Mexico: Explosive Struggle of Polytechnic Students

A new protest movement has started, in an explosive manner, at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico City. On April 14th, three demonstrations were held totaling about fifteen thousand students and workers.

The atmosphere was militant and very critical of government policies and the management of the Institution. One of the most repeated ideas in the speeches was the need to rescue the historic character of the IPN, which was founded by Lazaro Cardenas eighty years ago, the president who declared socialist education and created the Polytechnic Institute with the aim of providing education to children of workers and peasants, so they could develop fully. The current struggle reflects a deep undercurrent of anger, but also a student body which is already aware of their strength and have confidence in its organisation.

In some schools, students stopped their activities and took over the installations. In others there was no mood to suspend classes but were nevertheless ready to fight to defend the Polytechnic. In the Autumn of 2014, IPN students went on strike for three months and held demonstrations of up to eighty thousand students. The current protest show greater maturity, reflecting the experience of the previous struggle. It is noteworthy that in several schools there has been a marked improvement in the level of organization and participation of the community and its most active and conscious layers.

After three months of strike, students started returning to normal life at the end of 2014 and early 2015, but in fact nothing was the same. In the period since the end of the strike we have witnessed, in one school after another, struggles against local authorities for specific problems such as cafeterias or the defense of labor rights. In these, the students have acted in a massive way. Although there was a natural ebb in the general movement, the dominant mood has been one of instability.

The spark

On April 6th, the general director of the IPN issued Circular 2016 03 where it says: “The National Polytechnic Institute is ascribed to the Undersecretariat of Higher Education”. The authorities argued that this change is only due to a restructuring of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP). But if you look closer it is not so. The Undersecretariat of Higher Education serves only matters of higher and graduate education, that would mean that the Vocational schools [high schools which are part of the IPN] would be handled by the Undersecretary of Upper Secondary Education and something similar would happen to the Polytechnic Television Channel. In practice it would mean a move towards splitting up and dismembering the IPN.

At the end of the 1956 strike, the State retaliated and snatched student boarding, which had been a hotbed of activists and organizing center, from the IPN. After the struggle of 1968, the state eliminated the pre-vocational schools and applied a repressive policy that was more intense in Vocational schools, within which it encouraged the development of groups of thugs known as porros. In the strike of 2014 Vocational schools were the heart and soul of the struggle. Although the state does not dare openly say its intentions, it is clear that it wants to split up the IPN for political reasons, because it is no longer able to keep the most militant student sector under control, which is a permanent danger to them. These alleged “administrative changes” are a step in that direction.

IPN3There is also the obvious danger that these modifications are an attempt to apply the “education reform” within the IPN, which is actually a labor reform against education workers.

Due to the enormous anger generated by Circular 03/2016, the authorities withdrew it and declared that the IPN will be ascribed to the office of Secretary of the Ministry of Education SEP. This is not acceptable to students and workers, because the IPN’s management autonomy is not respected and the federal government is given a greater role, which is seen as opening the door to privatization policies.

April 14 protest

IPN4On April 13th meetings were held in most schools with the participation of hundreds of students in each school. The meetings not only discussed about IPN problems, but also the wider social problems of the country. In ESIME Zacatenco [Higher School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering] there were many interventions talking about the need to fight against all the attacks of the government of Peña Nieto. At the meeting of the Higher School of Economics a vote was taken to agree to struggle against outsourcing and precarious work for youth. At Vocational 14 a firm alliance between workers and school students was achieved and they mobilised jointly.

IPN5The General Polytechnic Assembly (AGP) called two mass gatherings on the 14th, one on the Zacatenco campus and another in Santo Tomas. The school assemblies decided to join in these rallies, but there is growing criticism of the bureaucratic way in which the AGP is acting, its coming closer to the general management of the IPN and its distancing itself from the overall direction community.

On April 14th at 10:00 am there was a march organized by the Democratic Delegations Block [the democratic wing of the teachers and lecturers union at the IPN], with about 3,000 workers towards the IPN Director’s Office  in defence of the Polytechnic and workers’ rights was held. After the struggle of 2014 a layer of young workers have entered the union and there has been progress in the democratization of the union, which was noted in this demonstration.

IPN7 1The schools became centers of agitation. In Zacatenco there were large gatherings in every school. At the central rally at Santo Tomas campus representatives of the different schools spoke. The speaker of the School of Nursing and Midwifery explained how in the past they had fought alongside health workers against government reforms and explained the need for unity of workers and students.

Finally two different demonstrations starting in each of the campus converged at the SEP in the city centre.

In some schools the authorities acted in a more openly repressive way. At Vocational 5 they sent the porro thugs, and intimidated the students who nevertheless went on strike and were not cowed.

A big problem was the lack of any perspective on the part of the leaders of the AGP. They thought  state representatives would come out to meet them, as had happened in 2014. They did not even meet with a commission, and the AGP made no proposal for a plan of action. The best organized and critical sectors in the schools are attempting to create a new coordination to give proper channel to the struggle.

We must fundamentally change things

Peña Nieto has faced youth struggle even before he became president. An example was the #YoSoy132 movement, the struggle against the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, the 2014 Polytechnic strike or the recent struggle at the Universidad Veracruzana and now again the IPN. This is a reflection of deep malaise in a society that only offers death, exploitation, sexual violence, torture or physical disappearance.

IPN11 1The struggle at the IPN in essence is a struggle for quality education that allows for a decent future. The enormous suspicion towards agreements at top with the authorities reveals clearly that there is no confidence in these institutions because they are known to have only implemented policies against workers and their children. Youth struggle is the best barometer of an enormous malaise in the depths of society.

These chapters of history are steeling this generation, which gains in experience and draws lessons. The symptoms of barbarism which Mexican society experiences daily are a reflection of a sick system. Capitalism can no longer play a progressive role and if anyone who wants to fight for a decent future should understand that a root and branch change in society is necessary. The struggle for the transformation of education is closely linked to the struggle for the transformation of society as a whole.

The attacks on the IPN are a small part of the problem. The Ayotzinapa struggle remains unresolved and workers, state industries, education and health care continue to be attacked. The unity of students, workers and the whole of the Mexican people is necessary. We need to repeat the great days of the struggle at the end of 2014, but strikes can not remain limited to the educational field. When the working class enters into action with its methods of struggle like the general strike, the days of this system will be numbered and we will have the opportunity to build a new society where the Polytechnic, its workers, students and graduates will play an important role, putting technology at the service of the people of Mexico as the IPN motto says.

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