Millions of workers and students on strike: report of the first 12 hours of the May 2 strike
Just six months after Calderon assumed the presidency and the anti-fraud movement and the APPO were defeated, the situation in Mexico is heating up again. The previous showdown over the elections and the revolutionary struggle in Oaxaca solved nothing. The bourgeois, foolishly, perhaps believed that the working class was finished, and that the struggle was over. They will not be able to maintain that opinion any longer.
Carrying on from the magnificent struggles in March against the attacks of the weak Calderón government, a general strike was called earlier this week on May 2 - the first general strike in Mexico since 1916.
We publish here a brief report on the May 2 strike, as well as a longer article analysing the situation just before the strike. Further reports will be published in the coming days.
The general strike was a total success, despite the attempts of the leadership to stop it. Due to the enormous pressure from below the union leaders were forced into calling for the strike. However, since then they have done everything in their power to destroy the unity of the ranks and stop the strike.
It is not that difficult to find the reasons behind the strike. They are strikingly visible in the living conditions of the Mexican people, the complete lack of job opportunities and the harsh struggle of survival that capitalism has driven the Mexican workers into. Hence, the working class put all of its strength behind the strike and drove it forward despite their own leadership.
The leaders of many unions behaved more like scabs and strike-breakers rather than union leaders. They did all they could to thwart the movement and sabotage the strike. There were even clear threats made against the ranks of the UNAM workers.
There were some notable exceptions, however. The CNTE in general as well as local 18 in Michoacan and 22 in Oaxaca were at the forefront of the struggle. The leadership of the SITUAM was also fully behind the strike, and was able to mobilise its ranks.
The situation at the UNAM and the Polytechnic was also important. There the union leadership were opposed to strike action. However, the rank and file teachers united with the students and managed to shut down both universities.
Across the country tens of thousands of workers participated in blockades, strikes and assemblies. Without doubt, despite the media black-out of information on the strike, the mood of struggle will spread to all sectors of the working class.
The struggle against the ISSSTE law demands the strengthening of trade union democracy and the formation of revolutionary currents within the trade unions. The rank and file workers are not only fighting the government and the bosses, but also their own trade union leaders.
The day is not over, nor is the struggle. The working class took a giant step forward today. But many more need to be taken in order to finally establish the brightest of futures for the exploited masses!
Forward to the General Strike!
UNAM (National Autonomous University)
CNTE (National Coordination of Education Workers)
SITUAM (Indepent Union of Autonomous University Workers)
Revolution and Counter-revolution in Mexico: towards the general strike on May 2
By Luis Enrique Barrios
Thursday, 26 April 2007
The class struggle in Mexico has entered a new stage. As has not been seen for decades, the oppressed masses have over the last few months spilled out onto the streets demonstrating that they are fed up with capitalist oppression and exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has launched all manner of attacks against the working class and the poor peasants over the last two and half decades, in an attempt to reverse the gains of the past. The result of this has been an intensification of misery and its expansion to more than half the population, a phenomenon which has developed alongside the profound concentration of wealth in the hands of a handful of owners and bankers. One example that illustrates this is Carlos Slim, a bourgeois whose meteoric rise has made him the second richest man on the planet.
Contradictions such as these are what underlie and explain the origins of the revolutionary insurrection in Oaxaca and the anti-fraud movement which mobilised millions of dispossessed throughout the country in 2006. These events represent a highpoint in the situation, marking the beginning of the revolutionary process in Mexico. We are speaking about days of struggle in which the oppressed masses broke with routine in order to participate in the millions in politics - via mobilisations, mass meetings, sit-ins, as well as the organisation of assemblies and committees of struggle. The regime was practically paralysed during these months. In Oaxaca things went even further when the oppressed masses, through their organ of power, the Popular People's Assembly of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca - APPO), set up hundreds of barricades throughout the state capital and temporarily expropriated several radio and television stations. In the words of Lenin, in the revolutionary days of 2006 "The masses, which have always stood in the shade and have therefore often been ignored and even despised by superficial observers, enter the political arena as active combatants."
During these months of class war, the working masses committed themselves fully and demonstrated clearly not only their desire, but also their strength to radically transform their reality. However, as has happened many times in history in the absence of a revolutionary leadership prepared to go to the end, the leadership were responsible for restraining and holding back the oppressed masses and did not call for strong action, thereby preventing the movement from unifying. On the one hand the leadership of the APPO limited the movement to local demands, condemning the insurrection in Oaxaca to isolation; on the other hand the trade union leadership (UNT, CROM, FST, etc.) manoeuvred to prevent the trade unions from participating in the struggle against fraud. There was also Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) ignoring the movement which was demanding a general strike in order to defeat the imposition of Calderon as President of the Republic as a result of electoral fraud. In their politics these leaders demonstrated their lack of confidence in the workers and allowed Calderon to come to power this past December 1, which also played a role in the defeat of the APPO.
However, despite these results, a factor of particular relevance that must be emphasised is that these past few months represent a leap in the consciousness of the masses, the reflection of which is that these days of struggle, the most intense in decades, developed objective principles and not economic demands, but political demands: the resignation of Ulises Ruiz, governor of Oaxaca, and the prevention of Felipe Calderon from coming to power. These days of struggle were transformed into a magnificent school of revolutionary struggle. The millions of workers and peasants in struggle gained a lot of experience and learned important lessons that will be of particular importance in the struggles ahead. In just a few months the workers' and peasants' movement underwent a development which would have required years or decades under normal conditions.
Another important element was that despite the fact that the bourgeois were able to get away with the electoral fraud, the masses are not demoralised. In the case of Oaxaca, we can say with absolute certainty the following: despite the serious defeat suffered by the APPO (which can be temporary if the leadership does not commit the same mistakes) the movement of the masses of Oaxaca has stood firm and has not shown signs of a mood of defeat, the proof of which is the decision of the teachers of the APPO to unite around the call for the general strike on May 2.
Many other sectors of the Oaxaca working class will surely unite with the teachers around this strike. To some it must seem strange that, after May 1 and 2 the state in which the general strike will have dragged the most workers is precisely Oaxaca, demonstrating the revolutionary convictions and traditions of this southern entity.
The electoral fraud and the state's violent incursion to crush the APPO were to cover the objectives of the bourgeois: to demoralise the masses of workers and peasants. On the contrary, it only served to intensify the flames of the class struggle. An example of this is that Calderón could only take power on December 1 during military and police operations - something which has never been seen before in the modern history of Mexico.
Calderón, beyond establishing a particularly weak government, was forced to take power in the middle of the most convulsive events in many years and at a moment when the economy experienced six years of stagnation. We must add to this the fall of international oil prices and a lower rhythm of the US economy, to which approximately 85% of Mexican exports are destined.
Under these circumstances, now with a PAN government represented by Calderón, the attacks began in just a few weeks, the first of which was the speculative manoeuvre of the Mexican corn monopolies, Maseca and Minsa, to raise the price of this basic food stuff in the national market, which caused a significant rise in the price of the tortilla (the main element of the Mexican diet) as well as other basic products. This took place at the end of December 2006 and the beginning of January this year.
The people responded to this attack with mobilisations and, against the wishes of the leadership, the independent unions played a more active role this time around calling for mobilisations and demanding emergency wage rises. Another result of these mobilisations was the call for the general strike this May 2.
As on other occasions from the first years of the Fox government, this was not the first time this type of call has been made. Over the last six years general strikes were repeatedly threatened, but never in a serious way on the part of the trade union leadership. It was basically the same this time around.
However, the bourgeoisie is in a hurry. The economic situation is deteriorating and furthermore they experienced six years, the entire duration of the Fox government, in which their main counter-reforms were not successful. During this period, with the exception of the attacks against retirement and pensions of workers of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social - IMSS), the rest of the plans the bourgeoisie attempted to implement against the working class under the Fox government were frustrated. Each attempt to attack on the part of Fox was met by the workers in the streets. This is a clear indication of the period of recovery and ascent the workers' movement had entered during these years, preparing the way for the revolutionary period that began after the electoral fraud of July 2 and the insurrection in Oaxaca.
But we repeat, the bourgeoisie has already waited years to press forward with their counter-reforms, and did not risk their necks with the electoral fraud and the imposition of Calderón for nothing. In this way the bourgeoisie set out to eliminate the old pension system for state employees, changing the ISSSTE law at the end of March.
Leaning on the majority that Calderón has in parliament in the PAN and the PRI as well as with other smaller parties, the attack was made. While the PRD was opposed to the measure, it was unable to stop it as they based themselves exclusively on the parliamentary struggle rather than calling for any sort of mobilisation.
However, despite this, the response of the workers was excellent, forcing their trade unions to mobilise and in several cases thousands of university trade unionists, especially the UNAM, IPN and UAM, as well as other government employees, carrying out a wonderful strike on March 27 against the wishes of the leadership. One important case to highlight is that of the teachers, whose trade union is led by the Elba Esther Gordillo who, along with Joel Ayala is a leader of the FSTSE, the federation which gathers the majority of public sector unions. They were the main points of support in the workers' movement allowing Calderón to attack the ISSSTE law. In the case of the teachers' union, the SNTE, a significant part joined the strike. But it was not only them - several sections of the unions controlled by pro-management bureaucrats in the service of Elba Esther Gordillo also joined in the protests and strike action. Their participation was a major boost for the strike on March 27, in which it is estimated that some 2 million workers from all across the country participated.
A formalist analysis of the actions on March 27 could make one think that is was the case of a weak strike without much importance. Nevertheless the opposite is the case, if we look beyond the surface. The strike expressed a new stage that the workers' movement has entered, and these days of struggle signify the greatest advance in decades for the workers' movement, using their traditional methods, in this case the strike. Of course the actions of March 27 are a long way off from the general strike of 1916, which practically paralysed the country. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are only at the beginning of this process and that what happened in March (and there was not only the strike but also hundreds of assemblies and actions in different unions and workplaces) represents a great and firm step forward. Sooner or later we will see even stronger and more decisive actions than the developments that took place in 1916.
Calderón won his counter-reform attacking the ISSSTE law, but it came at a high political cost, because far from being demoralised the workers' movement has reacted with more force and greater content in calling the general strike on May 2. After the attack the workers' assemblies strengthened and even called for the creation of a National Strike Committee, a slogan which was taken up by several schools of the IPN and UNAM, as well as by different sectors of the teachers' union.
the case of the union controlled by the pro-PRI FSTSE, despite the iron control
of Joel Ayala, it must not be ruled out that on May 2 some of these workers
will join the strike.
On the other hand it is certain that the leaders of the UNT, who were the first to call for the general strike, are doing everything within their power to divide the movement and prevent the union affiliated to the central from participating in the strike on May 2. While this weakens the strike, it is also not the final word. The pressure is enormous and several unions in the UNT could end up joining the strike, and there is the strong possibility that an important layer of workers of the unions in the central will join the strike on May 2 through different actions against the leadership of the unions and without requiring the leadership to call the action.
Another factor which appeared as an obstacle were the pro-PRI unions around the Labour Congress (Congreso del Trabajo - CT), such as the CTM for example. Through these centrals the PRI has control over several million workers. The CT has repudiated the workers' actions against the attack on the ISSSTE law and has come out against the call for the general strike on May 2.
In this case, a pressing task for independent trade unions is to launch an energetic, agitational propaganda campaign addressed to the unions controlled by the PRI for their democratization, raising total support to all workers in these unions to kick out the pro-management leadership and calling for struggle. A campaign addressed to these unions, in which there is a tremendous discontent amongst the workers, would have important results especially towards the action on May 2.
One way or another, the conditions are very favourable for an explosive May Day and a general strike on the 2nd even larger than the strike on March 27. This means a step forward for the workers' movement in terms of both consciousness and organisation. There is no doubt, May 2 will be transformed into one of the best revolutionary schools that workers have had in the last years, by preparing the way for new and bigger actions of the working class in the struggle against Calderón and the bourgeoisie.
We are living trough a period of enormous contradictions which are leading to a collision between the bourgeoisie and the working class. What we are seeing at this moment is the development of events which are leading to a new and more advanced stage of the revolutionary process which opened up in Mexico in 2006. There is a contradiction between the desire of the bourgeoisie to smash the conquests of the working class and those not willing to allow this to happen. An example of this, which reflects the national mood, is the case of the Olympia de Mexico S.A. The bosses stopped paying them a range of benefits that the workers are entitled to. The workers replied to this attack with strike action on March 30. For a long time, workers and trade unions were under all kind of pressures, threats of factory closure, sabotage and so on from the bosses and the labour authorities. Even so the workers stood firm and did not back down on their decision to strike until their demands were met. The firm decision to carry on until the bitter end no matter the consequences was what forced the company to meet the workers' demands just 24 hours before the deadline to start the strike. This shows that when workers are conscious of their power of production (without their permission not even a screw is produced) and what can be achieved by fighting, they can force the bourgeoisie to accept their conditions.
If this can be achieved in one factory by striking, what could happen if the working class as a whole adopted this tactic in a struggle on a national scale? A general strike that would paralyse the country could force Calderón to back down.
The attack on the ISSSTE law and other counter reforms are not irreversible. Calderón could be overthrown. It all depends on drawing the necessary conclusions from the experiences before May 2 and on that day itself (a higher participation from the trade unions, more control over the leadership or the recall of those that obstruct the struggle, organization of factory committees, strike committees, etc) and also in calling for a new general strike in which the programme of action would be clearly defined - including the demands of all the sectors in struggle in order to form a United Front of the trade unions, the PRD, the APPO, the EZLN and other peasants and popular organizations. A central demand must be the struggle to overthrow Calderón and the installation of a workers' government which would expropriate the bankers and bosses. With Calderón and capitalism the only possible future is simply more attacks. Evidence of this is the recent announcement made by the government about an attack on fiscal reform, in which VAT would be added to drugs and food.
The bourgeoisie did not have enough in attacking the IMSS and ISSSTE pensions, now they are going for three of the main public companies: PEMEX, Federal Commission of Electricity (CFE) and Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which add up to a total pension fund of approximately 70 million dollars.
Calderón had already publicly announced his desire to eliminate the current regime of pensions in these companies as soon as possible, receiving the blessings of the pro-management leadership of the Suterm of the CFE.
Attention must be drawn to the case of LyFC in which the representatives of the bourgeoisie accuse the trade union, the SME, of being the cause of the financial problems that the public company is going through.
This is the case of Gerardo Priego, a PAN deputy, who days after the counter-reform to the ISSSTE law was approved, declared that the SME is a "privileged trade union" and must be "transformed urgently".
The SME is one of the most militant trade unions in the whole of Mexico and the declarations of this panista deputy reflects the whishes of the bourgeoisie to eliminate it or to invest as Fox did in oil, removing its leader in order to impose another one closer to the interests of the bosses, seeking, in the case of LyFC, to create a favorable situation for attacking the electricians, and at the same time, pave the way towards the privatization of the energy sector.
As we said above, with these politics, Calderón is preparing a big collision which will have important consequences in the class struggle by pushing the workers' movement and the revolution forward.
The working class is not demoralized; on the contrary, attacks add more petrol to the fire which increases the willingness to fight. Unfortunately for the bourgeoisie, unlike the revolutionary days of 2006 when the leadership prevented the direct participation of the unions, this time all the ingredients are maturing quickly for the next revolutionary episode in which the trade unions will be the ones marking the guideline.
Furthermore, there are elements that make us think of a bigger eruption of the struggle in which the trade unions and the mass movement lead by AMLO will emerge united. Evidence of this are his declarations in mid-April during a tour in Veracruz in which AMLO pointed out that in order to prevent the privatization of PEMEX we must "paralyze the country". During last March 25 mobilization of the National Democratic Convention (CND), AMLO, when reading the agreements of the commissions, consciously failed to mention the decision of the CND that it would unite to the call for a general strike, an agreement that was pushed by hundreds of delegates that participated in this event.
As we know AMLO has opposed this kind of action in the past. However, just a few weeks after the CND, he raised the possibility of "paralyzing the country" in order to prevent the privatisation of oil. It is most important to highlight the way in which enormous pressures from below are already having an impact on leaders such as AMLO himself. This declaration by the main leader of the PRD is an indication that helps to measure the mood for struggle amongst the working people and allows us to look at where the movement is going.
The future of the struggle and the revolution is still in its initial stage. Everything points to new and more convulsive events. However, this war between the main classes of Mexican society cannot last indefinitely. Either we, the workers, take power into our own hands or we will be defeated by the bourgeoisie. There is no middle way: socialism or capitalist barbarism. In order to avoid the second option, workers must fight for a militant programme, which on top of our demands for better wages and working conditions, would put forward as its aim the overthrow of Calderón, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of workers' democracy. Join Militante and fight for Socialism.
- Mexico: revolution takes another step forward by Jorge Martin (November 24, 2007)
- Mexico: 1 million strong Convention elects “legitimate government” by Jorge Martin (September 18, 2006)
- The revolutionary reawakening of Mexico by Alan Woods (September 8, 2006)
- Mexico: Marxist Tendency "Militante" under attack - urgent appeal for action (September 1, 2006)
- Mexico: What attitude should APPO take towards the National Democratic Convention? (September 1, 2006)
- Mexico: Oaxaca - the Spearhead of the Mexican Revolution by John Peterson (August 31, 2006)
- Mexico: mass protest against electoral fraud acquires insurrectionary proportions by Erik Demeester (August 30, 2006)