers, known as the CNTE, has about 250,000 members, most of them in Mexico’s poor southern states.

“There is no other movement in this country that can mobilize contingents like Sector 22 can,” said Rogelio Vargas, a union activist.

However it is still unclear as to whether the government will apply the new law in states such as Oaxaca, where education is virtually run by CNTE. Mr. Rogelio could not really reveal whether the government would apply it.

“That’s the way it’s always been in Oaxaca,” he said.

As if to justify its political muscle, at the height of the strike last month, CNTE mobilized tens of thousands of teachers who protested and blocked roads across the country.  However, the protests were partly due to Mr. Nieto’s attempts to open Mexico’s oil and energy sectors to private investment; a controversial effort the teachers are opposing. The protests are very wide as they cover states that section 22 didn’t previously have a presence.

“Oaxaca is the train pulling the protests,” Mr. Rogelio said.

In Mexico City, about 30,000 striking Oaxaca teachers and union colleagues from other states paralyzed the capital for days at a time, blocking access to the airport, stopping lawmakers from entering the Congress, laying siege to television broadcast studios and public buildings and turning the main square into a tent city.

During the teachers’ absence, parents, with the help of teachers from a non-striking union, opened dozens of schools in the poor southern state of Oaxaca, including one at Mitla, a town that draws many tourists to its pre-Columbian ruins.

Due to the difficulties that the parents went through in reopening some schools, and the agony they faced everyday of seeing their children not going to school, they have vowed to block the teachers’ return.

“If those teachers try to take over the school, we will run them out of town with sticks, stones, and fists,” said Amado Morales, a lawyer, who as the head of the parents’ association at Mitla’s Benito Juárez primary school helped reopen the school.