Mexican Students "Strike for a Future"

Owen Jones owen.jones at
Mon Jan 31 15:23:05 MST 2000

 Source: The Guardian (

 On the subject of youth, here's an article from the UK Guardian on students
in Mexico...there is a lot of potential here to fuse such struggles with the
working class movement and the focus the energy politically; at the moment
there is a lot of anger against the general concept called "neo-liberalism",
but it is so confused it has no particular direction and therefore is
ineffective. Our movement should be capitalising on this, and yet we are
incapable (probably too busy arguing about page 213 of volume 17 Lenin's
Collected Works...)

 It seems there is a reactionary "anti-strike" faction involved here...

Students without hope strike for a future

Protests at plans to end free tuition have become part of a greater cause at
Mexico's biggest university

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Monday January 31, 2000
The Guardian

Behind the barricaded entrances to the National Autonomous University of
Mexico campus, the striking students who have kept the country's oldest and
biggest university shut since last April reveal the unease beneath their

"After nine months we are surer than ever that we have right on our side,
but outside people just don't understand," says Fernando Camacho, one of the
strikers occupying Unam, a university that, with its 270,000 students, is
the symbol of state-run higher education in Mexico.

Within minutes, the point is proven as the radicals speed off to the
psychology faculty "to defend the struggle" against students opposed to the
occupation. A
false alarm, but in the past week the anti-strike movement has retaken
several university buildings outside the main campus, and the "ultras" know
strike is close to breaking point.

"We are all aware that this is the most critical moment so far," says
Roberto Bermudez, a sociology student.

This latest and longest strike in the history of the tradition ally
rebellious Unam was triggered by plans to increase fees from a symbolic
equivalent of
about two US cents to about $70 (£43).

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," says Mr Bermudez, who
views the movement as a stand against globalisation that is comparable with
battle in Seattle.

The Unam strike was widely supported at first, until the student leadership
ignored promises by the university authorities to suspend the proposed fee
open up the debate over modernisation.

The strikers poured scorn on the results of an official referendum on
January 20 that showed overwhelming support for a return to the classroom.
some students, quietly supported by the authorities, are trying to take back
the university piecemeal by changing the balance of power in student

"Referendum ha! ha! ha!", a student in a Che Guevara beret mocked into a
microphone during a march of the radicals through central Mexico City. "We
not lift the strike until we win. Forward to victory always," she said,
echoing her hero.

"They don't think they are striking. They think they are provoking a crisis
in the system; they think they are making history," says Alfonso Zarate, a
political analyst, explaining why the radicals did not end the strike when
it had apparently achieved its main aims.

Not that Unam is a stranger to history. In October 1968 the massacre of
hundreds of students leading a pro-democracy movement marked a watershed in
Mexican politics. It is the fear of rekindling those memories that Mr Zarate
says has prevented the Mexican president, Ernesto Zedillo, from storming the
campus. Sending in the police or army remains the least likely option.

"This occupation would never have been allowed to survive so long in many
European countries or in the United States," says Mr Zarate, who as a
student in
1968 left Tlatelolco square just minutes before the soldiers opened fire.

Despite Mexico's reputation for violence, and constant warnings that the
strike could degenerate, the nine-month standoff has produced remarkably few
violent incidents.

But while the past may help to account for the passivity of the authorities
and the sparseness of firebombs, it fails to explain the sudden explosion in
student radicalism.

Gone are the dreamers of 1968. Mr Zarate says today's movement belongs to a
new class of those without hope, created by recent economic transformations
and crises that have hit the middle classes hard and the working classes
even harder.

Educated in a swollen state system suffering from deteriorating academic
standards, the "ultras" have little stake in the future, he says.

Back behind the barricades, Mr Camacho, 20, says he thinks of the student
movement "less as the vanguard of a revolution, more as an example of

"Democracy does not always produce the right choice," he says of the

"What makes us sure we are right is the experience of knowing that we are
screwed. The experience of thinking, 'what is going to happen to me?'."

                                              © Copyright Guardian Media
Group plc. 2000

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