As of last Sunday the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) began it’s, by now, traditional set of May protest demonstrations in the highly contaminated streets of Mexico City, or CDMX, as it’s labeled nowadays.
Only this time the size of the CNTE crowd is not as large or belligerent as it was in past years when they “owned” downtown Mexico City and staged rogue guerrilla type demonstrations spreading into crucial places such as the International Airport, blocking operations.
As of last year, the CNTE received a deadly blow from the Public Education Secretariat (SEP) which, in the state of Oaxaca at least, dispossessed them of control over hiring practices.
Plus SEP secretary Aurelio Nuño Mayer has imposed upon them what the CNTE union members considered “unconstitutional,” by subjecting them to knowledge and pedagogy competence written evaluations.
The size of the CNTE contingent, nowadays parading up and down Mexico City, is noticeably smaller than it was in previous years, when as many as 15,000 teachers from the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán and Guerrero abandoned classes to participate in the May marches. It had indeed become a “tradition,” choking up Mexico City traffic to the point of asphyxia.
Not surprisingly, the teachers will not be marching to the SEP building, in the heart of the old city, but to the Interior Secretariat located on Bucareli Street, an avenue that is the heart of the north-south traffic and which, if effectively blocked, will force a pile up throughout the central area of Mexico City.
If you’re wondering why they go to the Interior Secretariat (Gobernación) and not to SEP, the reason is that CNTE does not consider declaring President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Education Reform, now being enforced, an educational problem, but a political one and a blow against working teachers.
The marching battalion CNTE is presenting this year to negotiate with the federal government is not what it used to be. It’s about 3,000 protesters and it remains to be seen how long it will last as — unlike in past years — now the unionized teachers are under the Damocles sword. If they miss work for three days in a row — except for sickness — they are fired with no possibility of appeal.
One thing stands out in this new stage of the CNTE-Federal government confrontation. After the Education Reform was approved by Congress and became a law, CNTE appealed its validity all the way up the courts network, finishing at the Supreme Court, which deemed it a constitutionally valid law.
It is correct, the Supreme Court ruled, to demand an evaluation from teachers and lay off those who refuse to go through one. Plus the fact that in the end, the education of Mexican children is just as important as teachers’ legal rights.
It’s clear that the CNTE leadership has no legal options left than carrying out its most successful political stunt and that is provoking and angering Mexico City residents. In the past this was political pressure but one thing has become true, Mexico City resident are a resilient crowd and can take the choking again because it’s been worse in the past.
It remains to be seen if CNTE now continues on the suicidal path of having teachers participate in the current demonstration for more than three days, thus forcing the SEP to fire several thousand teachers in one blow.
It’s clear that the current administration is willing to “apply the law” and fire those who don’t show up to three days of classes.
In the meantime, CNTE won’t follow the path of political suicide and they will rotate those participating in the demonstrations as they did in the past, only faster now to prevent them from missing accumulative classes.
But CNTE also knows that it’s now hitting Mexico City where it has hurt the most in the past two weeks, choking traffic and increasing pollution to poisonous unacceptable levels.