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Teacher Uprisings in Mexico a Lesson in Defending Public Education

Educators stop work, block roads to protest sweeping 'education reform' laws aimed at curtailing union power and privatizing schools

Sarah Lazare

Thousands of striking public school teachers in Mexico have shut down Congress, blocked traffic and paralyzed the heart of Mexico City to protest a draconian "education reform" package aimed at curtailing union power and privatizing Mexico's already ravaged public education system as the war on teachers, also waged on U.S. soil, spreads.

The nationwide uprisings are focused in the capital, home to 20 million, where thousands have shut down streets and erected a protest encampment in the city's central plaza, reinforced by daily arrivals of busloads of protesters, mostly from nearby states of Michoacan and Oaxaca.

Teachers and their supporters in recent days surrounded the headquarters of Mexico's main broadcasters and demanded the station allow them to air their grievances with the reform package. They have also blocked the thoroughfare to the airport for 7 hours on Friday and staged protests in front of the French, Spanish and U.S. embassies, in uprisings they have vowed to continue until a presidential speech September 1st.

"This is to defend public education!" shouted a teacher in front of the French embassy Monday as protesters faced off with riot police, the Wall Street Journal reports. "This is against oppressive neoliberal reforms!"

Members of the CNTE union, which represents a third of the country’s public school teachers, launched the protests August 19 at the start of the school year to protest the sweeping education reform law currently under debate in Mexico's Congress. While the package, championed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, already passed in December, Congress is now debating legislation necessary to implement its provisions.

The bill under question would wrest hiring and firing powers away from unions and impose mandatory evaluative tests on education workers. Teachers and their allies are slamming the 'reforms' as a ploy to blame teachers for Mexico's education shortcomings, rather than look to the severe under-funding and privatization of education that devastate school systems, particularly in poor areas.

Their political battle echoes the U.S. fight against corporate education reform aimed at curbing teachers' rights and privatizing public education, which has been met with protest and strikes, but not the full-scale revolts sweeping Mexico.

“It is an attack on the teaching profession and does absolutely nothing to help improve education,” Francisco Bravo, one of the protest leaders, said in a news conference, the LA Times reports.

The teachers, who so far successfully prevented passage of the bill by forcing Congress from their legislative chambers, vow they will not let up until they've prevented the damaging education reforms from going through.

"We will be here as long as necessary," Heriberto Magariño López, a teacher and union official from Oaxaca, said during a protest, the Wall Street Journal reports.


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