the Disillusioned kid: Oaxaca comes to Nottingham
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oaxaca comes to Nottingham

I seem to be quite the busybody this week. Which is fine. It's not like I've got any work to do or anything. Tuesday night I found my way to the Nottingham stop on the speaking tour by an activist from Oaxaca. Apart from being the second poorest state in Mexico, Oaxaca last year witnessed a widespread revolt which challenged the state government and reverberated around the world. Andres Aullet is a activist-lawyer who was involved in the struggle and is now a member of Committee of Relatives of Political Prisoners of Oaxaca, which he described as a Trotskyist grouping.

The meeting was organised by No Sweat, (which for those of you keeping score is an Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL) front-group). It was chaired by Tom an "activist in the NUT," with some contributions from Sofie Buckland from No Sweat and the "students' movement." The event kicked of almost half an hour late due to technical difficulties, but once everything was sorted they quickly moved onto two short videos, one a fairly propagandist documentary and the other an assortment of video clips taken throughout the course of the struggle. Tom had suggested that the latter would include some riot porn, although in actuality it was fairly tame (much more so than many of the images of protests in Oaxaca).

Andreas spoke through a translator, which was just as well given how rusty my Spanish has become. He began by recounting the context of the struggle and how it had begun with a strike by teachers. Strikers took control of the main square, but were violently removed by the police. As the struggle escalated, its demands shifted from the purely economic (i.e wage increases) to the political (i.e. the resignation of the state governor) and incorporated increasingly broad sections of Oaxacan society, leading to the constitution of the APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca).

Andreas described how a number of activists had demanded space to put their demands on TV. When refused, they had simply taken control of the TV station and had they say anyway. Similar scenes also took place with the local radio. Meanwhile, a number of teachers had decided (apparently against the wishes of some of APPO's leaders) to march to Mexico City, to put their demands to those in the seat of Mexican power.

Despite the militancy of the protests and the number of people on the streets (one march apparently attracted 1 million people, an impressive figure in a city of 2.5 million) various union leaders were keen to negotiate. While the movement had taken up the demand for the governor's resignation, the sycophantic bureaucrats were content to limit themselves to the initial demands of the teachers. This obeisance continued when the Federal Police sought to retake the city on November 25. Union leaders called for people to acquiesce to their return, but many ignored them and when it came to defending the final barricade in the university, thousands turned out to resist the police.

Andreas was critical of the movement's "betrayal" by the leadership, but felt that the strike had nonetheless been important. He argued that Oaxaca had shown that class struggle was still alive and that there were lessons for the workers, who he believed could have been victorious under a different leadership. During the Q&A session he extended his criticisms to the EZLN (the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, commonly known simply as the Zapatistas, a movement based in Chiapas which borders Oaxaca to the south) who he argued didn't understand the need to take power and had initially been wary of supporting the Oaxacan struggle because of the presence of corrupt union leaders. In his analysis this remained their position until the attempts to retake the city in late November. While I disagree with his assertions as to the need to "take power" (a Leninist obsession) I wonder if there isn't an element of truth to his analysis of the Zapatistas' approach. I certainly didn't become aware of any EZLN statements regarding the situation until late-November, but this may simply reflect my own ignorance.

While Andreas' political position is quite different from my own, his insight into the struggle was interesting. Oaxaca was hugely inspirational to activists around the world, including myself. It is always useful to learn about the successes and weaknesses of other struggles and hearing it from a Mexican trot is a helpful corrective to any illusions one might have about an imminent anarchist revolution in the periphery. Now if only we could bring a little bit of the Oaxaca spirit to Nottingham's Market Square...

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