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Support building for Oaxaca Commune November 4, 2006

Posted by raved in Oaxaca.
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This past weekend, the government of Vicente Fox sent in federal
troops to tear down the barricades that were set up by the mobilized
people of Oaxaca to defend the teachers’ strike and to demand the
ouster of hated PRI Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

The Fox administration had hesitated for many months to take such
action, realizing it could backfire and detonate further
insurrectionary struggles across the entire country. It also didn’t
want to pay the political price of sending in troops to prop up a
politician as universally despised, even among the conservatives in
the state, as Ruiz Ortiz.

In addition, the government had succeeded in luring the top
leadership of Section 22 of the teachers’ union — the backbone of
the strike and popular upheaval — into accepting a settlement. There
was a possibility now of splitting the movement by getting the
teachers’ issues resolved without having to meet the demand to
impeach Ruiz Ortiz.

This settlement, I should note, included many key concessions by the
government to the teachers’ demands — concessions that were made to
the union precisely because the government hoped to split the
teachers away from the rest of the embattled people, organized in the
Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

For example, the wage-parity increases during the first year
(amounting to a 30 percent raise) are more than double what the
government had promised. The government, moreover, agreed to pay the
remaining 825 million pesos over six years, even though some major
loopholes were thrown into the agreement on this question. More money
was allotted for uniforms and schools. All wages lost during the
course of the strike would be paid. Jailed teachers would be
released. And the union was recognized as such — when at first the
government wanted to dissolve the union into a “civil society”
roundtable pact with the governor.

These gains are not insignificant — even though the union didn’t get
what it had hoped to get from the Senate Commission: an agreement to
impeach Ruiz Ortiz.

But when Ruiz Ortiz — a maverick politician who cannot be controlled
even by the Mexican ruling class — sent in his own goons last Friday
to kill the three teachers and one U.S. journalist/activist, he
forced the federal government’s hand to intervene. Ruiz Ortiz and the
U.S. Embassy wanted the government to move forcefully to smash the
barricades and reclaim the downtown section of the city, including
the occupied government buildings, from the people, organized by
APPO.

The movement retreated tactically to prevent the bloodshed, but it
has regrouped since. The mass march Monday afternoon in Oaxaca of
close to 200,000 people showed that the movement is not only alive,
but it is angrier than ever.

More important, the movement is extending nationally — something
that has raised immense fear among the ruling rich of Mexico.

This past Monday and Tuesday, close to 180,000 teachers in five
states of the Mexican Republic went out on strike in solidarity with
APPO and to demand the immediate withdrawal of federal troops, an end
to the state-sponsored violence, the punishment of all those
responsible for these crimes (first and foremost among them, Ulises
Ruiz Ortiz) and the impeachment of Ruiz Ortiz. All these teachers are
in unions affiliated with the dissident wing, or caucus, of the
National Teachers Union (SNTE). The dissident wing is known as the
CNTE, or Coordinadora.

Today, the CNTE top leadership called on the 250,000-plus teachers
organized in the CNTE to carry out a two-day teachers’ strike on
November 9-10.

On Sunday, the National Democratic Convention (CND) came out of its
one-month slumber to organize a mass march in Mexico City. The
previous afternoon, Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a scathing
attack on the government and demanded the withdrawal of the federal
troops and the impeachment of Ruiz Ortiz.

Yesterday evening (October 31), Lopez Obrador convened a rally of
more than 5,000 people on just a few hours’ notice. Again, he
lambasted the PAN and PRI for propping up Ruiz Ortiz. At the rally,
Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, a leader of the PRD, called for a National March
in Defense of the People of Oaxaca, to be held “in the briefest
possible delay” in Mexico City. Jesusa Rodriguez, coordinator of the
Democratic National Convention (CND), called for the formation of a
National Front in Defense of the People of Oaxaca.

Likewise, unions and community organizations have begun to send
caravans and brigades to Oaxaca to support the struggle in Oaxaca. In
many parts of the city of Oaxaca, barricades are back up — and APPO
has since established a massive Plantón, or encampment, in a square
and adjoining streets outside a Church on the outskirts of the city.

The chant heard across the country is growing louder and louder:
“Oaxaca Vive, La Lucha Sigue!” — Oaxaca Lives, The Struggle
Continues!

What Next?

With every passing day, the spiral of violence in Oaxaca is
deepening.

The November 1 issue of La Jornada newspaper reports that goons hired
by the PRI are roaming the streets of Oaxaca and vandalizing ATM
machines, government buildings (something that did not occur during
the four months of occupation of the Zocalo district by APPO) and
otherwise provoking confrontations and deaths.

What’s most interesting about this information is that it comes from
the Fox administration itself. La Jornada writes: “According to a
spokesperson for the federal government, special police operatives in
Oaxaca are reporting that groups linked to PRI politicians are
committing acts of vandalism and violence in different points of the
state’s capital with the purpose of having the blame placed on the
activists of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).”

It’s not every day that a government admits this kind of thing. Such
an admission is the reflection of a major crisis brewing at the
highest levels both of the government and of the PRI. How else can
one explain the fact that in the Senate last week, the entire PRI
caucus voted to chastise Ruiz Ortiz and to call upon him to “strongly
consider stepping down from office.”

Ruiz Ortiz wants the violence to escalate to justify the further
repression and iron fist. Only this way, he thinks, can he behead the
opposition and remain in power. But Ruiz Ortiz’s intransigence is
destabilizing the entire country on the eve of the December 1
transfer of the presidency to the fraudulently “selected” Felipe
Calderón.

For now at least, Ruiz Ortiz’s strategy is working. An estimated 300
union and political activists have been rounded up and detained by
federal troops and security forces. There are reports every day of
more deaths and injured. A full-fledged occupation against the will
of a people is being established with the aim of crushing the
resistance to Ruiz Ortiz’s tyrannical rule.

But can this occupation succeed in putting down the popular revolt?
Everything indicates this is not in the cards.

What Way Forward?

Earlier today (November 1), an assembly of teachers, healthcare
unionists, students, campesinos and shantytown dwellers gathered in
Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, at the initiative of the top leaders of
Sections 7 and 50 of the SNTE teachers’ union. These two locals are
part of the CNTE dissident wing.

The Chiapas assembly adopted a Declaration to the People of Mexico
that is worth quoting at some length. The Declaration states:

“We address you to state our full agreement with the demands of the
movement in Oaxaca: Ulises Must Go! Punish all the assassins,
beginning with Ulises! Army and Special Troops Out of Oaxaca! Stop
the Killing! Free All the Detained Leaders and Activists! …

“On October 31 in Mexico City, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo of the PRD called
for a National March in Mexico City in support of these very demands.
He called on workers, peasants, and youth from throughout the country
to mobilize in the nation’s capital, where the decisions in relation
to Oaxaca are made.

“Two years ago, the people of Mexico marched, more than 1.2 million
strong, to demand that the ban on allowing Lopez Obrador to run for
the presidency be dropped. We won this demand through our
independent, mass action. More recently, on September 16, we gathered
again, 1 million strong, at the National Democratic Convention (CND)
to affirm the will of the people that Lopez Obrador should assume the
office of president of the Republic.

“The emergency-response actions around the country have been
extremely positive. Many, many more are needed — every day. But we
must now concentrate our response in one mass demonstration of the
magnitude of what we organized against the “desafüero” [ban on
standing for office] in 2004.

“That is why we are calling on compañero Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,
the leaders of the CND, the APPO, Section 22 of the SNTE, the
political parties in the Broad Progressive Front (FAP), and the
unions (the Electrical Workers Union/SME, UNT, CNTE, STUNAM, SITUAM,
and others: All should unite in issuing a call for a Mass March on
Mexico City to be held as soon as possible.

“At the same time, we would like to allow ourselves to propose that
these organizations, among others, set up a National Front in Defense
of the People of Oaxaca so that we can coordinate our efforts
nationally and be even more effective in our work to force the ouster
of Ruiz Ortiz and the withdrawal of the PFP and AFT troops.”

Another initiative that also should be highlighted is a Declaration
by a number of local union presidents of Section 22 in Oaxaca
applauding the decision by the CNTE to issue a call for a two-day
CNTE strike on November 9-10 — but proposing that such a strike
should be a nationwide teachers’ strike.

“The issues of privatization, under-funding and union-busting which
we in Section 22 had to face are the same issues that teachers are
facing across the country. We need to mobilize teachers in every
town, city and state in this great strike.

“And let us not think for one moment that the gains we in Oaxaca just
made at the bargaining table with the government are secure. They are
not. Most of our teachers have still not gone back to work given the
instability and lack of security across the state of Oaxaca. Teachers
are being jailed today for resisting the Army occupation. And we have
just learned that the government wants to seize our union halls and
force our evictions.

“To win, to force Ulises out of office before December 1, we must
expand the November 9-10 strike to teachers across the nation, and,
wherever possible, to other unions. We cannot wait any longer to take
action.”

The reference here to the December 1 date is important. If Ruiz Ortiz
is forced out of office before December 1, the state is required to
hold new elections for governor. However, if he does not step down
till after that date, he can name a successor, essentially placing
him behind the scenes running the show.

The perspectives put forward by these teacher unionists in Chiapas
and Oaxaca point the way forward.

Our Tasks in the United States

Large protest actions are being held in cities across the country at
the Mexican Consulates.

In San Francisco last night, more than 200 people gathered at the
Mexican Consulate to demand the withdrawal of the federal troops, the
ouster of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and the punishment of all those
responsible for the heinous state-sponsored crimes against the
people.

Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council
(AFL-CIO), noted that the Council fully supports these demands and
will urge the rest of the labor movement to do the same. Paulson also
brought greetings to the rally from City Supervisors Chris Daly and
Tom Ammiano. Ken Tray, political director of United Educators of San
Francisco (UESF), decried the killing of teachers and activists in
Oaxaca and pledged his union’s full support for the struggle for
democracy and justice in Oaxaca.

A dozen or more other speakers also chimed in with their messages of
solidarity — Frank Martin Del Campo, from the Labor Council for
Latin American Advancement; Al Rojas, from Mexicanos en el Exterior;
Jessica Sanchez and this author, on behalf of the Mexico Solidarity
Committee; Todd Chretien, Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate;
Gloria La Riva from ANSWER, Cristina Gutierrez from Amigos del
Barrio, Dave Solnit from Indymedia, Miguel Robles from the Comite en
Defensa del Voto, among others.

This is just a beginning. We must expand and deepen these efforts —
and we must act now.

Not One More Death in Oaxaca!

In solidarity,

Alan Benjamin,
Co-convenor, OWC
Member, Executive Committee
San Francisco Labor Council

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