I usually abstain from reporting on the Mexican political scene. But yesterday the Mexico City authorities dislodged a group of protesters who had occupied Mexico’s Main Plaza for more than a month. Many readers have emailed me, confused by the players’ similar acronyms; and they are asking if this an example of the “haves” bending the “have-nots” to their will?

El SNTE (the National Education Union) with approximately 1,200,000 members is one of the most powerful unions in the country. For the most part they are united in their efforts to conserve the rights and privileges of their membership. But in recent years they’ve been forced to accept changes and acknowledge that their traditional model is no longer sustainable.

In disagreement with the national group, a small number (about 70,000 mostly former SNTE members) formed their own union, La CNTE (The National Coordinating Body of Teachers) with its power base in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Oaxaca and Guerrero are poor states where education follows a very traditional path. The union controls the Secretariat of Education in both states and in fact 31% of the union members are not actually teachers. Who are these people who make up almost 1/3 of the ranks?

La CNTE’s occupation of El Zocalo, Mexico City’s historic central square blocked access to toma 4hotels and other tourism infrastructure – on several occasions, the dissidents also tried to occupy the international airport. Their daily protest marches strangled the already heavily congested city causing businesses to close, employees to miss work, and of course, children could not attend school when their teachers were marching in the streets.

Definitely, it is everyone’s right to protest for their rights but when the protest actions so seriously infringe on others’ ability to live their daily lives, I question the validity of such actions.

toma 1And let’s not turn a blind eye to the obvious… although the statutes of the union say otherwise, it is common practice for teachers with seniority or hard cash to buy, sell or inherit permanent positions as though they were family heirlooms. Removing poorly performing teachers is virtually impossible, even over allegations of sexual or substance abuse.

Lawmakers, who passed the principal outlines of the education reform bill last December have even gone so far as to shelve one of the bill’s most vital provisions: an evaluation requirement aimed at halting the buying and selling teaching jobs.

To be fair, it must be said that a sizable percentage of the “dissidents” are not even teachers. As with all protest movements, there are dedicated anarchists who infiltrate the ranks and cause violence. This hurts the union’s position and breaks down any sympathy the population has for the teachers’ cause.

The federal government is not perfect and the track record of the PRI is not without blemish, but the fact is, if this country is to move forward, reforms in education must happen. Testing of the teachers’ competence, a standardization of the way full time teaching positions are allocated, and the federal government’s insistence on managing the teachers’ payroll are just a few of the changes that the traditionalists are 100% against.

Private investment in education is another key element of the government’s reform bill, and this has angered most teachers, not just the CNTE union members. The differences between the city and the countryside teachers, increasing corporatization, and dwindling autonomy are other areas where more negotiation must take place.

Hopefully cooler heads and progressive educators will continue to look for consensus because education is Mexico’s primary issue. Only with improved education will the majority of Mexicans be able to overcome poverty and provide a better future for their families.

¡Viva México!

6 thoughts on “El SNTE vs. La CNTE

  1. Steve Cotton September 15, 2013 / 3:07 am

    And, of course, the private sector needs to be freed of a lot of silly regulation to enable businesses to create the jibs that educated young Mexicans will need. It s going to be an interesting balancing act to follow.

    • writingfrommerida September 15, 2013 / 6:45 am

      This is true. Mexico has so many issues that need attention, as do other countries. If the politicians would work together we could lighten our loads; we’d be halfway there.

  2. richmx2 September 16, 2013 / 7:04 am

    Well, we’ll have to disagree, Joanna (as you know we would). One can’t complain about SNTE being a creature of the political parties, while dismissing CNTE, which was founded in 1979 specifically to be independent of the parties. I don’t find it at all unusual that about 30 percent of the CNTE membership are not classroom teachers… and to be fair, I would like to see the figures for SNTE (if they exist).

    That not all the protesters were connected to one organization is a rather silly complaint. The “educational reforms” are seen (rightly, I suspect) as an attack on organized labor, and there are a lot of people … and groups… that just plain don’t like Peña Nieto, “PRIAN”, or what they view as creeping neo-liberalism. Anyway, I’ve never seen a major protest anywhere that was single issue… Ithe Atenco farmers protests when I lived just off the Zocalo somehow got mixed up with a gay bar owner’s protest… go-go boys and ox-carts at the same event are… as so much of Mexico City is… delightfully surreal!

    I hardly see the “traditionalists” as opposing ANY changes in education… not even teacher testing, though they do have reservations about WHO gives these tests (as they well should), and given the experience in places like Texas where teacher testing and student metrics have been imposed, anyone with an interest in education has a right to be skeptical of these types of “reforms”. And, if you pay attention to who is pushing these reforms, the name Claudio X. Gonzales shows up again and again and again. Gonzales (besides being accused on at least one occasion of having environmentalists who opposed one of his developments murdered) was a major supporter of theLegionnaires of Christ and has ties to the Spanish Popular Party (aka, the Zombie corpse of Franciso Franco). He sites on the board of directors of Televisa, which endlessly spun his vision of educational “reform” though the propaganda film, ¡De panzazo! (Gonzales is the founder, bankroller and President of “Mexicanos Primeros”… an “astroturfed” movement, similar to the U.S. “TEA Party” movement). If you’re looking for a model of Gonzales, look at James Lenniger in Texas… another right wing politico selling “educational reform” by way of delegitimizing public education, and with a goal of cr4eating a for.-profit school system that turns out docile workers, not citizens.

    On the “inconvenience” to tourists, etc. on the Zocalo. C’mon… after a few months living in a hotel just off the Zocalo, I lived within walking distance for several years. Tourist watching was one of my hobbies… and tourists weren’t all that bothered by big demonstrations during my time… including some doozies like the Zapatista’s “Zapa-tour” and the anti-airport protests. If anything, they found it a unique and wonderful experience.

    The Zocalo hasn’t been much of an administrative center for the government in several years… the National Palace isn’t much used for anything but ceremonial affairs, and even during big protests (when the Federal District still had its main offices on the Zocalo), no one was particularly inconvenienced.

    No one was killed or seriously injured.. well good! I credit that to social media, but it’s rare that these things happen in public. I don’t believe for a minute that every murder in Guerrero and Oaxaca is “drug related”, and there have been too many “unexplained” … and un-investigated murders of social activists and unions to just write off as coincidence.

    • writingfrommerida September 17, 2013 / 7:45 am

      Richard, you and I do not disagree with the whole picture, we disagree on degrees, and we disagree with the methods used. I am not happy that the PRI are in power (Yes, I voted for AMLO) but the PRI is what we have and they are who we need to work with. I believe Mexico’s greatest problem is that no one will cooperate with anyone else “on principal.” I know the PRI’s long history… living with Jorge for 37 years has been like having a political history tutor 24-7. Jorge is an idealist at heart, but he and I both see that compromise is a fact of life and of course more so, in politics.

      You say that Mexico City is surreal. Very true, but right now, what we urgently need is practical, thoughtful comportment. Maybe the violence didn’t start with the teachers, but every newspaper in the country is tarring them with them with that brush. Enrique Peña Nieto IS our president and prodding an angry bull is not conducive to compromise. As for the Atenco farmers, gay bar owners, ox carts and go-go boys joining forces… that might sound funny but I am not laughing. Tying your horse to someone else’s cause is what’s “silly.”

      And let’s not mix up apples and oranges. I am familiar with Claudio Gonzalez’ opinions and I do not share them. I work in the educational sector and let me tell you, training and testing of teachers and and setting standards are VERY necessary. I know this because our college’s students come from all over the country, and the differences in their levels of acquired learning are staggering. I have also visited high schools and attended career fairs for 17 years and I have seen firsthand how absolutely uninterested the Unions are in educating the young people. I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl. Actually Richard, the Union’s goal is to turn out docile workers; they do NOT want their own members or citizens to oppose them.

      When I mention the fact that the protests have disrupted Tourism, I am not worried mainly about tourists who have nothing better to do than watch the “show” and file away “colorful” stories to tell once they are back home. I am talking about “travelers” who have meetings to make, lectures to give, weddings to enjoy and funerals to mourn at. While I was flying back to Mexico from Europe on September 7th, we had bulletins from the cockpit every 40 minutes detailing the situation with the CNTE attempt to occupy the airport in DF. I don’t think you would have been thrilled, if like me, you had been sitting around in airports and flying for 22 hours and a group of protesters wanted to keep you from taking your last flight in order to get home…

      Richard… Mexico City is not just the administrative center… it is THE center of the whole 22,000,000-sized city. And if the protesters stayed put, that would be one thing, but besides occupying the Zocalo, they staged marches and strangled every main artery in the whole city, at some point, during every day… Sorry I am not ever going to agree that the CNTE protest was a mere “inconvenience.”

      We both know there is a very black underbelly in politics, here and everywhere. But did you see Oaxaca after the Centro had been occupied by the “teachers” for a whole year? It was shameful. I have been to Oaxaca 3 times since 2006 and every single time, I’ve had to “get out of Dodge” in the middle of the night so as to avoid the APO or the teachers blocking the highway and thus preventing me from getting back to Merida. Last time (and probably the last time ever) that I was in Oaxaca, the “teachers” set fire to a semi… right in the Main Plaza. I had to barricade myself in Amate Books for two hours while the protesting teachers stormed through the streets. I saw a mother and her little boy callously knocked out of the way. The little fellow’s head was bleeding… I sure wouldn’t want any of that crowd to be my grandchildren’s “teachers…” I know street shelter workers and artists as well as tourism people in Oaxaca, and it is a crime how their lives, and their decades of hard work, have been ruined because of the violent protests… These people who are protesting are not harmless, downtrodden “teachers.”

      In short Richard, I, like you want a perfect world but it just isn’t ever going to be that way. I am pragmatic and I do what I can, quietly, to make a difference. Standing up and shouting demands, holding cities hostage and destroying other people’s property won’t make any headway at this point in time. Productive activism and cooperation is what we need in Mexico. And I know for a fact that we will see social justice ONLY when we learn to “get along.”

  3. Kim G September 17, 2013 / 2:03 am

    It seems like the various teachers’ unions should take a good, hard look at their leadership. The sheer size of the sums embezzled by Elba Esther Gordillo were staggering. And there’s no way she could have embezzled so much without the aid of many others.

    As for educational reforms, it’s pretty clear to anyone who reads an online Mexican newspaper that they can’t come too soon. If you read the comments sections, it’s pretty clear that your average Mexican newspaper reader can’t write a grammatical sentence to save his/her life. It’s hard to imagine that they’re much better at math, science, economics, history, or any other subject you might consider. And God only knows the educational state of those who don’t read newspapers.

    The teachers in Oaxaca have long been radicalized. It’s not hard imagining that they split off from the main group.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we hope Mexico’s education reforms aren’t watered down.

    • writingfrommerida September 17, 2013 / 7:57 am

      Thanks for your comment Kim; we are pretty much on the same wavelength. In my reply to Richmx2, I think I have stated how I feel about this issue.

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