Mexico’s public school teachers union continues to protest against President Enrique Pena Nieto’s educational restructuring. Now that the midterm election has passed and the teachers’ promise to prevent the election failed, the administration plans to strike back at the union by reducing funding.
The National Education Workers Union consists of 300,000 members and is the largest trade federation in Latin America. The most militant section, the National Coordinator of Educational Workers, contains about 80,000 members, and was founded in 1979 by teachers upset by the mainstream union.
In the past, they have taken over plazas with tent cities, burned government buildings, held marches, torched ballots, and closed schools. To try to prevent the election, they seized state electoral offices, cordoned off the airport, cut off gas supplies in the capital, and called on their thousands of followers to boycott the election. More than 10,000 soldiers were deployed to protect voting booths. The government agreed to halt tests for teachers, which sapped momentum from the protests long enough for the elections to happen, and then reinstated the policy the next day.
Testing for teachers has been required since 2013, and those wishing to be promoted to administrative posts are required to take tests as well. Education minister Emilio Chuayffet Chemor has stated that any teachers who decline to take the test will be fired, writes Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post.
Jose Palacios, a 45-year old elementary school teacher from Michoacan, explained his support:
The education reform is not about teaching the kids. It’s an administrative labor reform. They want a massive departure of teachers across the country through this punitive test.
We’re here for job security. That’s what we’re fighting for.
Alberto Aziz Nassif, a researcher at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of Social Anthropology in Mexico City, said:
The test has become something threatening for the teachers, and so they are threatening the government. The government wants to respond, but they don’t know how to respond, so everything remains locked in negotiation.
Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico and contains Section 22, a particularly militant and vocal movement within the union. According to government officials, the union controls the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca (IEEPO), including the education budget, hiring and promotion practices, and the passage of government school programs Those who participate in union activities are more likely to get access to vacation days and better jobs.
A government briefing paper said that the Oaxaca union:
… has the power of the state without the corresponding obligations.
The conflict between the union and the government has lasted most of a decade, according to teleSUR. In 2006, striking teachers camped for months in the central plaza to demand pay increases until soldiers and police drove them out. Between 2006 and 2010, teachers missed an average of 64 school days a year because of their strikes and walkouts. Lately, the teacher testing program has them incensed, writes Agencia EFE.
Officials intend to take back authority, but have declined to talk about their methods. Francisco Gil Villegas, a professor of social sciences at the College of Mexico, said:
The government needs to limit its functions. It’s not clear who is the boss of the teachers, who pays them, who punishes them for wrongdoing. Who’s going to make them fulfill their work obligations?