CNTE, 43 years

by Luis Hernández Navarro

This December marks the 79th anniversary of the founding of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and the 43rd anniversary of the birth of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE).

The SNTE is the union organization that brings together the vast majority of educational personnel in the service of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), state government teachers, and workers of decentralized public education institutions.

The CNTE is a force of grassroots education workers, which stands against the charrismo1 within the SNTE. It is independent and autonomous from the government, political parties and churches. In addition to defending the interests of the teachers’ union, it fights for the democratization of the union, of education and of the country. It has done so since 1979.

Beyond the formal date of its birth, the coordinator expresses a lively current in the teaching profession, class-conscious and committed to emancipatory causes, which has been going on for at least a century. This is a trend that took shape with the founding of the first rural teacher training college in what is now Tiripetío in 1922, and which sometimes flows like a mighty subterranean river, and at other times emerges to the surface with vigorous protests and alternative educational experiences.

The CNTE is heir and keeper of the pedagogical work of great educators who forged rural education in the country, such as José Santos Valdés, Raúl Isidro Burgos and Isidro Castillo. It takes up the legacy of the communist and Cardenista teachers who promoted agrarian reform, the struggle against religious fanaticism and the organization of workers’ unions, and who were assassinated, impaled and maimed by neo-Cristeros2 and landowners.

It keeps alive the tradition of the Othonist teachers who organized the Movimiento Revolucionario del Magisterio (MRM)Revolutionary Teachers’ Movement, in the days of struggle of 1956-60. It gives continuity to the efforts of the teachers who participated in the student-popular movement of 1968. It is nourished by the experience and effort of those who committed themselves to the revolutionary transformation of the country (and were victims of the dirty war) and who appear in its logo: Arturo Gámiz, Lucio Cabañas, Genaro Vázquez Rojas and Misael Núñez Acosta. It picks up the baton of those who in the 1970s promoted the Coordinating Committees of Struggle in Mexico City, founded popular schools in the Valley of Mexico and collectives such as the Movement for Political and Union Liberation in Michoacán or the National Independent Teachers’ Front (FMIN) in several states.

Since its establishment in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, more than 200 members of the CNTE have been assassinated. Literally, the democratic teachers’ union has lived through a dirty war against them. During Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, teachers Claudio Castillo, David Gemayel Ruiz and Antonio Vivar Díaz were violently murdered, and the bloody massacre of Nochixtlán was committed. Dozens of teachers have been persecuted, imprisoned and held in prisons with highly dangerous prisoners. Hundreds have lost their jobs in retaliation for their participation in the movements.

At 43 years old, the coordination is facing one of the most difficult moments in its history. After having 18 roundtables with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, these were suspended two years ago and have not been reestablished. On the other hand, the 4T has opened important spaces of dialogue to the SNTE unionism, headed by Alfonso Cepeda. Self-declared as AMLO’s intellectual army, they are now playing into the presidential succession by supporting Claudia Sheinbaum.

Expectations of democratizing the union soon vanished. Cepeda’s mafia continues at the head of the formal representation of the SNTE without any shame. The elections to change sectional leaders are a charade in which, with the endorsement of the Federal Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and the Ministry of Labor, rigged elections and mega-frauds are permitted, and it is legitimized that an illegal, anti-democratic and exclusive election regulation is placed above the union statute, a norm of higher hierarchy.

Although in Guerrero and Oaxaca the leadership has been renewed with a crop of young leaders, a generation of teachers has joined the schools, not necessarily normalistas, who see teaching as a transitional activity, while they find a better paying job. Their vision of the world, much more individualistic than that of the education workers of other years, leads them to move on from the union world, which they see as a waste of time. Convincing them to organize democratically to overcome their precariousness is an enormous challenge.

The unsatisfied demands of the CNTE are not few. The constitutional educational reform approved by the 4T filed off the sharpest thorns of the neoliberal hedgehog of Peña’s reform, but left its spirit intact. The federalization of the educational payroll has remained, in many cases, in words. The government’s decision to privilege the expansion of the educational service over ongoing teacher training and support for multi-grade schools, left central issues for democratic teachers out of public policies (and the budget). In fact, the New Mexican School is nothing more than the façade of a non-existent building. Tangled by the verbiage of some of its promoters, the curricular reform, which takes up some points of the coordination’s alternative education proposal, lacks grounding and consensus among teachers.

The teachers of the CNTE know that in the struggle to democratize their union, education and the country there are no shortcuts. True to their history and principles, they are ready to move forward.

This article was pubished in La Jornada on December 20th, 2022. English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1.  Charrismo refers to adherence to the government appointed union bosses.
  2. Cristeros refers to a widespread rural rebellion in the north and west of Mexico in response to secular reforms in the 1917 Constitution which sought to reduce the power of the Catholic Church. The conflict lasted from 1926 – 1929.
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