Mexico: Union leaders accused of attacking their own members

Education workers in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico
Education workers gather outside local education offices

Striking teachers in Cuidad Juarez have accused union bosses of being behind an attack on them.

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on September 12, 2007

Members of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores en Educación (National Union of Education Workers) are pointing the finger at their local union bosses following an attack on the worker-occupied union headquarters in Cuidad Juárez in Mexico in which "punches were thrown" and equipment was damaged.

Section 8, the union's local branch, claim the attack of 2nd September was in retaliation to a demonstration members held outside the offices of the local education authorities three days earlier against the culture of "abuse of power...sexual harassment, intimidation and the sale of jobs" within local education bureaucracy. The demonstration included one woman teacher's personal account of the campaign of sexual abuse (supported by periodic threats of dismissal) she was subjected to by the Section’s head, Héctor Arras.

The demonstration coincided with a national education workers' strike against a new law being pushed by the Instituto Social de Seguridad y Servicios de los Trabajadores del Estado (ISSSTE - the government ministry responsible for public sector employees) which ushers in pension reform. Earlier in the day strikers had blockaded one of the main bridges in the northern city, which borders Texas.

The Section wrote that they hold “the leaders of Section 8 responsible for these aggressions, [the same] sector heads and inspectors who felt implicated by the demonstration we held outside their offices on 31st August. […] These actions once again demonstrate the recurrent, cynical and above all desperate modus operandi of the corrupt SNTE leadership in response to the threat constituted by its organised and united base.”

Dissent within SNTE against its leadership has been on the increase for a while. Members of Section 22, whose strike in Oaxaca in June 2006 was the catalyst behind the region’s ongoing revolt, have formed CNTE, a now national oppositional current within the union. A considerable amount of the antagonism between the SNTE membership and its hierarchy is caused by the specifics of post-revolutionary Mexican politics, which has seen the established prevailing order preferring to integrate and incorporate oppositional and revolutionary currents within its large state machinery, rather than confront them full on, as a means of self-preservation.

However, the SNTE represents something of an extreme example. Its leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, who has flip-flopped between political parties (depending on who currently holds power; she’s currently a member of President Calderón’s PAN party), is extremely close to the President and has actually given her support to the ISSSTE law against which her union are striking. However, the Movimiento resISSSTE (as the movement against the law has come to be known) has seen indefinite strikes in Oaxaca and Guerrero, an ongoing picket of Parliament in Mexico City and the forced closure of governmental offices in Michoacán, as well as the above actions in Cuidad Juárez, Chihuahua.