The rumblings of class warfare in Mexico are loud and growing. Millions of poor and working people are in motion against that country’s U.S.-backed ruling elite and its political hold on the masses.
Thousands of Oaxaca teachers and their supporters in the APPO march to Mexico City, Sept. 22.
Photo: El Universal
Two separate struggles are unfolding in the Latin American country of 107 million people. How those struggles interact will be decisive for the class struggle in Mexico. It will have implications for the whole continent.
One is related to the recent presidential elections, where the legitimacy of Felipe Calderón as president is not recognized by millions of people. The other concerns a teachers’ strike in Oaxaca that has taken on a political character with national implications.
The July 2 presidential election was on the surface a contest between two parties that accepted the framework of bourgeois order in Mexico. Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) is an avowed party of big business and is oriented explicitly toward U.S. imperialism.
The other main contender was Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the “For the Good of All” coalition. The main party in that coalition is López Obrador’s social-democratic Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Two other parties, Convergence and the Labor Party (PT), also backed López Obrador. “For the Good of All” enjoyed wide support among Mexico’s poorest workers.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had been the ruling party for 71 years before the PAN’s Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000. While it is still widely discredited for corruption, it controls a significant political machine in large parts of the country.
What changed the character of the election was the fact that López Obrador, who had been leading in most polls before the elections, was ruled to have lost the elections to Calderón by 0.5 percent of the vote. The PRI candidate came in a distant third.
López immediately charged fraud and demanded a recount. A poll conducted shortly after the election showed that the vast majority of Mexicans believed that there was foul play. People began to take to the streets. On July 30, after a month of growing rallies and acts of civil disobedience, 2.5 million people poured into Mexico City’s Zócalo plaza to demand a recount.
The mass movement forced the government to grant a partial recount by the Federal Electoral Court, although the people demanded a full recount. But on Sept. 5, the court dismissed the challenges, ignoring clear evidence of fraud, and declared Calderón victorious. It did not release the details of the 4 million votes that were recounted, and promptly destroyed all 41 million ballots.
López Obrador’s supporters held the streets of Mexico City for seven weeks. During the Independence Day celebrations on Sept. 16, hundreds of thousands attended a people’s convention. The mass meeting recognized López Obrador as the legitimate president and called for him to form a parallel government.
So far, López Obrador has kept the mass movement within legal bounds. While refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Calderón election, he has so far recognized the broader legitimacy of the Mexican state apparatus—the courts and the police. That contradiction can only weaken the movement of millions that genuinely hopes for change for the country’s poor and working people.
But the illegitimacy of the Mexican political establishment is now apparent for millions. That is the context that shapes all the struggles taking place in Mexico today.
Unfolding Oaxaca struggle
In particular, it is the context for the unfolding workers’ struggles in Oaxaca. Those struggles began in June when the local teachers’ union went on strike for better wages and increased state funding. On June 14, Oaxaca’s governor Ulises Ruiz ordered police to attack the 15,000 striking teachers camped in the city square. The teachers and their supporters pushed back that attack.
As a result of that battle, labor, peasant and leftist political organizations united to form the People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO). They have widened the demands beyond support for the teachers to include the resignation of Ruiz. The APPO is now leading a virtual insurrection in Oaxaca.
More important, the APPO is becoming a national pole of struggle. A student conference organized by the APPO drew participants from around the country. The political implications were clear. In one of the meeting halls, a banner with a fist and a red star read, “Remember that a spark will set the prairie on fire, and that this spark is already in flames in Oaxaca.”
During the first week of October, members of the APPO marched to Mexico City carrying demands for better conditions for the poor. They were joined by Indigenous organizations and other communities in the state of Puebla, between Oaxaca and the capital. One of the people who joined the march in Puebla told the Mexican daily La Jornada, “The APPO march has entered the consciousness of the Mexican people. It’s beginning to leave its imprint on its way to transforming this nation in a profound way.”
Popular assemblies are appearing across the country emulating the APPO. The Oaxaca group called for them to meet in Mexico City on Oct. 7 to create a Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico. They will then march back together to Oaxaca to host an international forum of solidarity with the struggle there.
With the stakes growing, there is a growing danger of severe repression against the Oaxaca insurgents. Over the last weeks of September, right-wing vigilantes and paramilitary forces attacked strikers. A student leader, a member of the APPO and of a party called the Popular Revolutionary Front, was abducted and disappeared by a paramilitary group. He surfaced several days later in prison with a bullet wound to the eye. He was held with no access to his supporters.
The Oaxaca struggle is especially important because the demonstrators have responded to the government and paramilitary attacks with equal strength and firepower—even using homemade rockets to push back the paramilitaries. This is in stark contrast to the professed non-violence of the López Obrador campaign.
The national government has deployed Carlos Abascal, secretary of internal security, as an intermediary. This so-called intermediary not only stated that the government will not allow Ruiz’s ouster, but also has threatened to use federal police to quash the resistance.
Army and navy helicopters flew over the city, while armored personnel carriers, airplanes and troop-transport trucks massed outside the city limits—a clear threat to the demonstrating masses.
But the threats unleashed an outpouring of support for the strikers and the demonstrators from across Mexico. Flavio Sosa, an APPO leader, declared, “if the army comes in, rest assured that we will not run away.”
In a separate statement, the local unit of the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR) said “if the PRI and the PAN opt for repression, they will be responsible for the loss of lives and the loss of a civil and peaceful struggle as a viable option, and the initiation of a new stage in the class struggle.”
The political instability of the Mexican elite combined with the growing militant workers’ struggle in Oaxaca has created conditions for a genuine revolutionary upsurge. Combined with these are the many other struggles, like the Zapatista’s “The Other Campaign” and the recent struggles of metalworkers and San Atenco vendors. Each of these struggles raises the need for a nationwide leadership united on a revolutionary, anti-imperialist basis.
The stakes are high
The stakes are already high. For most of the last century, Mexico has been one of the economic poles of Latin America. Its nationalized oil industry and large state-owned industrial sector created the basis for a national capitalist class. That was the real legacy of the PRI’s political dynasty.
But things have begun to change in Mexico in the last 20 years. As a result of the neoliberal and imperialist pressures, Mexico has reduced the number of state-owned enterprises from over 1,000 in 1982 to less than 100 today. Even its national bank, Banamex, is now owned by Citigroup.
This points to the importance of Mexico for U.S. imperialism in Latin America. The Fox regime has been the main proponent of Washington’s free trade agenda, to the point that today 90 percent of its trade is conducted as part of various free trade agreements. Most notable, of course, is NAFTA, essentially binding Mexico to the U.S. economy. Trade with the United States makes up 85 percent of Mexico’s trade.
Poverty is rampant in Mexico. The differences between rich and poor are open. Eighty percent of the population earns less than half of the country’s national income. That would be even less were it not for the money that immigrants to the United States send back home. These remittances are the second largest source of income in Mexico.
For all these reasons, the unfolding struggles in Mexico are of the deepest concern to the global strategists of U.S. imperialism. For the same reason, they deserve the attention and support of progressive people in the United States.