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AFT leaders show solidarity with counterparts in Mexico

AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and Ruby Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and an AFT vice president, visited two schools in Mexico City on Oct. 1 at the invitation of STUNAM, the union of PSRPs at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the Americas.

First book in Mexico

Johnson and Newbold were in Mexico to represent the AFT at a regional conference for PSRP higher education unions from 22 Latin American countries.

The first visit was to an elementary school that serves the children of union members who work at the university. It features a union-created and union-supported education model developed through years of labor-management cooperation. In operation for 38 years, the school is neither wholly public nor wholly private; there is no tuition and the instruction is nonpolitical and nonreligious.

Johnson and Newbold introduced the students to First Book by distributing bilingual books to a class, and additional books to school library staff. The union also will be donating a new encyclopedia to the library.

The second visit was to a public middle school whose students have passed competitive examinations, putting them on a university track. Johnson and Newbold met faculty and support staff working under extraordinary conditions: the school's 13,000 students attend in two shifts that run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Newbold paid a surprise visit to staff in the school administrative office, telling them that the AFT considers their work the "heart of every school."

Lorretta Johnson in Mexico

Faculty and staff discussed the logistical challenges of running a large school, as well as their working conditions, salaries, morale and job security. Johnson assured them of the AFT's solidarity and support for STUNAM to help advance the status of education support staff.

The visits took place during a turbulent time for Mexican education. In February, revisions to the country's constitution promoted labor reform disguised as education reform. The changes created new requirements for teachers (such as tests to gain and keep certification) without addressing necessary supports (including funding and training) to help teachers be successful. The largest Mexican teachers union, el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), supported the reforms pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration.

The former president of the SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, is in jail for corruption—she was known for her private jet, U.S. shopping sprees and homes in Southern California. Her successor, Juan Díaz de la Torre, is towing the government line, in part because all Mexican teachers are required to pay SNTE dues, which amounts to millions of dollars.

SNTE has publicly criticized a dissident faction of four of its state affiliates, la Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), for its mass protest mobilizations. Thousands of teachers, led by CNTE locals in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán and Mexico City, participated in demonstrations and other actions to protest the constitutional changes and dissuade Peña Nieto from signing the law, which he did in September.

[Eric Duncan, Chelsea Prax]

October 3, 2013