Friday, June 27, 2008

Oaxacan teachers reach agreement with their union and local government

Sección 22, the radical Oaxacan section of the Latin American education workers' union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores en la Educación (SNTE), has finally signed deals with both the SNTE hierarchy and Oaxacan local government. However, the strike will continue until this weekend.

The strike (previously reported on Libcom here and here), a contrast of almost blanket support from union members and almost blanket condemnation from the rest of the state, will however continue until this Sunday, five days longer than originally planned, and today, another regional section took over the maintenance of the plantón (encampment) in Ciudad de Oaxaca's main plaza.

The SNTE executive bowed to the Oaxacan local's demands of new union elections within the state this coming September, a core demand of the strike in the context of the national union leadership's breaking of the 2006 strike in Oaxaca in the midst of a statewide revolt. In order to undermine the authority of Sección 22, the SNTE went as far as to form a rival local in Oaxaca, Sección 59. The hierarchy also agreed to hitherto return to them 90% of their dues

While the local government acceeded to the majority of their demands, the most immediately impressive of which being the (supposed) release of "all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Oaxaca and the cancellation of all arrest orders on movement members". The government claims this has been enacted in the form of their discontinued interest in some 250 individuals, but even a cursory glance at the track record of law enforcement agencies within the state creates doubts about their sincerity.

Also within the agreement is an undertaking by the local government to do the following:

-$500 million pesos' (around £24.5 million) investment in infrastructure and equipment for Oaxacan schools, including new kitchens and provisions to provide school breakfasts (school starts and finishes early in Mexico), new uniforms, shoes, amongst other things

-the return to Sección 22 of 108 schools "occupied" by Sección 59 (or rather, "a committee to oversee the regularisation of services in schools affected by conflict")

-an increase in the annual compensation of teachers for their personal contributions to the maintenance of school supplies

-an increase in the number of state scholarships for sons of education workers

-an increase in funding for programmes for homeless children and orphans

-more investment in medical centres in rural areas

-more availability of loans and accommodation for education workers (government programmes often offer both to young state workers in order to keep public services [nearly] afloat)

-the recognition of Sección 22 as the sole representation of Oaxacan state education workers (as opposed to Sección 59)

Most of the budget increases will be at a lower rate than the strikers demanded, according to the common practice of barter in industrial disputes. The local's demands of the removal of Ulises Ruíz Ortíz, the incredibly unpopular state governor, and the shelving of the ISSSTE law (which intends to break up state pensions provisions) were also unsurprisingly successful.

However, the striking workers have won a great many gains in their workplace, and have once again demonstrated to their critics - who claim that their annual strike damages the education of their pupils - that industrial action is the only way to improve their working conditions. Moreover, the fractured Sección 59, whose leader today was forced to deny that its members have struck at all, now sound somewhat irrelevant in their pious proclamations about "being concerned with the children's quality of education".

Now talk moves onto the future of this unstable, poor and desperately unhappy region, and a propaganda campaign has started in earnest against Sección 22 in the wake of their forcing of the local authority's hands. One prominent local government minister told journalists that the agreement demonstrates that Sección 22 "will never have to strike again", in an attempt to jettison the almost 30 year old tradition of a yearly work stoppage.

Meanwhile the local itself is accused of corruption, with the disappearance of $5 million pesos (around £245,000) of money set aside by the union for reconstruction work in the main plaza of Ciudad de Oaxaca following the unrest of 2006.

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