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Cablegate: Oaxaca Teachers Protest Over Delayed Union

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RR RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHM RUEHHO RUEHJO RUEHMC RUEHNG
RUEHNL RUEHPOD RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #0931/01 0931543
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021543Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1139
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MEXICO 000931

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/AWH AND ILCSR, WHA/MEX, USDOL ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON PGOV SOCI PINR MX
SUBJECT: OAXACA TEACHERS PROTEST OVER DELAYED UNION
ELECTIONS

REF: (A) 06 MEXICO 6128 (B) 06 MEXICO 5982


1. (U) Summary: The dispute between Section (Local) 22 of
the National Teachers Union (SNTE) and the state government
of Oaxaca that began in mid-2006 as a labor action and grew
into a political crisis has been relatively quiet of late.
The quarrel between the teachers and the Oaxaca government
has not gone away, but for much of 2007 the ongoing dispute
commanded relatively little national attention. All of this
changed briefly in early March when Section 22 launched an
11-day sit-in/protest in Mexico City that broke out in
violence between the teachers and federal police. At the
beginning of the protest the teachers announced a laundry
list of demands that contained numerous non-starters.
However, the main reason for the protest was to pressure the
GOM into forcing the SNTE at the national level into formally
authorizing new union elections. The current leadership of
Section 22 was elected to a four-year term that took office
and was recognized by the GOM in March 2004. SNTE,s statues
dictate that new union elections require the authorization of
the national organization as a precondition of legal
recognition. Without new elections Section 22,s leadership
could lose the legal foundation which compels both the Oaxaca
state and federal authorities to negotiate with them.
Section 22,s appeals for the authorization to hold new
elections have been ignored by the SNTE,s national office,
quite possibly with the full concurrence of the GOM. End
Summary.


BACKGROUND
----------

2. (U) In March/April of 2006 the 70,000 teachers of Section
(Local) 22 of the National Teachers, Union (SNTE) in the
southeastern Mexican state of Oaxaca began a work stoppage
demanding higher wages. Initially the teachers, requests for
wage increases were neglected by Oaxaca,s Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI) governor, Ulises Ruiz, who claimed
the state did not have the funds to meet their demands. The
situation then took a turn for worse in early June 2006 when
the Governor ordered the use of force (including the firing
of tear gas from helicopters) to dislodge the teachers and
their supporters from the city center.

3. (U) Governor Ruiz,s use of force provoked a show of
solidarity from a number of civil society groups who
responded by joining the teachers on the barricades. Over
time the protesters intermittently blocked highways into
Oaxaca as well as access to the airport, in addition to key
public buildings and the situation deteriorated from there
causing considerable economic disruption throughout the
state. Ultimately the combination of striking teachers and
civil society groups, which organized under the umbrella of
the Oaxaca People,s Popular Assembly (APPO), came together
to demand the ouster of Ulises Ruiz. Throughout the latter
part of 2006 and the early part of 2007 the protestors
maintained ongoing demonstrations in Oaxaca and in Mexico
City. Remarkably, during the entire height of crisis in
Oaxaca the state government continued to pay the teachers,
salaries until the very last week of September 2006.

4. (U) The teachers of Section 22 are viewed as dissidents
within the SNTE, and for an extended period all attempts by
both the state and federal governments to resolve the Oaxaca
crisis have failed. When the crisis was at its worst there
was widespread concern and general dismay throughout Mexico
that the Oaxaca situation would (and in fact ultimately did)
require the use of force to restore the rule of law. The
strike, with its accompanying violent protests and actions by
unidentified gunmen linked to APPO and the governor, was
blamed for at least nine deaths, including that of U.S.
journalist Brad Will. The timing of this crisis coincided
with the change of administration here in Mexico and was
handed off from the President Vicente Fox to the now
President, Felipe Calderon. The Oaxaca situation was the
first major labor challenge of Calderon,s administration.
Prior to leaving office President Fox ordered federal police
and the military into Oaxaca to restore order. President
Calderon then established a Congressional Commission to
resolve the issues between the Oaxaca government and the
protesting teachers and their supporters.

MEXICO 00000931 002 OF 004


OAXACA TEACHERS REAPPEAR ON THE NATIONAL SCENE
-------------------------------------------

5. (U) On March 3, following a considerable period of
relative calm, some 10,000 Section 22 teachers, plus an
estimated 5,000 APPO activists and other supporters, arrived
in Mexico City from Oaxaca to present a list of demands to
the GOM. This protest was the first time since early 2007
that the ongoing dispute in Oaxaca drew significant coverage
from the national media. The teachers launched a protest
march that began on Reforma Avenue, the main street in front
of Embassy Mexico City, and ended at the offices of the
Secretary of Government (Interior Ministry). In addition to

SIPDIS
holding a protest march, the teacher ultimately set up camp
and staged an 11-day sit-in near the Secretary of
Government,s offices.

6. (U) A rally occurring on Reforma Avenue is nothing new in
Mexico City. The street is the traditional starting place of
protest marches and demonstrations in the Mexican capital; in
fact it is a rare week indeed when there is not some form of
demonstration on Reforma. A march by the teachers of Section
22, even one involving some 15,000 demonstrators, would not,
in and of itself, draw much attention from the national
media. What made this particular march/labor action
noteworthy was the fact that upon arriving at their intended
destination the protestors clashed with various elements of
Mexico,s federal police. The clash did not result in any
serious injuries nor in a significant number of detentions or
arrests but it did go on (actually off and on) for a few
hours during which time the protestor repeatedly stormed the
chain link fence specifically installed to keep them from
reaching the offices of the Secretary of Government.


THE TEACHERS, DEMANDS
---------------------

7. (U) In the lead up to the demonstration, a spokesman who
was also one of the protest,s main organizers formally
announced the teachers, list of demands. In some regards
the demands resembled something of a laundry list contained
numerous non-starters. Some of the demands, such as a call
for the release of political prisoners, were not realistic in
that there was little chance the GOM would release
individuals detained and charged with a crime without first
allowing the normal processes of the judicial system to run
their course.

8. (U) Some of the teachers, other demands included such
things as a call for the Mexican Congress to reject the
GOM,s proposals for energy and labor reform (neither of
which have yet been formally submitted to the Congress). The
teachers called for the repeal of the law &ISSTE8, a
controversial reform of the laws governing the administration
of pensions for civil service employees (i.e. teachers and
other federal employees). This law is currently being
challenged in the courts so again it was unrealistic to
expect any serious response to this demand. The list of
demands also included a call for the resignation of Oaxaca,s
governor Ulises Ruiz; an option considered and rejected by a
Congressional Commission in early 2007 as one of the possible
alternatives for solving the political crisis mention above
in paragraphs 2-4.

9. (U) The only really urgent and serious demand on the
teacher,s laundry list was a call for the GOM to compel the
SNTE,s national office to formally authorize new union
elections. The demand to hold new union elections was the
real reason behind the protest held by the Section 22
teachers and their supporters. Holding new union elections
is an essential act for Section 22. Without new elections to
establish the legally recognized leadership of Section 22 the
legitimacy of any future actions by the union could become
null and void.


AN URGENT NEED FOR NEW UNION ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------

10. (U) According to the SNTE statues, no Section (Local)

MEXICO 00000931 003 OF 004


can have hold union leadership elections without the prior
authorization of the organization,s national office. Under
Mexico,s Federal Labor Law, all unions must have on file
with the Secretariat of Labor (STPS) a copy of their statues.
These statues serve as the basis for granting a union
official GOM registration and serve as the standards to which
unions must adhere or risk loss of government recognition.
In the case of SNTE affiliate Sections, statues dictate that
union elections must have prior authorization by the
organization,s national office in order to be legally
recognized by the Mexican government,s STPS. Without such
recognition neither federal nor state authorities are
required to respect the labor rights of a union nor accord
any type of benefits to that organization,s members. For
the leadership of Section 22, the question of new and legally
recognized elections could be the key to that Local,s very
existence.

11. (U) The current leadership of Section 22 was elected and
began a four year term of office in March of 2004. Now, four
years later, that leadership,s mandate is now up and without
new elections the legality of any future labor action by
Section 22 or its leadership would be null and void. Prior
to launching its March 3 protest demonstration, Section 22
had petitioned the SNTE,s national office for authorization
to hold elections on eight separate occasions. No response
to these petitions was ever received and this despite the
fact that at least 20 other state level Sections have
received the necessary authorizations and held leadership
elections.

12. (U) Now that their legal term of office as union
officials has come to an end the leadership of Section 22 is
justifiably concerned with what will happened next. The
Oaxaca teacher,s dispute with the state,s governor is still
ongoing and up until now many of the actions (short of
violence) the union has taken in its quarrel with Governor
Ruiz could be arguably defended as the exercise of worker
rights under Mexico,s Federal Labor Law. With new elections
any future labor actions by the Section 22 would have no
legal basis and the state authorities in Oaxaca could move
against the teachers at will.


THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT,S RESPONSE
---------------------------------

13. (U) As noted above the teachers of Section 22 are
dissidents within the SNTE and it is not surprising that the
national union is using the organization,s statues to rid
themselves of people they perceive as trouble makers. In
order to maintain the legal status to defend their labor
rights (as they see them) Section 22 appealed to the GOM,s
Secretary of Government to intercede on its behalf with

SIPDIS
national office of the SNTE and compel that office to issue
the necessary authorization. The GOM response to Section
22,s appeal for help was to cite the relevant portions of
Federal Labor Law (FLL) governing union autonomy.

14. (U) Mexico,s FLL prevents the federal government from
interfering in the internal affairs of the country,s labor
unions and in this case the Secretary of Government claimed
it had no legal authority to compel SNTE in this matter.
Faced with a national union leadership they believed
(probably correctly) that was determined to get rid of them
and a GOM response that seemed indifferent to their situation
the members of Section 22 and their supporters decided to
march on the office of the Secretary of Government to protest
their plight.


COMMENT
-------

14. (U) The members of Section 22 and their leadership are
truly between a rock and hard place. As of March 31, 2008
Section 22 will be without any legal basis to function as a
recognized union. There appears to be no valid reason for
the SNTE national office to deny Section 22,s request to
hold new election other than a desire to rid themselves of a
group that, in their view, has caused them endless trouble
for at least two years. Technically speaking the GOM,s
Secretary of Government is correct when it says it has no

SIPDIS

MEXICO 00000931 004 OF 004


legal authority to compel the SNTE national office in this
matter but it could at least offer its good offices to help
negotiate the matter. Alas, everyone in the Oaxaca drama
appears to be playing hardball politics and no one seems
particularly concerned for the education of the state,s
children. The march on the GOM,s Secretary of Government
involved only 10,000 of the estimated 70,000 teachers and
education workers who make up Section 22. Nevertheless the
other members of the Local stayed off the job in solidarity
with the protestors who came to Mexico City. This was just
the latest instances of when the interests of the school
children of Oaxaca are being neglected by all the parties
involved in his years old dispute.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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