Grinding poverty, corruption, and electoral fraud have turned Mexico into a cauldron of social unrest. Nowhere has this been more acute than in the state of Oaxaca. A botched attempt to crush a massive teachers’ strike last June led to open rebellion against the state government.

After over five months of open insurrection, the federal government finally sent in the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) on October 29 to quell the revolt. They used as pretext the death of an American IndyMedia reporter Brad Will and two other protesters who were killed by police thugs.

To avoid bloodshed, the popular assembly leading the struggle, APPO, made the decision not to directly confront the invaders. They let the PFP control Zócalo, the main square in Oaxaca City, but then regrouped at a local university and have re-emerged in areas not occupied by the armed forces.

On November 2, the PFP stepped up its confrontation by attempting to invade the local university where protesters were camped. After a six-hour running battle, protesters armed with gasoline bombs and rocks sent the fully-armed police running for cover.

Following this victory, the APPO called for a national “mega-march” three days later. On November 5, over a million descended on Oaxaca to demand the expulsion of federal police and the resignation of Ortiz. A national general strike against the electoral fraud and in solidarity with Oaxaca has been called for November 20.

The Accident Triggering the Explosion
On May 15, the leaders of SNTE section 22 (the teachers’ union in Oaxaca) threatened a statewide strike if their demands for better salary and facilities for students were not met. They had a militant tradition of protest and strikes every May, after which at least some improvements followed.

This year, the hated, dictatorial Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, decided it would be different. His negotiators refused to budge and drove the 70,000 teachers to strike on May 22. They were joined by a large number of allies in occupying the center of Oaxaca City (the Zócalo) and built an encampment of close to 60,000.

On June 14, Governor Ortiz unexpectedly sent in police in an attempt to clear the Zócalo and break the strike. This blatant provocation ignited a mass uprising that fought back against the police and routed them, with teachers and allies recapturing the city center. Two days after the attack, an indignant 400,000 marched in protest demanding Ortiz’s resignation.

Out of the battles, a democratic committee of mass struggle was formed. It was named the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO. Soon APPO members and followers began cordoning off the city center with barricades to defend the encampment, government buildings were occupied, and the entire capitalist state apparatus was crippled. Local and state police couldn’t function. APPO virtually took over the running of the city, including public safety. Governor Ortiz had to flee Oaxaca and run his operations from a hotel in Mexico City.

Frightened, in October the national Congress and Senate passed a non-binding resolution urging the governor to resign. Yet he remains stubbornly at his post while in hiding.

APPO took over radio and TV stations and began broadcasting the voice of the people in struggle. Stations were held temporarily for weeks until the governor’s agents sabotaged them, except for Radio Universidad which is still running as of this writing.

The Struggle Against Electoral Fraud
It is essential that the struggle in Oaxaca links up with the wider struggle against the massive fraud against leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which has inflamed millions of Mexican workers and poor. The right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon was declared final victor by the Supreme Court in September. Lopez Obrador has called for a campaign of civil disobedience against Calderon’s presidency.

On Sept 16 in Mexico City, one million rallied as “delegates” to the Democratic National Convention called by Lopez Obrador. The idea was to inaugurate a parallel government with Lopez Obrador as head, in open defiance of the Court’s decision.

To succeed, it is essential that popular committees of struggle like APPO be built in every workplace, school, and neighborhood throughout all of Mexico. The emergence of popular committees would challenge the existing illegitimate government’s right to rule. Like in Oaxaca, there would be attempts to severely put down popular resistance with force. Working people and the poor need to be prepared to defend themselves through the organization of democratically-controlled militias.

Oaxaca shows that the working masses have the potential power to defeat even the most intimidating state forces. They have the potential to both shut down the capitalist system and create a new society free of the dictatorship of big business and its politicians.

Only a democratic socialist Mexico could meet the aspirations of the workers and poor. To achieve this goal, the Mexican working class needs to build a socialist workers’ party that points the way forward for the mass movements while arguing to fundamentally change the system, in Oaxaca, throughout Mexico, and beyond.

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