I usually abstain from reporting on the Mexican political scene. But yesterday the Mexico City authorities dislodged a group of protesters who had occupied Mexico’s Main Plaza for more than a month. Many readers have emailed me, confused by the players’ similar acronyms; and they are asking if this an example of the “haves” bending the “have-nots” to their will?
El SNTE (the National Education Union) with approximately 1,200,000 members is one of the most powerful unions in the country. For the most part they are united in their efforts to conserve the rights and privileges of their membership. But in recent years they’ve been forced to accept changes and acknowledge that their traditional model is no longer sustainable.
In disagreement with the national group, a small number (about 70,000 mostly former SNTE members) formed their own union, La CNTE (The National Coordinating Body of Teachers) with its power base in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Oaxaca and Guerrero are poor states where education follows a very traditional path. The union controls the Secretariat of Education in both states and in fact 31% of the union members are not actually teachers. Who are these people who make up almost 1/3 of the ranks?
La CNTE’s occupation of El Zocalo, Mexico City’s historic central square blocked access to hotels and other tourism infrastructure – on several occasions, the dissidents also tried to occupy the international airport. Their daily protest marches strangled the already heavily congested city causing businesses to close, employees to miss work, and of course, children could not attend school when their teachers were marching in the streets.
Definitely, it is everyone’s right to protest for their rights but when the protest actions so seriously infringe on others’ ability to live their daily lives, I question the validity of such actions.
And let’s not turn a blind eye to the obvious… although the statutes of the union say otherwise, it is common practice for teachers with seniority or hard cash to buy, sell or inherit permanent positions as though they were family heirlooms. Removing poorly performing teachers is virtually impossible, even over allegations of sexual or substance abuse.
Lawmakers, who passed the principal outlines of the education reform bill last December have even gone so far as to shelve one of the bill’s most vital provisions: an evaluation requirement aimed at halting the buying and selling teaching jobs.
To be fair, it must be said that a sizable percentage of the “dissidents” are not even teachers. As with all protest movements, there are dedicated anarchists who infiltrate the ranks and cause violence. This hurts the union’s position and breaks down any sympathy the population has for the teachers’ cause.
The federal government is not perfect and the track record of the PRI is not without blemish, but the fact is, if this country is to move forward, reforms in education must happen. Testing of the teachers’ competence, a standardization of the way full time teaching positions are allocated, and the federal government’s insistence on managing the teachers’ payroll are just a few of the changes that the traditionalists are 100% against.
Private investment in education is another key element of the government’s reform bill, and this has angered most teachers, not just the CNTE union members. The differences between the city and the countryside teachers, increasing corporatization, and dwindling autonomy are other areas where more negotiation must take place.
Hopefully cooler heads and progressive educators will continue to look for consensus because education is Mexico’s primary issue. Only with improved education will the majority of Mexicans be able to overcome poverty and provide a better future for their families.