Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly Throws Down a Challenge to the Governor: General Strike on October 27, 28, and 29
Divisions in the Teachers’ Union as Members Vote to Return to Classes
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
October 27, 2006
OCTOBER 26, 2006: After five months of struggle, the Popular Assembly movement in Oaxaca has reached an impasse. Many fear the solution will come through violence, many still hope that the governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (known as “URO”) will end the confrontation by resigning his office when confronted with even fiercer ungovernability. He says he won’t. However Oaxaca comes through this moment of struggle, in my own opinion as an observer, the Popular Assembly movement – born out of a teachers’ strike that evolved far beyond the teachers’ demands and now involves countless other groups and individuals – has now surged beyond the point where it can be obliterated by government actions or a collapse of the teachers’ resolve.
Some, such as myself, read this traumatic week both as the climax of one phase, and the inception of a second. By no means would I consider the teachers’ vote on Thursday to return to classes the death of the Popular Assembly movement, which has already spread to one third of the states in Mexico
The teachers’ assembly of Saturday and Sunday to vote on a return to classes was so highly suspect that the teachers decided to have a second consultation at the base. The report of the second consultation, which was scheduled to be reported out on Wednesday, October 25, was postponed twice during that day. By evening, the delegates had entered the building. At that moment, the unofficial count of vote results was 28,000 for returning to classes, and a few more than 20,000 for not returning. Around 8 p.m., amid an already tense atmosphere, shots were heard close to the side street which abuts the Hotel Magisterio (the teachers’ union-owned hotel used for meetings). The assembly adjourned. The directors decided that security was so fragile it was better to postpone.
On Thursday, October 26, the meeting was postponed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., when Enrique Rueda Pacheco, the leader of the Oaxacan local “Section 22” of the teachers’ union, finally arrived. Rueda has been the object of scorn and allegations of selling out since the last consultation vote, which many believe was tampered with. During the afternoon wait, a bus was burned, and about eleven shots were fired by unknown persons. The assembly finally got underway at 3 p.m. The consultation vote of rank-and-file teachers was officially announced to be 31,078 in favor of return to classes, and 20,387 against. The date for opening the schools has not yet been set.
The Oaxaqueños’ income depends to a considerable extent on its two salaried unions, teachers and health workers, both now without income. Furthermore, the artisan and tourist segments of the economy have diminished dramatically during the months of strikes and protests. Another factor is that after November 15, the school year would be considered “lost.”
On the other side, the arguments to continue the resistance include what I imagine to be the inevitable picking off of individual teachers and Section 22 leaders if URO were to ultimately emerge “victorious.” Especially in the rural areas, where communications are nearly non-existent, there would be little to stop the movements’ opponents from exacting revenge through murder, something the government is clearly not adverse to (as last week’s murder of schoolteacher Pánfilo Hernández made clear). Additionally, the division in Section 22 over whether to continue the strike heralds the demise of the previously largest and strongest independent union in the country, a betrayal of those who came out in support, and of those who were killed during the strike. Since the teachers initiated the Popular Assembly movement and signed on to the declaration of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials) that the departure of URO is not revocable, it remains to be seen how the teachers, and how many of them, will remain within the APPO ranks and maintain the struggle.
According to a report in the national daily El Universal, the majority of the union delegations from the Valles Centrales region have declared they will fight on until the fall of URO. Whether this means they will head back to classes is unclear.
The Valles Centrales region, which includes Oaxaca City, is the largest and most influential of the eight that make up Section 22, and encompasses 215 of the 743 delegations. This represents 25,000 of the almost 70,000 teachers in the state. The southeastern Isthmus of Tehuantepec and northern Tuxtepec regions, which voted in favor of return to classes, are comprised of 18,000 teachers.
Meanwhile, the APPO issued a “call for a popular peaceful insurrection” on December 1 if the state’s governor, Ulises Ruiz, has not stepped down by then. The immediate plan for October 27, 28 and 29 is a complete blockade of highways and roads, and complete closure of all businesses. It is supposed to be not only a state strike, but a national one, and one that will foreshadow the speed, progress and strength of the Popular Assembly movement.
The December 1 call steps up pressure on President-elect Felipe Calderón, who faces opposition with civil disobedience actions to his inauguration on the same day. Under the slogan “Si Ulises no se va, Calderon no pasará” (“If Ulises does not go, Calderon will not pass”), the APPO has affiliated with the national anti-Calderón actions. An APPO spokesman declared on Radio Universidad on Thursday October 26 that this is a moment of decision. He pointed out that the military is moving around the state in small groups of five or ten at a time.
Speaking to widespread fears of military incursions (or what is now a common occurance: military in civilian clothing carrying out attacks), on Wednesday, October 25, residents of the Sierra Juarez area marched to Oaxaca City to show their support for the APPO. They and residents of the surrounding Sierra Norte mountains have complained of the military occupation to which they are now subjected, with large convoys of soldiers passing through their communities in the last weeks. Leaders from towns such as Guelatao, the birthplace of Mexico’s only indigenous president, Benito Juárez, addressed the teachers’ assembly in support of the struggle. Messages of support were read out from Mexico City and from students. Solidarity was the word of the day, offered also from the United States and other nations. Many believe that the external attention has been a factor in deterring a bloody repression. Nevertheless, the votes had already been cast at least a day before the speeches, and were being reported by the sector delegates.
Virtually simultaneously, the Civil Dialogue For Peace, Democracy and Justice in Oaxaca held its first plenary to report on results of the working tables since October 12. The Dialogue group declares itself a third civil organization, being neither the APPO nor Section 22. Its goal is to give all citizens an opportunity to speak about the problems besetting Oaxaca, especially underdevelopment, economic disparity and social repression.
Not surprisingly, this groups’ program for Oaxaca is similar to that of the APPO, as is its horizontal structure of organization. It declares that Oaxaca is in a moment of transition, although the old regime has not yet fallen. It described the situation as “subnational authoritarianism.” The document produced in the plenary reads: “There are many different activists who a seek change and transformation in the state, from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, which is establishing forms of alternative popular power, to expressions by some from the political class, from the business class and from diverse sectors of society.”
It describes the APPO as an anti-authoritarian non-political movement characterized by plurality and diversity. Within the APPO, the Dialog document points out, a single ideology does not exist. “The APPO is a front for the whole population, open to all; it is a front of organizations in process of construction. Within the APPO, social organizations, unions, civil organizations, homesteaders, academics, church communities, artists, indigenous organizations and campesina women, peoples and communities come together. The APPO articulates diverse sectors in a discourse and strategy which has a common objective: the removal of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz as governor of Oaxaca and the political transformation of the state.”
During the past week the Dialogue reached conclusions on programs for the economy, the natural resources, the urban environment, the media and communications, and education.
In conclusion, the Dialogue declared: “This moment requires us to see ourselves, and define what it is we want. We agree that a new structure of government is required, as well as a new legal institutional structure. We want a new democratic project. Essentially, we propose the establishing of a New Social Pact…”
With those words, yet another forum for the struggle was established.
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