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23 May1999

Mexican Student Strike: Broader than in 1968

MEXICAN STUDENT STRIKE: BROADER THAN IN 1968 Tens of thousands of students and their supporters flooded Mexico City's main plaza in the evening of May 12 as a strike by the 267,000 students of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) entered its fourth week. The strike started on Apr. 20 to block a plan by the UNAM administration and the federal government to raise tuition to $68 a semester [see Update #482-484]; UNAM is a public university, and until now the tuition fee has been nominal.

More than 100,000 people marched in the May 12 demonstration, according to the left-leaning daily La Jornada. The UNAM students were joined by parents' groups; students from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) and a number of other local schools; and thousands of unionists from the UNAM Workers Union (STUNAM) and the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a dissident group within the National Education Workers Union (SNTE). [LJ 5/13/99] The STUNAM General Council of Representatives voted on Apr. 28 to give the students full support, including food and financial aid for students occupying buildings. [Mexican Labor News and Analysis vol. 4, #8, 5/2/99]

The CNTE organized a one-day strike by at least 70,000 teachers in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Mexico, Michoacan and Tlaxcala for May 12, and many of the teachers came to Mexico City for the student march. The teachers are demanding a 100% pay hike, improvements in Social Security, and more CNTE representation in the SNTE's national leadership. [El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 5/14/99 from EFE]

The rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), based in the southeastern state of Chiapas, sent a message of support to the demonstration. "[Y]our movement...brings a fresh wind to the part of Mexico that's at the bottom," wrote EZLN spokesperson "Insurgent Sub-Commander Marcos," "and a certainty: the rebellion continues, it's here, it hasn't died." [LJ 5/13/99]

UNAM strikers have presented their struggle as part of a wider movement against opposition to plans for privatizing government services, including health care and electric power. One of the student slogans is: "after education, the hospitals and the lights." Students from the National School of Anthropology and History came to the march with a Volkswagen "bug" made over into a replica of a Mexican pyramid with a "For Sale" sign in English.

"[Y]ou are teaching us the path toward transforming the country, you along with the EZLN," popular actress Ofelia Medina told the students during the rally. "In '68 we didn't achieve this conjunction of forces," she said, referring to the student strikes of 1968 that ended in a massacre of possibly hundreds of students and their supporters in the Tlatelolco housing project. [LJ 5/13/99