Workers Vanguard No. 1019
8 March 2013
Repression, Privatizations, Union Busting
Pact for Mexico: War on Workers, Poor
The following article was translated from Espartaco No. 37 (February 2013), which is published by the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League.
While taking the oath as Mexico’s new president in December, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) proclaimed that one of the priorities of his government would be to “restore peace.” Meanwhile, the repressive forces of the capitalist state that he and the Mexico City government under the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) had mobilized were unleashed against students, workers and peasants protesting his inauguration outside the Congress building and at other locations. Unbridled, the cops beat and arrested people at random in downtown Mexico City. Some 100 people were wounded, 29 of them requiring hospital care. Dozens were arrested, some accused of “attacks against public order”—a rehash of the draconian “social dissolution” law used for decades by the PRI to quell social struggle. To release those who were arrested, the Mexico City legislative assembly modified the part of the legal code dealing with that offense to “eliminate the aggravating circumstances,” while refusing to abolish the code as requested by the local human rights commission.
As we wrote following the repression in a December 2 leaflet:
“In contrast to the widespread illusions in the possibility of reforming the bourgeois state displayed by [the student-based movement] #YoSoy132 since its inception, we as Marxists understand that the bourgeois state is and will always be an instrument of organized violence. Made up at its core of the police, army, courts and prisons, its purpose is to uphold the rule of the capitalist exploiters, regardless of which party is in charge. The repression launched by the rightist Rajoy government in Spain against anti-austerity demonstrators, the killing of 34 striking black miners at the hands of the South African ANC/SACP/COSATU popular-front government last August, and yesterday’s events in Mexico, for example, prove vividly and brutally that the state machinery does not serve the interests of the exploited and the oppressed. It must be destroyed and replaced by a workers state.”
On December 2, a day after the repressive onslaught, the three main bourgeois parties signed the “Pact for Mexico,” a declaration of war against unions and the poor. Among other things, the agreement promotes “competitiveness” (i.e., reducing costs at the expense of the workers), private investment in [state-owned oil company] PEMEX (read: privatization), “education reform” (by destroying the SNTE teachers union) and “strengthening of the Mexican state” (i.e., the repressive apparatus). Adding insult to injury, Peña Nieto launched a “national crusade against hunger” just as the PRI announced its “firm” determination to tax food and medicine.
The “Pact for Mexico” comes in the wake of the enactment of the reactionary labor “reform.” The previous labor law had imposed mandatory arbitration, collection of union dues directly by the employer and several other measures designed to keep the unions tied to the state and the bosses. While upholding these measures, the new labor law makes firing workers easier, encourages temporary contracts, promotes outsourcing even further and attacks health care and the right to strike. Down with the labor “reform”! Down with the “Pact for Mexico”!
There is no doubt what type of “peace” Peña Nieto was referring to in his inaugural speech. It is a new rendition of “Pax Porfiriana” [named after longtime dictator Porfirio Díaz, ousted by the Mexican Revolution in 1911]. The state intends to use brutal repression to maintain “order” in the face of the misery caused by “labor deregulation,” the “opening up of the economy” and urban and rural poverty. To make this even clearer, Peña Nieto announced in December that a central feature of his new security strategy is the creation of a national gendarmerie. According to Spanish newspaper El País (18 December 2012), this will be “modeled on the Spanish Guardia Civil,” the brutal militarized police dating from the Franco dictatorship that is regularly deployed against demonstrators, leftists, unionists and Basque and Catalan nationalists. Although Peña Nieto hypocritically claims that, at some unknown time in the future, he will withdraw the army from the streets, his new “strategy” boils down to permanent, large-scale militarization and renewed repression against the populace as a whole, directed in particular against social and union activists.
As we have stressed in the past, the aim of the Mexican rulers’ “war on drugs” is to strengthen the repressive powers of the capitalist state. We call for the decriminalization of drugs. Decriminalization would reduce crime and other social pathologies associated with drug trafficking by eliminating the enormous profits that stem from its illegal and underground nature. We also oppose measures by the bourgeois state to restrict or forbid people from bearing arms, which impinges on their rights and guarantees that criminals and the state maintain a monopoly on weapons (see “Bourgeois Hypocrisy and Gun Control Schemes,” WV No. 1015, 11 January).
The Mexican capitalists and their government are bent on making workers pay the price for the international economic crisis. In carrying out their new campaign, the bosses feel encouraged by the lack of response from the powerful unions in the country, whose leaders tail either the PRI, the PRD or, more recently, Morena [Movement for National Regeneration, led by former PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO]. All of these are bourgeois parties. From the murderous repression of the popular movement in Oaxaca in 2006 to the destruction of the SME [electrical workers union] in 2009 and the 2012 labor reform, the pro-PRD union tops, not to mention their pro-PRI counterparts and the SNTE, essentially have not lifted a finger to stop the attacks that have destroyed what remained of labor’s gains.
Down With the
A new target of the bosses’ offensive, this time in the form of “education reform,” is the SNTE—the biggest union in Latin America, with over a million members. By broadening the provisions of the “Alliance for Quality Education” signed by the government and the SNTE leadership itself in 2008, the current reform would impose continual evaluations of teachers. It would do away with permanent positions by linking employment and promotion of teachers to those evaluations and would also eliminate union control over hiring.
Under capitalism, education is based on the needs of the ruling class and reflects the racist and class-divided nature of society. The bourgeois rulers allocate resources to education only to the extent that this serves their purpose in training the future technical, administrative and ideological personnel needed to run capitalist society. Beyond that, they couldn’t care less about the education of the masses of exploited and oppressed people, particularly poor and indigenous peasants.
While urban public schools present a pitiful image, rural ones are much worse. Given the lack of supplies, furniture and often even buildings, it is not uncommon for teachers to give classes to malnourished children in the open air. As far as indigenous children and teenagers go, even when their teachers speak their language, books in languages other than Spanish are almost nonexistent. For the right of indigenous peoples to receive education in their own languages! No privileges for any language! As communists, we fight for free, quality education for all—in the cities and the countryside. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to put an end to the bourgeois system of exploitation—dedicated to enriching a handful of capitalists—through a socialist revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie and establishes a collectivized, planned economy to satisfy the needs of the population.
It is typical of the bourgeoisie to blame the workers for the shortcomings of public services when the fundamental problem is lack of resources. The lie goes: If they really cared about what they do and about the well-being of the population, nurses, for example, would somehow overcome the shortage of beds, supplies and medicines. Similarly, it is claimed that if a teacher really wanted to teach, he or she could do so without desks, books or other supplies, let alone computers. This comes on top of a propaganda campaign launched by the government and the bourgeoisie to depict SNTE teachers as a “privileged” group on account of the few benefits that they still enjoy. Like many others, the CNN Expansión (11 September 2012) Web site concludes: “Teachers Wages Exhaust Budget.” This is simply an insult to teachers at public elementary and junior high schools, who start off with a salary of about 8,000 pesos [$600] a month if they have a permanent position—that’s what they call “privileged.” Without a permanent position, teachers earn a starvation salary depending on the hours they teach.
The bourgeois nationalists of the PRD and Morena have no qualms about laying bare the true purpose of the “education reform.” Jesús Zambrano, leader of the PRD—a party that supports the “reform”—claimed that the union “clique” became “the main obstacle to improving the quality of education and an obstacle to democratic development in general and inside the unions in particular.” Meanwhile, Morena, while purporting to oppose the reform, complains that it is not forceful enough against the union. Martí Batres, a Morena leader, ranted in December that the reform was nothing more than a media “trick” to give the impression of attacking the union leadership. According to him, “the SNTE is not affected by the education reform, because it doesn’t touch their leadership or their financing” (Aristegui Noticias Web site, undated).
We oppose this reform as an attack on the SNTE, on the gains obtained by the teachers and on free public education. [Now-deposed SNTE leader] Elba Esther Gordillo, a/k/a “La Maestra,” is accustomed to working hand in hand with the capitalist state to carry out murderous attacks against dissident CNTE teachers, such as when she supported the fierce repression in 2006 against Section [Local] 22 in Oaxaca. She now finds herself in the crosshairs of her former allies [see article on page 12]. What must be clear, however, is that the intervention of the capitalist state in the unions has nothing to do with “democratization.” Its purpose is to further tie up the unions, if not to destroy them outright, and wipe away any remaining union benefits. The workers movement must clean its own house: the brutal and groveling pro-boss bureaucracy led by “La Maestra” must be expelled from the union leadership by the organized teachers themselves.
Historically, teachers have been very militant, constituting an important link between the urban proletariat and the peasantry. However, despite being organized in unions that are part of the workers movement, teachers do not have a direct relationship to the means of production and thus lack social power. (Like other professionals they are part of the intelligentsia, a sector of the petty bourgeoisie.) Teachers need the concrete solidarity of the sections of the industrial proletariat that do have social weight. The working class must flex its muscles against the bosses’ new attacks, against the education and labor reforms.
Like the rest of the supposedly “independent” unions, the dissident teachers organized in the CNTE, which for decades has fought to “democratize” the SNTE in opposition to the venal national leadership, have always been subordinated to the PRD/Morena. These politics can only lead to defeat and never to true union democracy. It is revealing that the leadership of the SNTE and the CNTE (as well as Morena) are taking the same actions to oppose the “education reform”: appealing to the capitalist courts for protection against the government. In fact, the CNTE accused the SNTE leadership of “‘ripping off’ their strategies and slogans” (La Jornada, 12 January). To unleash the social power of the working class it is necessary to fight for a class-struggle union leadership. The starting point is fighting for the political independence of the workers movement, which in the concrete means breaking from bourgeois nationalism and any illusions in the PRD, AMLO and Morena.
Oil, Populism and Imperialism
The new “structural reforms” explicitly aim at further opening up the economy for the imperialists, particularly the U.S. imperialists, who are the true masters of the weak Mexican bourgeoisie. The main offering is PEMEX, the core of what remains of nationalized industry and the main source of wealth in the country. Just as Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, defended the expropriation of U.S. and British oil companies [in Mexico] in 1938, we defend the nationalized energy industry as a measure of self-defense on the part of semicolonial Mexico against imperialism.
Bourgeois populists such as AMLO promote the now widespread notion that PEMEX belongs to “the people” or “the nation.” The truth is that PEMEX really belongs to the bourgeoisie, and the Mexican capitalists are divided on how to better profit from the enormous wealth produced by oil. Regardless of what they do with PEMEX, regardless of who rules and under what program, capitalist Mexico will remain a backward oil producer that is subordinated to imperialism and subject to market crises and the wild fluctuation of oil prices.
In all countries of belated capitalist development, the national bourgeoisies are utterly incapable of breaking with imperialism. Unlike populism and neoliberalism, imperialism is not a disposable, conjunctural policy but a global system of exploitation and oppression. This system is dominated by large financial monopolies, backed by the armies and fleets of their respective nation-states, which long ago divided up the world between them and today keep the backward countries in their grip. Within the framework of capitalism, it is impossible to reach a level of industrial development comparable to that of advanced countries. In The Permanent Revolution , Leon Trotsky explained:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”
Upon taking power, the proletariat cannot stop at the democratic tasks but must immediately continue with the socialist tasks (expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class, i.e., collectivization and economic planning) and fight for the international extension of the revolution. This is the only way to guarantee that the heartfelt democratic aspirations of the masses, such as national emancipation, political democracy and agrarian revolution, are fulfilled. For a workers and peasants government!
The return of the PRI to the presidential residence sparked the largest EZLN [Zapatista] mobilization since this movement burst onto the scene in 1994. The indigenous Zapatista peasants marched in silence through several towns of Chiapas on December 21, simply to show that they are still there. For 19 years, the Zapatistas have endured government attacks as they struggle against rural poverty and racist, anti-indigenous oppression. We defend the EZLN against capitalist state repression while pointing out that this petty-bourgeois peasant organization is incapable of offering a solution to the demands of the peasantry and the indigenous population. After several years of silence, “Subcomandante” Marcos issued new communiqués some days after the demonstration. In one of them, the EZLN correctly denounces the repression carried out by all the bourgeois parties. At the same time, the communiqué demands compliance with the “San Andrés Accords” [1996 “autonomy” agreement between EZLN and the government], promises to build “the necessary bridges towards social movements” and reaffirms its 2006 “Sixth Declaration.”
The EZLN lost a substantial portion of its support in 2006 after it distanced itself from the PRD, at a time when AMLO’s popularity was at its peak. Ever since, much of the criticism directed at the EZLN from its former supporters has come from the right (see Espartaco No. 25, Spring 2006). In truth, the EZLN simply offers a peasant variant of the bourgeois populism promoted by the PRD/Morena. The most prominent demand in the “Sixth Declaration” was for a new constitution that “recognizes the rights and liberties of the people and defends the weak before the powerful” and that would be imposed by a “civilian, peaceful movement.”
It is utopian to think that the capitalist regime can be reformed to serve the exploited and the oppressed, whether through new legislation or by any other means. As we wrote then, in spite of its criticism of the PRD (and now Morena), the Zapatista movement is “a politically amorphous petty-bourgeois movement whose purpose is to pressure the nationalist bourgeoisie. It leads those breaking from the PRD to the left to remain within the limits of bourgeois politics” (see “Zapatista ‘Sixth Declaration’: Petty-Bourgeois Populism,” WV No. 872, 9 June 2006).
The peasantry is a heterogeneous, petty-bourgeois stratum. Poor peasants are reduced to producing for their own consumption and aspire to have their own plot of land. Peasants who own small farms compete among themselves to place their produce on the market. The objective interests of the peasantry as a social stratum reside in private property of land. Because of these characteristics, the peasantry—and the petty bourgeoisie as a whole—is incapable of formulating its own revolutionary program. It always trails behind one of the two fundamental classes in capitalist society: the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. In the absence of a revolutionary workers party waging a struggle for power, peasant struggle today is limited to the framework of capitalism.
After 19 years, the politics of the Zapatistas confirm and reinforce this Marxist analysis. “Subcomandante” Marcos’s new communiqué makes assertions such as, “Our standard of living is higher than that of the indigenous communities that support the governments in office and who receive handouts that they squander on alcohol and useless items.” This is a grotesque and moralistic statement that stigmatizes, at least by default, the non-Zapatista indigenous communities (those who fail to appreciate Marcos’s charm) as government acolytes, beggars and irresponsible people for wanting to enjoy a few pleasures, perhaps a drink.
Marcos also writes about how Zapatista housing “improves things without damaging nature by imposing roads alien to it.” The idealization of isolated and technologically backward agrarian communities may be popular among a sector of the “green” petty bourgeoisie that does not have to endure the daily consequences. But the poor peasants and the exploited and oppressed of the world have no interest in adopting that perspective. We fight against the isolation of the countryside and for a world where everyone can benefit from advances in technology, culture and all other endeavors.
Furthermore, the demand for autonomy for indigenous communities is utopian under capitalism, as it would imply a long-term agreement between the indigenous communities and the capitalist government. The proposed autonomous regions, with limited rights over the land, would frequently find themselves at odds with landowners and potentially with industrial corporations. This is particularly the case in Chiapas, which has 30 percent of Mexico’s scarce water supply, 47 percent of its natural gas reserves and 21 percent of its oil. Only a workers and peasants government—the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry—can provide and guarantee true autonomy for the indigenous communities as part of a conscious and planned effort to eliminate the age-old rural destitution and the divide between the countryside and the city.
As communists, we fight for the complete eradication of poverty and for a society based on generalized abundance. Only a socialist revolution and its international extension can bring about this perspective, by establishing an international planned economy that puts the immense resources and productive forces developed under capitalism at the service of the exploited and oppressed of the world. The working class, because of its relationship to the means of production, is the only class with the historic interest and the social power to lead the oppressed masses to that end. We seek to build a revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the poor peasantry, but this can only be done under the leadership of the workers’ vanguard organized in a communist party. Thus, our purpose is to build a workers party like that of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, capable of leading the working class in this historic task.