By coincidence, the huge monument on revolution square is also the starting point of a Nike sponsored 10K run. Underneath the monument about 100 members of the police academy wait. More than 300 trade unionists, activists and sympathisers of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) gathered for another feat of endurance – a 12-hour bus journey to Oaxaca out of solidarity with the people there and the struggle of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) in particular.
Leading the caravan are hunger strikers from Oaxaca who have been occupying the monument to Benito Juarez, hero of the first Mexican revolution, and the most famous Oaxaqueno. Behind their bus another 32 follow in single file.
The caravan leaves Mexico City, to be joined by activists from other parts of Mexico along the way. The case of the Oaxaquenos and their brutal repression at the hands of the state is a national and international cause. This testifies to the fact that an international network of activists, migrants from Oaxaca, the alternative media and international workers’ organisations were able to break through attempts by the mass media to keep silent about the uprising and state repression. The media also misrepresent the mass action as a violent, uncalled for, strike, and led by greedy teachers already enjoying a better living standard than the rest of the population.
On our way
As we made are way to the south, the caravan was greeted by local groups of sympathisers, shouting encouragements and waving home-made banners. At one stop, a local group came out with provisions for the travellers, and hundreds of oranges were distributed along the seemingly endless line of busses.
The majority of Oaxaquenos are from an indigenous background. November is harvest time for the maize crops and after the harvest they collect another local delicacy. They sweep the barren fields with large sheets of plastic to collect grasshoppers. At one of the bus stops, we were offered grasshoppers (dried but very recognisable) and, of course, no-one could refuse, especially not the foreigners amongst the travelling party.
In Mexico, the indigenous people make up between 10 and 15 percent of the population and invariably they belong to the poorest sections of society. The official figure, for 2005, was that 81 % of indigenous people live in poverty. These people are most certainly behind the actions of the APPO.
Around midnight, the caravan finally arrived in the Oaxaca city, capital of the state. We were greeted by activists from the university and by local youth who guard barricades in the university district. The buses weaved through different sets of barricades (some quite spectacular - made of burnt-out buses, reinforced with concrete – while others are mere wooden constructions). The next day, we saw the remains of a 6-hour battle between protesters and police, on 2 November. The “barricade of death”, where several people were shot, is blocking an intersection of three main roads on the edge of the city. Burnt-out cars form a first line of defence. Just behind them, a row of ready-made Molotov cocktails are at hand, mostly Pepsi-Cola bottles, “confiscated” from a Pepsi Cola truck, which is also now part of the barricades.
We were welcomed to attend a meeting when we arrived at the university campus. After receiving greetings from the different groups who are part of Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), we were invited to take a turn guarding the barricades that night. The security detail is made up of masked youth who instruct us that one rocket of fireworks going up in the air means the police are approaching, two means they are getting closer, and three means that you better start running. The night passes quietly enough, with police and paramilitary forces appearing, now and then, to keep everyone awake and nervous. They drive around in white cars, approaching barricades, and firing shots in the air - everybody hopes they aim at the sky. We saw a couple of guards at the barricades who got hurt by hurling themselves too enthusiastically towards the concrete floor whenever someone raises the alarm.
The next morning we were supposed to get ready for a demonstration from the campus to the town centre where we would deliver greetings to the APPO general assembly. Students and activists gathered at the university campus arranged breakfast for 300 visitors, without any problems. Food appears from somewhere, coffee is made, sleeping places are found. The students get much help from the local community. Mothers and fathers do the cooking, collect voluntary contributions from neighbours and shops, and keep the whole thing going. Now and then, people go to the university with baskets full of food, giving donations to the popular struggle.
When our demonstration finally sets off, at around noon, the sun is blazing. People in the better off suburbs greet us but the enthusiasm is noticeably more reserved than in the poorest areas where residents clap their hands and shout and join the demonstration. We make our way slowly and, according to tradition, the demonstration proceeds in three orderly rows. Some of the more hard-headed protesters shout “Please keep the line, comrades”, rather unforgiving at people who leave their place to find some shade.
Arriving at the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) headquarters, there is slight disappointment that we are not allowed to watch the proceedings of the General Assembly. The room is filled to the brink and people are worried about informers and attempts by the state to lift the leaders of APPO out of the meeting. We decide to go on with the demonstration to the centre of the town. When we arrive, we hear what sounds like another demonstration coming from the opposite direction. Turning the corner, we confront noise like that of our demonstration. But it is coming from a line of television sets, sitting on street traders’ stalls. Home made DVD’s show the tremendous demonstrations and battles with the police in previous weeks. A reminder, to anyone who needed one, that the traders are with the uprising even if their workplace, the town centre and central square, is currently occupied by armed forces.
The General Assembly decided to elect a main council, with regional representation on it, and representation of the different organisations and collectives which make up the APPO. It also decided to revive action and to rebuild barricades throughout the state capital and in other cities throughout the state. According to reports, flying pickets will be organised to show that Oaxaca has become ungovernable and that the regional PRI governor, Ulises Ruiz, needs to be replaced.
The CWI has commented before on the political demands and organisational aspects of the APPO. The renewed struggle, coming ever closer to protests in Mexico city against the start of the Calderon presidency (a mass meeting on 20 November and mass protest on 1 December) will show the world how the Mexican political and economical elite is in the process of losing control over the situation.
While it is positive that organisations like Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) appear, as, more or less, spontaneous expressions of the will to struggle by workers and the poor, they also show the enormous vacuum that exists in and around the workers’ movement. Crippled by trade union leaders who are not worthy to be called workers’ representatives, the traditional trade unions are mired in sleaze and corruption. Of the right wing parties, PAN and PRI, not many workers expect anything from them. Although Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the PRD, is seen as pro-poor and against privatisation, not many workers are under the illusions that the PRD, as a whole, is more democratic or that it would carry out their class demands.
This vacuum is damaging to the interests of the working class. Calling for a new workers’ party is an important task in the immediate future. This is a key task for revolutionary socialists, along with the struggle to build of their forces.