Mexico: violence at university workers strike in Mexico City

Banners at the UAM campus in Iztapalapa

A tense strike and occupation at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) in the southeast of Mexico City today enters its 31st day despite the picket line being attacked by hostile students.

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on March 2, 2008

Students have also interrupted negotiations between union leaders and the university authorities.

The strike by the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM) began on 1st February, with workers listing 11 demands, the most important of which being a 35% payrise. SITUAM leaders and the UAM rectorship have periodically conducted negotiations during the strike, however an agreement between the two seems like a distant possibility, with the university especially reluctant to accept the demanded payrise.

The most recent round of negotiations was abandoned on Thursday (28th), when there were clashes following the forced entrance of a group of students into the meeting room, supposedly attempting to submit a document about the strike to the UAM Secretary General. SITUAM condemned the intrusion by the Asamblea Estudiantil de Iztapalapa (AEI - Iztapalapa Student Assembly; Iztapalapa being the location of the main UAM campus), but AEI claimed they had peaceful motives and blamed the security guards around the building for the violent scenes.

Throughout the strike, various agitational student groups have been formed to represent the full spectrum of campus opinion about the conflict. Many have tried to mediate between the union and the university bosses as a means of ending the dispute, with one group calling for the removal from talks of a particularly aggressive negotiator for UAM. Some groups - including the AEI - openly support the striking workers but parrot calls for a return to classes as soon as possible.

The mainstream press has universally panned SITUAM's demands, a sentiment which - in contrast to other recent university strikes - has been shared by many UAM students. The strikers' flags outside the Iztapalapa campus have been damaged with graffiti saying "WE WANT CLASSES". More worringly, on Friday (29th), police were forced to intervene when the pickets in Iztapalapa were attacked by hostile students. Heavily outnumbered, strikers were temporarily forced to abandon their pickets, although minutes later they were able to return to man them again.

Oddly enough, the UAM authorities who were so quick to hysterically denounce attacks on themselves, have yet to comment on the latest violence around the strike. This may not be coincidence, since both the Mexican state and university authorities have previously encouraged and organised anti-strike student goons (known as "porros") to attack strikers and commit antisocial and violent acts on campus as a means of discrediting them.

In the 1999-2000 student strike at Latin America's biggest university - the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) near the UAM in southern Mexico City - students occupying one campus awoke to see students and lecturers manning farm machinery declaring their intention to evict the strikers. It later transpired that these students were actually in the pay of UNAM authorities.

Some political commentators have used the UAM strike as a means of reiterating their arguments against public education. UAM is one of a handful of "autonomous" Mexican state universities, offering free education (aside from a token enrolment payment) to every Mexican student who passes their entrance examinations. Workers at another autonomous university - the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo (UAEH) - also came out on strike over pay on Friday (29th), and January saw strikes by autonomous universities in Veracruz and Durango, as well as a host of strikes in private universities up and down the country.

The logic is that university workers' salaries can only be raised in the event of levying course fees on UAM students. This is unlikely to come to pass. The aforementioned UNAM strike of 1999-2000 was in response to UNAM's attempts to do just that, and the strike ended in victory for the students.

As for the UAM and UAEH, the struggle continues, although the resolve of the workers (or indeed, their representatives at the negotiating table) remains to be seen.