Monday, April 29, 2013

Solidarity With Striking Mexican Teachers

 by Jack Gerson

Facts for Working People salutes and sends solidarity greetings to the courageous Mexican teachers who are locked in bitter struggle against the Mexican national government
s attempt to impose a U.S.-style corporate reform agenda on Mexican public schools and teacher unions. Last week, tens of thousands of teachers in the southern state of Guerrero dramatically escalated their strike against Mexican President Enrique Pena Nietos national education reform package by marching on the state capital of Chilpancingo, blocking the highway connecting Mexico City with Acapulco for hours. Within days, teachers in neighboring Michoacan state announced that they were striking until Pena Nieto withdraws his proposals, state victimization of teachers stops, and corrupt former National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) president Elba Ester Gordillo returns the 2 billion pesos ($160 million) that she embezzled from the teachers union. The powerful teachers union of Oaxaca state (which has battled state and national governments throughout the past decade) are also striking, as are teachers in parts of Chiapas state.

Pena Nietos proposals are modeled after planks of the corporate assault on U.S. public education. They push test-based accountability, linking teacher pay and even their jobs to student scores on high stakes standardized tests. As David Bacon documented in The Nation magazine (U.S.-Style School Reform Goes South), the corporate assault on public education in Mexico has heavy backing from major corporate and financial forces the World Bank prominent among them and has long-term aims of union-busting, privatization, and downsizing (all of which are already well under way in the U.S.) The Mexican education "reformers" cite the same for-rent academic hacks that are trotted out in the U.S. -- one of their favorites is Hoover Institute economist Eric Hanushek, a notorious teacher-basher whose data distortion has been pretty thoroughly exposed in the U.S.

We should all express solidarity and support for the embattled Mexican teachers. Of course, we should raise solidarity motions in our unions and organizations. We should send letters of support. But the best way to show our solidarity is to ourselves take action against the corporate assault that we face here -- against the downsizing, the outsourcing, the school shutdowns, the high stakes testing, the union-busting. And, finally, that's starting to take shape:

First, of course, was the massive turnout by teachers and community for last September's Chicago Teachers Union strike, an action that has energized public education advocates around the country; 

A few days ago, we blogged about the inspirational and ongoing Seattle teacher-led boycott of their school district's high stakes standardized Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) tests.

Last week, Chicago high school students walked out on their school district's standardized tests to protest the planned closure of 54 schools as well as to protest the tests themselves. These brilliant young people directly linked the school shutdowns with the high stakes tests whose outcomes are being used around the country as the excuse to close schools in low-income communities -- hitting especially hard at black and brown communities. (Philadelphia is closing 23 schools; New York City closed 140 schools and plans to close 23 more; Washington DC closed 24 schools and plans to close another 15; Kansas City closed more than half its public schools; etc.) 

The ongoing and monumental struggle of Mexican teachers to defend the right of all citizens to a public education and basic teacher union rights -- rights guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution -- is a fight against "reforms" that would impose the same formula being fought by the Seattle teachers and the Chicago students: tie teachers' jobs to student scores on standardized tests, adopt new curricula dictated by powerful corporations, discourage critical thinking and demand obedience.

Nevertheless, it's clear that the struggle to defend public education in Mexico is far more advanced than that in the U.S. At least part of the reason for that has been the abject passive, class collaborationist role of the national and state teacher union leadership (and, alas, many local leaders as well. For years, some of us have campaigned to get  U.S. teacher unions to mount mass campaigns against the corporate assault / privatization of U.S. public education: high stakes testing , school shutdowns / downsizing, charter schools, outsourcing. We've been opposed every step of the way by the national and state union leadership (and most local leaders). So while solidarity motions are good, we  need to underscore that the fight being waged in Mexico needs to be waged here as well -- not let the union bureaucrats mouth support while blocking action.

Seattle to Chicago to Guerrero; Philadelphia to Oaxaca; New York to Michoacan. Same struggle, same fight.

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