Cablegate: State Level Teachers Unions Protest Education

DE RUEHME #2948/01 2771923
R 031923Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


REF: (A) MEXICO 2877 (B) MEXICO 1540

1. Summary: In recent weeks there has been growing
discontent among the state level Locals of the National
Teachers Union (SNTE) against the &Alliance for Quality
Education8 agreement signed this past May between the GOM
and the union,s national leadership (Ref B). The discontent
has resulted in protests marches, strikes that have closed
schools for extended periods and increasingly large
demonstrations in nearly half of Mexico,s 31 states. The
dissident groups within the SNTE Locals assert that they are
protesting against an agreement imposed on them by the
union,s national leadership and the GOM without their
consent. In addition, the dissidents claim they are seeking
to defend such legitimate labor rights as the right to freely
determine the leadership of their state level Locals. These
noble assertions notwithstanding, numerous press reports site
the GOM, the SNTE national leadership and even statements by
the dissidents themselves which indicate that the protestors
are really seeking to undo the provisions of the Alliance for
Quality Education (ACE) that would require prospective
teachers to take an entrance examine for hiring and
promotions (Ref A) and which would prohibit current teachers
from selling their positions or passing them on as an
inheritance. The longest running and most intense protests
are taking place in the state of Morelos. The protests in
Morelos have been going on for over six weeks and the
dissidents there are insisting that the state government
unilaterally reject implementation of the ACE. Both
Morelos, governor and the GOM,s Secretary of Education have
rejected the idea that a state can legally withdraw from an
agreement that is now a part of the national education
system. End Summary.


2. On May 15, 2008 the Mexican government,s Secretary of
Public Education (SEP) and Mexico,s National Teachers Union
(SNTE) launched an agreement to reform the country,s system
of public school education (Ref B). The goal of the
agreement, called the &Alliance for Quality Education8
(ACE), was to improve the level of Mexican public education
by, among other things, investing in school infrastructure,
enhancing teacher skills, and using a competitive public exam
when hiring and promoting teachers. Although there were some
reservations expressed about the agreement, in general it was
roundly hailed as a significant step forward in improving the
poor state of public school education in Mexico. Most of the
reservations about the agreement centered on whether the
country,s large (estimated at 1.5 million members) and
powerful National Teachers, Union and its leader, Elba Ester
Gordillo, would live up to their end of the terms of the

3. In looking at the various elements of the ACE the SNTE,s
willingness to begin using competitive public exams in a
timely fashion for hiring new teachers was viewed as a real
test of the union,s commitment to the reform agreement. To
their credit, Gordillo and the SNTE leadership worked
cooperatively with the Secretary of Education to develop and
organize the administration of a public exam and then, as
promised, arranged for nearly 90,000 people to take it before
the start of the 2008-2009 school year. This was the first
such exam of its type ever administered in Mexico and both
the SNTE and SEP were pleased that its development proceeded
with few if any problems. Alas, the sense of accomplishment
over the new exam was short-lived and soon replaced by
something akin to mild astonishment.

4. Once the results of the exam were in both the SEP and the
SNTE were unpleasantly surprised to see that nearly
two-thirds of the over 71,000 prospective teachers who took
the exam had failed (Ref A). Not only that, but an
additional 17,648 previously hired but as yet untenured
teachers also took the exam and all but 7,150 of them failed
the test as well. The SEP, with the concurrence or at least
the acquiescence of the SNTE national leadership, declared
that there would be no make-up test for perspective teachers
who failed the exam. That said, the SEP indicated that those
who failed the exam this year would be welcomed to take it
again next year. Moreover, the SEP is planning to institute

MEXICO 00002948 002 OF 004

a training program that will allow currently employed
teachers to upgrade their job knowledge and skills. This
training would presumably be for the hired but untenured
teachers who failed the exam.


5. In addition to the problem of having massive numbers of
prospective and untenured teachers fail their hiring exam the
SNTE national leadership and SEP are now facing another
explosive problem related to the ACE. This problem has its
roots in the fact that the SNTE, in addition to being the
single largest union in Mexico, is also viewed as one of the
country,s more corrupt labor organizations. One of the many
criticisms leveled at Gordillo and the union,s national
leadership is that they have over politicized the SNTE and
done nothing to halt, much less reverse, blatant corruption
in the union. For the SNTE, its critics claim, educating
Mexico,s youth is always a low ranked item on its list of

6. The SNTE has been accused of such things as buying and
selling teaching positions, misuse of union funds, demanding
sexual favors in order to be hired or tenured to mention just
some of its alleged transgressions. No objective observer
could deny that the SNTE is a very political union but, to be
fair, it was a highly politicized organization before
Gordillo and the current national leadership rose to power.
It would probably be more accurate to say that the current
national leadership adroitly took full advantage of a
pre-existing situation to amass considerable wealth and
political power. The most insidious of the disreputable
practices engaged in by the SNTE at virtually all levels of
the organization is the selling of teaching positions.

7. The selling of teaching positions is so pervasive within
the SNTE that teachers throughout Mexico have come to believe
that it is their undisputed labor right to sell their
(taxpayer funded) appointments or pass them on to family
members as some sort of inheritance. Under the terms of the
ACE the practice of selling teaching positions would come to
a sudden and definitive halt since job openings at any level
would now have to be refilled via the public exam process
that the SEP and SNTE national leadership agreed to. The
realization that teaching positions would no longer be the
property of the current occupant to dispose of as he/she saw
fit has sparked growing discontent and increasingly serious
protests by the SNTE,s state level Locals across Mexico.


8. Once currently employed teachers grasped that the ACE
would prohibit them from disposing of their positions as they
saw fit state level SNTE Locals began to loudly express their
total opposition to the agreement. This opposition has
resulted in protests marches, school closing strikes and
increasingly large demonstrations across the country in
nearly half of Mexico,s 31 states. The worst protests have
been in the central Mexican states of Morelos and Guerrero
but there have also been serious and ongoing demonstrations
and acts of civil disobedience by teachers in the states of
Chiapas, Tlaxcala, Mexico State, Puebla, Guanajuato,
Michoacan, Baja California, Oaxaca, Durango, Quintana Roo,
Zacatecas and others. These protests and demonstrations have
been in defiance of the ongoing efforts of the SNTE national
leadership who have repeatedly made clear their strong
support for the ACE.

9. According to the dissidents within the SNTE Locals they
are protesting the implementation of the ACE in defense of
what they say are legitimate labor rights. The Locals claim
(probably correctly) that they were not consulted by the SNTE
leadership before the union entered into the educational
reform agreement with the SEP. They assert that an agreement
as far reaching as the ACE should have been discussed with
the entire SNTE membership. The dissidents also aver that
they are protesting in order to be able to choose their own
state level leaders rather than have senior level union
officials imposed upon them by the national leadership. The

MEXICO 00002948 003 OF 004

complaint about Gordillo and her supporters in the national
leadership imposing senior union officials on the state level
Local organizations is probably a valid grievance. That
said, these impositions are not new occurrences in the SNTE
and up until now they have not been offensive enough to the
state Local to spark nationwide protests within the National
Teachers Union.

10. Leaving aside for the moment the validity of the two
complaints by the dissidents within the SNTE,s Local
offices, few in Mexico are prepared to take their high-minded
assertions at face value. According to the GOM, the SNTE
national leadership and even numerous statements by the
dissidents themselves, the real aim of the protestors appears
to be to undo the provisions of the ACE that require
prospective teachers to take an entrance examine for hiring
and which prohibits current teachers from selling their
positions or passing then on as an inheritance. A basic
demand of the dissidents is that the ACE be completely
revoked. Both the SEP and various state governments have
been negotiating with the dissidents in an attempt to address
their concerns and end the strikes which have closed public
schools for weeks now across Mexico. Thus far the SEP has
held firm on one point. Specifically the SEP has stated that
teaching positions are funded with the taxes of all Mexican
citizens and as such they are not and never have been the
property of either the current teachers or the SNTE at any
level to dispose of as they see fit.

--------------------------------------------- ----------

11. As previously noted the longest running and most
confrontational protests are occurring in the states of
Morelos and, to a lesser degree, Guerrero. The dissidents in
these two states have been the most insistent on the
revocation of the ACE. They are also the once most strongly
wedded to the view that they have a non-negotiable &labor
right8 to sell or otherwise dispose of the teaching
positions they currently occupy in any way that they see fit.
In the case of Morelos the dissidents there are demanding
that the state,s governor unilaterally withdraw from the ACE.

12. In his discussion with the dissidents Morelos,
governor, Marco Adame Castillo, has been held firmly to the
SEP view that taxpayer funded teaching positions are under
the control of the GOM and are not the personal property of
any individual or non-governmental organization. The
governor has received the full support of the SEP and the
SNTE national leadership in his dealings with the dissident
teachers in the union Locals. Governor Adame Castillo has
also made clear his view that neither he nor any other state
governor has the authority to unilaterally withdraw from an
agreement (like the ACE) that is legally established as a
part of the country,s national education system.

13. In Guerrero the dissident teachers have not pushed as
ardently for the state to withdraw from the ACE but like
their fellow protesters in Morelos they have effectively
closed the state,s public school system for at least six
weeks. The dissident teachers in Guerrero, like the ones in
Morelos, have staged increasingly large demonstrations and
have repeatedly occupied state and even federal office
building to express their displeasure with the ACE. Thus far
the only other state to experience a level of civil unrest
among unionized teachers somewhat comparable to what is
happening in Morelos and Guerrero is the far southern state
of Quintana Roo. In order to calm the situation there the
state government offered to pay any retiring teacher the sum
of 120,000 pesos (approximately USD 12,000). In effect the
state government of Quintana Roo was offering to buy back
from the teachers the positions they currently occupy.
Initially the Quintana Roo dissidents agreed to accept the
state government,s offer but then inexplicably withdrew from
the agreement.


14. At this point it is unclear how long the SNTE dissidents
will continue to hold out for the revocation of the ACE.

MEXICO 00002948 004 OF 004

Thus far there is no indication that either the SEP or the
SNTE national leadership are prepared to negotiate the
ultimate disposition of teaching positions. Most of the
governors where protests against the ACE are occurring have
held firm to the SEP position that state governments do not
have the authority to withdraw from an agreement that is,
for all practical purposes, legally a part of the national
education system. There is no indication that either the
dissidents within the SNTE state locals or the GOM, supported
by various state governments and the union,s national
leadership are in any way prepared to back away or
significantly modify their publicly stated positions. This
means that there is no immediately visible resolution to the
disagreement over the ACE and that public schools in numerous
states throughout Mexico will remain closed. If press
commentary is any indication it appears as if public opinion
in Mexico is firmly with the SEP and against the dissidents.
It remains to be seen how long the dissidents can hold up
against the GOM, their own (probably corrupt) national union
leadership and the increasing displeasure of the Mexican
general public.

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