Mexico:”Social upheaval inflames Mexico

This was the headline in the US Wall Street Journal in its weekend edition on 1-3 September.

On Friday 6th October the Spanish daily, El País carried an article by Ignacio Sotelo under the headline, ‘Mexico – a pre-revolutionary situation’. These articles reveal the true extent of the battles and struggles now unfolding in Mexico following the massive ballot rigging which resulted in the conservative right winger, Felipe Calderón of the PAN (Partido Acción Naciónal) being declared the winner of the presidential election in July. Ever since, Mexico City centre has been blocked by an encampment of thousands of supporters of radical populist López Obrador (ALMO) the presidential candidate of the PRD (Partido Revoluccionario Democratico).

While it is premature to describe Mexico, on a national scale, as in a classic pre-revolutionary situation as understood by Marxists, elements of this are now beginning to develop and a massive social upheaval is unfolding.

The last mass turn out was to a popular assembly attended by an estimated one and half million on September 16, National Independence Day. This mass assembly elected Obrador as "President" of a parallel government which is committed to a mass campaign of "civil protest" aimed at preventing Calderón from being sworn in as President on December 1st and fighting attempts by his government to implement its neo-liberal agenda.

This campaign has been accompanied by the massive battles of the working class, peasants and others throughout the year. These historic events open a new chapter in the struggles of the Mexican masses. With Mexico’s powerful revolutionary traditions stemming from the revolutionary period 1910-20, the ruling class of Mexico, and the Bush junta, are terrified of what now lies ahead. As the only "neo-colonial" country with land borders to a major imperialist power, these upheavals are set to have massive repercussions not only in Mexico and Latin America but also in the USA with its strong Hispanic/Mexican population. Since the revolution in 1910-20 Mexico has been transformed and now has a powerful, educated working class. Mexico’s population has exploded from 15 million in 1910 to over 100 million today. In 1910 only 29% lived in the cities today this has grown to 75%. With 55% of the work force employed in the service sector. Yet the history of the Mexican revolution is deeply engrained into the consciousness of the masses.

As the Wall Street Journal put it: "The bitter post-electoral fight has revealed a side of Mexico that many assumed was the stuff of history books" (WSJ 1/9/06). The same article compared the current situation with the period which opened in 1913 following the assassination of President Francisco Madero "the period Mexicans now call their ‘revolution’ " (WSJ). The prominent Mexican historian and opponent of Obrador, Enrique Krauze warns: "There should be no doubt that Mr. López Obrador represents a revolutionary threat. This is no joke. I hope that he will not succeed and democracy will prevail. But nevertheless, it’s important that people realise what is at stake." (WSJ 1/9/06).

However, rather than López Obrador posing a revolutionary threat, the real threat comes from the mass forces of workers, peasants, students and others exploited by capitalism who are supporting him. For, while denouncing corruption, poverty and inefficiency, his radical programme is limited to working within capitalism with the objective of "cleaning it up" and constructing a more ‘humane’ form of capitalism.

What the ruling class rightly fears from Obrador coming to power is that such a victory would open the flood gates to a mass movement of strikes and occupations demanding any government led by him should go much further than he himself intended. And such fear is justified. Mexico is now a powder keg in the process of exploding socially. It is clear that the new government of Calderón, if he is able to sit in the Presidential chair, will have no credibility or authority. Massive struggles are imminent and many are already taking place.

Even prior to the presidential election, thousands of miners in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, were involved in a bitter strike which involved clashes with the police in which two miners were killed.

Steel workers were involved in a strike lasting for 141 days which shut down the port, involved pitch battles with the police and the burning down of the local company offices. The steel workers not only won every one of their demands but they forced the company to pay them for every day they were on strike.

Mexico has a powerful and strongly unionised working class with 10 million organised into unions. Most are in the official unions linked to the former regime of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Instituciónal) that ruled Mexico for more than 70 years under an increasingly repressive, corrupt system which included a strong corporate state sector in the economy.

Coming to power in 2000, the neo-liberal PAN is acting for capitalism and imperialism, is now eager to get its hands on the state-owned sectors of the economy in oil, electricity, water and other services, and sell them off. Even the corrupt official union leaders are being forced to act by the pressure of their members and to defend their own interests.

400,000 state social-security workers are threatening strike action from mid-November. The leader of this union is a supporter of Obrador. Now the leadership of Mexico City’s electricity workers is also threatening strike action to keep out private investment and is backing Obrador. At a mass rally, Fernado Amezcua, a top union leader, declared: "We will not allow the plundering of our national resources." Under the old regime of the PRI, the union leadership collaborated in keeping the workers’ movement in check in exchange for concessions from the powerful state sector. Now, with this under threat, major struggles of the working class are in the process of erupting.

Powerful concessions (for the neo-colonial world) have been won by the Mexican working class which the ruling class wants to attack. The imperialist investors want to reform the Labour Code, introduced in the 1930s (under the radical populist regime of Cardenas – who nationalised the oil industry and gave political asylum to Leon Trotsky). This ensured that in industries the highest pay level negotiated between a union and a company automatically became the established rate throughout the industry – even in companies with no union. Even Calderón dares not propose yet to attack this section of the labour code for fear of provoking an even bigger explosion.

Yet all commentators fear that what the future battles in Mexico will involve is already being seen in the state of Oaxaca where a popular insurrection is now under way. Beginning as a militant strike of the teachers over wages, it has now developed into a mass uprising demanding the resignation of the state governor Ulises Ruis, a member of the PRI.

70,000 teachers have been on strike in the state since early May preventing 1.3 million students from attending classes. For most of that time the state has been compelled to pay them full wages. These teachers have a very strong militant tradition. Every year since the 1980s they have gone on strike demanding a higher wage rise than the increase accepted by the national union leadership. After a march on Mexico City they have usually won a few hundred dollars more. This year when negotiations broke down they simply demanded US$100 million dollars more and began a strike. Enrique Rueda, head of the Oaxaca teachers union summed up the attitude of the teachers: "We have learned to fight for everything we get, because otherwise no one pays us any attention."

For three months the state capital has been under siege. Tourists no longer visit this colonial town. The state governor is in hiding and the state congress can only meet secretly in a hotel. The Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO), formed to support the teachers, is a co-ordinating body of hundreds of social, trade union, indigenous and political organisations, has virtually taken over the running of the town including some policing. The police have disappeared and only reappear in secret to randomly shoot down activists. Youth groups with bandanas covering their faces roam the city and groups of teachers are on street corners, many armed with machetes stopping those they deem suspicious.

The APPO has introduced a 10pm curfew and banned the taking of photographs because of secret police surveillance. Eight private radio stations have been taken over by the insurgents to broadcast their demands, calls to action and to help co-ordinate the movement. With the state governor afraid to appear in public and the state judges hiding away in their houses, there is a stand off in the city. Here elements of dual power and a pre-revolutionary situation exist. That is to say, the old capitalist state machine is not fully in control and part of its functions have been taken over by the working class and their supporters but neither are the workers fully in control and the old state machine still exists although it is weakened.

Such a situation cannot continue indefinitely – and in particular not if isolated to only one state. The movement can become worn down or even crushed. The government has held back at present from trying to brutally repress the movement for fear of provoking an even greater crisis. Yet such measures could be attempted at a certain stage in order to try and intimidate the masses nationally against emulating this uprising. While the main demands of the movement have centred on the resignation of the state govenor it is urgent that the movement in Oaxaca is spread and takes all possible steps to win the support of the masses nationally including a national protests and strikes in solidarity with the Oaxaca peoples. Significantly, Obrador has kept his distance form this movement and urged that the national struggle limits itself to ‘peaceful civil protest’. Yet this uprising in Oaxaca is a foretaste of the movement to come in Mexico in the next months and years.

As this struggle in Mexico is unfolding the need for the working class to develop its own independent organisations, party and programme to overthrow capitalism is growing ever more urgent. One urgent task is to fight to democratise the trade unions which are still run along corporate lines by a powerful undemocratic bureaucracy. Free democratic elections of the trade union leadership and for democratic control of the unions by the rank and file are an urgent and crucial step.

At the same time, a campaign to build for a 24 – hour national general strike as a first step to stop Calderón from being sworn in needs to be launched. A campaign of civil disobedience as proposed by Obrador is not sufficient to defeat the corrupt gangsters who have stolen the election from the Mexican people.

Democratically elected committees of struggle need to be established in all work places, universities, workers’ districts and by the poor peasants and others opposed to the existing system. Such committees, whose delegates need to be elected, subject to the right of recall and fully accountable to mass meetings, need to be linked up on a city-wide, district, state-wide and national basis. Such bodies can become a real democratic expression and organisation of the movement and the basis to take the struggles forward in a co-ordinated way.

From this movement there is also an urgent necessity for the working class to establish its own party that will fight for its interests and develop a revolutionary socialist programme. Obrador has declared that Mexico "needs a revolution". However, he sees that ‘revolution’ taking place within capitalism. What is needed is a revolution that will break from the strait-jacket of capitalism and landlordism in Mexico. If this is not done it will not be possible to fulfill the aspirations of the masses who have rallied to Obrador’s campaign.

The struggles to prevent Calderón from being sworn in as President and against his government if it is formed need to be part of the fight for a workers’ and peasants’ government with a revolutionary socialist programme. By linking up with the movements in Venezuela and Bolivia, and the completing of the socialist revolution in those countries and introducing a genuine workers’ democracy in Cuba, it would be possible to establish a democratic socialist federation of those countries with Mexico. Capitalism and landlordism throughout Latin America could begin to be challenged and the door opened to win the support of the working class and poor in the USA. This is the challenge that now exists for socialists and workers in Mexico as the struggle becomes sharper in the coming months and years.

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