10 March 2008

Section 59 Hunger Strike

A couple days ago I posted an update from Nancy Davies on the efforts of Section 59 of the teachers' union to recoup backpay promised by the government since 2006 when the teachers of Section 22 went on strike. The irony, as Nancy pointed out, is that the strike-breakers are now every bit as disillusioned with the governor as the original Section 22 strikers were back in '06.

Today Section 59 is at it once more. I've just come from the zocalo, where two dozen or so teachers from Section 59 are encamped on the stone plaza, lying on sleeping bags, blankets, and cardboard boxes amid a raft of signage announcing their hunger strike in the face of a lying and unjust government.

Just so everybody understands: Section 59 teachers were recruited by the state government--promised money, school improvements, and what have you--to report to work and to denounce Section 22, in 2006, when Section 22 protested against the government's tactics of first ignoring teachers' complaints and then committing human rights violations amid the escalating, state sanctioned violence as the government attempted, repeatedly, to break the strike over a period of five and a half months. (See here and here for background.) As the situation in the capital deteriorated, Governor Ruiz needed some friends from the teachers' union on his side; thus Section 59 was given plenty of incentive and public visibility. And now they don't feel they've been dealt with squarely.

Their demands include immediate payment of all promised salaries, an opportunity to buy lands on which to develop schools (I have no idea where this comes from; perhaps it was mentioned at one point as an incentive to get them to work when their brethren were striking), and, if I understand correctly, which is never a guarantee, immediate action by the government to resolve the current condition of a government "held hostage" by the political maneuverings of Section 22. I mentioned all this to Jenna today, and her response was "They're gonna starve!"

It's true, too. There's something preposterous and beautifully ironical to Section 59 teachers camping out in the zocalo to demand their due. This is exactly how the conflict of 2006 began. First the teachers camped out and were ignored. Then the government laid the early morning bum-rush on the encampment, and the teachers fought back. Then* the governor called up Section 59 to help save a little public face and maybe put a good spin on things, which didn't really happen. And now Section 59 is crying foul?

Seriously. You couldn't make this up any better. If the two dozen or so teachers of Section 59 who are in the zocalo tonight are serious, then they better get ready for the long haul. All this reeks of a publicity stunt, but who knows. Maybe they've finally seen how Ruiz treats his people, and they're determined to protest the abuse. I'm not saying that's how it is. Just maybe one explanation.

*A dramatically stream-lined version of events