Oaxaca: “A Sign of What May Be to Come for the Rest of Mexico”
A Book Review of “The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly” by Nancy Davies
By Paul Bocking
The Industrial Worker (newspaper of the IWW)
August 23, 2007
The popular uprising in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca was one of this country’s biggest untold stories from 2006, a precipitous year full of protests, strikes and repression across the nation. The People Decide is a diary-like compilation by Nancy Davies of day to day first-person news stories chronicling the movement led by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) and the state local of the national teacher’s union, for the ousting of an authoritarian governor and the creation of a truly democratic society led by the poor Indigenous majority. Davies is an American retiree who has lived in Oaxaca for the past eight years. These reports on the struggle unfolding around her were published online at narconews.com in English, and subsequently translated into Spanish and other languages.
The whole event began as a fairly routine teacher’s strike, but when state police violently attacked an encampment of striking teachers on June 14, 2006, killing at least three teachers and children, a popular uprising broke out in their support. The teacher’s bread and butter demands for higher wages and more funding for dilapidated schools were joined to a growing mass movement broadly united under the APPO, that had one non-negotiable imperative: state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz must leave office.
Police and other authorities were driven out, and government offices occupied or blockaded, in cities, towns and villages across Oaxaca. Commercial and government-run radio stations were taken over by teachers and other activists to serve as the movement’s primary form of communications. Following months of paramilitary violence and harassment conducted against teachers and the APPO, resulting in dozens of disappearances, arrests and deaths, Mexican federal police forcibly reoccupied the state capital of Oaxaca City in November 2006, at which point the entries of the book conclude.
The story of the popular rebellion in Oaxaca, which continues to unfold past the conclusion here, is one which all IWW members should familiarize themselves with, as a contemporary example of a revolutionary movement of organized workers and their community that are transforming their society. It exists despite the best efforts of a violent government, its business allies and the capitalist media in Mexico and abroad that prefers to ignore or sensationalize it. Narconews.com is the best independent online news source in English (and one of the best in Spanish) on Mexico’s social movements. Their publication last April of this collection of articles is certainly timely, considering the events it depicts occurred only several months earlier.
As with other contemporary major social movements like Argentina’s worker-run factories and Mexico’s Zapatistas, over the next few years, volumes of books and articles will likely be published on the “Oaxaca Commune”. They will be able to offer more analysis and different perspectives. The APPO itself is a hotly contested political organization involving several factions, creating difficulties for an author seeking to accurately characterize it. Some activists in Oaxaca claim this is Davies’ oversight. Aside from these limitations, The People Decide has a sense of immediacy one can feel while reading the entries of this book that few future publications will likely be able to replicate.
Wobblies have participated in solidarity protests against state violence in Oaxaca, wrote and distributed articles in both the Industrial Worker and the IWW’s Spanish-language newsletter Solidaridad, and spent time there, building direct links between the IWW and local grassroots organizations. I hope that IWW members continue to support the popular movements of Oaxaca, and draw inspiration from their struggles. For an excellent account of the first six months of the Oaxaca uprising, and a sign of what may be to come for the rest of Mexico, The People Decide is a great read.
Published in the August edition of the Industrial Worker
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