ZAPATA LIVES, THE FIGHT GOES ON
By Elsa Martínez, a Morelos teacher
Historically, social strikes have been born among intellectuals who have observed closely how people with power put pressure on the weakest and, above all, unfortunately, the most ignorant. Teachers have always been social fighters, visionaries of the future and, with the highest regard for the people, they have raised their voices many times to show the road that must be walked, from both their own perspectives and their own experiences.
Morelos State in Mexico, has witnessed intense struggles against social injustice since the time of Emiliano Zapata, whom teachers in Morelos identify with and who is invoked by them in every march and in every action taken. The current government has taken all prestige from the teachers and used all its power to stall the media and close the media voice at most levels.
In August 2008, teachers took the streets to raise their voices against the new educative policies, agreed to between the Teachers´ National Union Leader for life (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Estado or S.N.T.E.), one Elba Esther Gordillo Morales and the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. The agreement called “Alianza para la Calidad de la Educación” (ACE) or Alliance for the Quality of Education, is full of contradictions and transgressions against the rights of teachers, and it requires the students to be subject to regular standardized testing. This of course, inhibits their ability to grow intellectually and creatively.
On the other hand, if the new methodology of this reform to the basic education in Mexico leaves several doubts itself, the evaluation of the teaching-learning process is totally opposite to every pedagogic theory, because ACE does not take into account an evaluation process at all. It pretends to evaluate teachers according to the level of success achieved by their students in the certification exams and then pays the teachers based on their students’ results, ignoring all environmental factors that facilitate or interrupt in the development of knowledge, abilities and attitudes expected from students.
If this is not sufficient enough, teachers’ promotions are going to take place through an annual exam, without taking into account all their years in service, their professional development and academic preparation, the Federal Law of Work (Ley Federal del Trabajo) and the Mexican Constitution.
This was precisely the centre of the teachers´ strike in Morelos, guided spiritually by Zapata and so called “Movimiento Magisterial de Bases” (MMB) or Teachers’ Movement. The imposition of ACE will lead our country straight to an incurable sickness called ignorance.
During the strike, teachers started a sit in (plantón) in Cuernavaca’s the main square, the Plaza de Armas in front of the Government Palace. Teachers erected tents, for their headquarters, where they stood on guard, ate everyday, slept on the cold floors, sang and expressed their creativity on posters, leaflets and became closer with their companeros in struggle, their second family, living almost three months in euphoria and fear, feeling the danger of being violently evicted from the plantón at any unexpected moment. They lived that horror before when they were literary hunted and tortured by the federal police and the military forces in towns such as Xoxocotla, Tres Marías and Amayuca , where 3,000 federal troops attacked teachers and parents with helicopters, tanks, hummers and worst of all, gas bombs.
The very moment teachers started the movement, they decided to take possession of the building of the Sección XIX of the S.N.T.E. , the state run teacher union ejecting the puppet union leaders who conversed only with the government and cared little for the teachers opinions. New leaders were democratically elected and the government is now trying to fire them from their teaching positions in retribution.
The few meetings with the governor Marco Adame Castillo´s representative board were not satisfactory and teachers received an incomplete, ambiguous agreement that did not satisfy them. After that, Elba Esther sent her “soldiers” specialized in breaking this kind of movements by buying consciences. Huge bribes were paid t keep some teachers on the side of the government. Nevertheless, teachers had already chosen a Democratic Committee, and the new leaders will look to consolidate a new union, far away from the corrupted paws of the S.N.T.E. and Chucky.
Finally, teachers decided to end the strike and go back to schools in November, continuing their struggles from within the schools. . But the story had not finished yet. About 70 activist teachers received contract rescissions, when one of the agreements between the government and the negotiation board was, in the first place, to avoid all kind of repression against teachers. Reality was very different and the rescinded teachers are being watched constantly and some of them and their families have suffered aggressions and have been menaced because they are not willing to give in.
Despite this, the fight against the ACE goes on and marches are taking place every Friday until the government stops the repression as well as the Instituto de la Educación Básica del Estado de Morelos (I.E.B.E.M.), and the Institute of Basic Education of Morelos, which is the teachers´ employer. During the last couple of marches teachers have worn paper masks resembling the Ku Klux Klan sect to send the message that they are being repressed by those authorities. They are even thinking of convincing people not to pay their taxes.
Ignorance is a sickness, and nobody gets free from it easily, but teachers have the courage to face it and build a new educative project to fight against it. Ignorance is everywhere and people who govern us are gravely ill. They do not have any sensitivity or vocation to serve the people, from their pedestals they intend to direct a symphony that does not sound because the musicians (our people) do not have jobs, money or the possibility of supporting their families.
Ignorance is contagious. The only vacuum is education and teachers from Morelos are looking desperately to strengthen it, feed it with their fight that now is part of our history. In every march, teachers walk with a firm pace, moved by the spirit of conviction. They show the people how dignified and proud they feel to be called teachers. They expect everyone to wake up from the lethargy of ignorance and join the chorus of “Zapata lives, the fight goes on. Zapata lives, he lives, the fight goes on, goes on”.