Monday, October 16, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: National SNTE threatens to dump local teachers

In many posts about this ongoing circus down here, I have referred to the striking teachers as the SNTE, which is the national teachers union led by Elba Esther Gordillo. That is technically correct. However, it would perhaps have been more precise to have referred to them as Section 22 of the SNTE, as the Oaxacan section is known. The SNTE national has never openly supported Oaxaca's Section 22. Nor, until yesterday, had the national union ever openly opposed Section 22.

Now comes the president of the SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, who says the national has formed an executive committee to study the disenfranchisement of Section 22 here in Oaxaca. She listed several reasons, first and foremost being the violent coercion exercised by Section 22 against teachers who wish to return to their classrooms. She detailed threats, vandalism, beatings and murder committed by Section 22 against its own. She says she has asked the federal government to provide protection for those teachers who wish to return to work. She claims to have in her hands a petition signed by 15,000 Oaxacan teachers, all members of Section 22, asking the national to help them return to work in spite of the official position of the Section 22 leadership.

She also took great pains to point out that those who go on national TV and appear in other media outlets claiming that the actions of Section 22 in Oaxaca are representative of the SNTE national are lying. According to the SNTE president herself, the national union does not support its Section 22 in Oaxaca. She says the national union is studying the possibility of sending teacher brigades down here to help reopen the schools. Now that would result in bloodshed, for sure.

She also blamed the actions which the SNTE national may take against its Section 22 on the local teachers union's consistent rejections of every proposal made by the Secretary of Interior as well as by the national union itself. She claimed that the total package of financial inducements by the federal and state governments and the SNTE national itself, including the SNTE national's offer to pay all the Section 22 membership's union dues, state and federal salary hikes and "re-zonification" (I'll explain later) total more than 12 billion pesos annually. That works out to roughly 50,000 dollars US per Oaxacan teacher. Fifty grand per teacher would be a piece of change even in the USA. But Section 22 has rejected all the offers while insisting that the state's governor must leave office or be kicked out by the federal government.

Gordillo says that it is not the proper position for herself, the SNTE national nor Section 22 to say whether or not the governor stays or goes. She says that the problems between Section 22 and the government are no longer labor related but have become political. As such, the national union cannot support the local, Section 22.

Now, let's try to keep in mind that Elba Esther Gordillo is a rank political player. She is a long-time member of the former ruling party, the PRI. She was "elected" head of the SNTE after being put forward for the job by former President Carlos Salinas, who headed what was possibly the most corrupt Mexican government in a long, long line of corrupt Mexican governments. She was put forward for the job when the former SNTE president became, er, unmanageable.

She also became the leader of the PRI contingent in the Mexican Congress. When it seemed she had grown too cozy with the PAN's President Vicente Fox, the old-time PRI leadership, called the "dinosaurs" here, stripped her of her position. Her opposition was led by Roberto Madrazo, the losing (badly) PRI candidate for president in the recently concluded 2006 election. In a snit, she formed a new political party so that she could put forward a fringe presidential candidate and take her union's 1.5 million votes with her. In this manner, she could deny the votes to Madrazo while not seeming to support the PAN (Calderon, the winner) or the PRD (AMLO, the winner wannabee). Madrazo and the PRI were badly embarrassed by their disastrous showing in the election and Gordillo's hatred of Madrazo was a key reason.

I might also add that she survived a serious bout with cancer that came very close to killing her and may yet.

Re-zonification? In Mexico there is a national minimum wage just as in the USA. However, the minimum wage here is not a coast-to-coast deal. It's also not a "pesos per hour" deal but rather a "pesos per day" one. The country is divided up into 3 economic zones, called A, B and C with Zone A being the ultimate. Zone A includes Mexico City, Acapulco, the Bajas and border cities Ciudad Juarez and Matamoros, among others. The minimum wage for Zone A is about 7% higher than for Zone C which includes Oaxaca and Chiapas. The SNTE negotiates its own zones, I think, somewhat comparable to the national zones, I think, but called I, II, III etc., I think -- getting definitive information on this is like pulling teeth. The minimum wage in Zone III (again, Mexico City and other places) is the highest while Oaxaca and Chiapas occupy the lowest paid zone . . . I think.

Most salaries, be they public or private, are based upon a particular zone's minimum wage and are so quoted; 3 times minimum wage, 2 times minimum wage etc. Even traffic fines and fines handed out by judges are quoted in minimum wage terms. "He was fined 120 days of minimum wage" is a common way to state a big fat fine handed out by a judge. A salary of, say, 3 times minimum wage in Oaxaca would be about 7% lower than a comparable salary in Mexico City because the minimum wage here is 7% lower, roughly. The cost of living here in Oaxaca, however, is probably 10% higher overall than in Mexico City. You see the problem(s).

One of the demands of the striking teachers from Section 22 has been that they be paid the same as the teachers in Zone III, wherever that is, hence, "re-zonification". That's probably fair. In fact, the entire national tiered minimum wage scheme should probably be scrapped. There are a lot of other economic schemes prescribed by law in Mexico that should also probably be scrapped because none of them work . . . but they won't be. If they were scrapped then the richer would get less rich, or richer at a slightly slower rate while the poor would become less poor, or become poorer at a slower rate. That could not be tolerated by those who have the gold and make the rules (see Google Search: rule, golden, how it really works).

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