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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

World Teacher’s Day
Helping teachers in Lebanon and Oaxaca

With the struggle that BC teachers went through in the last year, it is perhaps easier for us to understand how personal and professional lives can be affected by events and struggles. Two groups of teachers in the last few months have gone through cataclysmic events far greater than those we have faced.

Teachers in Lebanon, particularly in the south of the country, had their schools and homes destroyed during the month-long war. When the bombing stopped, Education International (EI) put out an appeal on behalf of Lebanon’s teacher unions for funds to

help their members get re-established. The BCTF executive responded to the appeal with a contribution of $10,000 to the EI solidarity fund specifically for the teachers in Lebanon. Many individuals also donated to the fund.

Teachers in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico have been in the midst of incredible social upheaval for several months. The 70,000 members of Section 22 of SNTE, the Mexican teachers’ union, went on strike on May 15. One of their demands was a raise in salary to keep up with inflation–not a surprise. However, they also had a number of demands for their students and their learning conditions.

The teachers wanted the government to provide a free breakfast for their students, books, writing utensils, and minimally adequate school buildings. Oaxaca is a state that is made up of about 40% indigenous population. Poverty is widespread, particularly in the rural indigenous communities. A large percentage of the young people have been forced to abandon their homes and cross into the United States, often illegally, to make money they send back to Mexico to support their families.

To increase the pressure on the government to negotiate, thousands of teachers and their families occupied the huge plaza in the centre of the city of Oaxaca. On June 14, the government responded by sending in 3,000 armed state police in the middle of the night. Fleeing teachers and their families were beaten and, according to reports, some were killed.

This changed the situation from a teacher strike to a community demand for change. Two days after the attack, 400,000 people marched in support of the teachers. Agricultural, student, and union groups joined the teachers and created the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca. The teachers reclaimed the plaza and the community took over the city and demanded the resignation of Gov. Ulíses Ruíz Ortíz, who went into hiding.

For over three months the protest has continued, with thousands of people living in the plaza and the streets of the city, sharing their food and holding meetings of the Popular Assembly where they discuss how to make changes. Several people have been killed, some on their way to the city from a rural area and the union offices attacked. Despite fears of further violence, the protest has continued for four months.

Soon after the attack by the police on the teachers, Antonio Garcia, a member of the executive of the teachers’ union was in Vancouver to take part in the education section of the World Peace Forum. The BCTF executive had approved a $10,000 grant to the union to help to feed and support the families and Antonio was able to take the cheque back to Mexico.

A DVD on the teachers’ movement in Mexico, and Oaxaca in particular, is available on loan from the BCTF. It is called "Granito de Arena" (grains of sand) and was made before the recent events, but helps to explain the context of education in Mexico and the struggle of the teachers’ union in Oaxaca.

To borrow the DVD and to show it to colleagues, mail your request to video@bctf.ca and include your name, the title, school address, and school phone and fax.

– Larry Kuehn


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