Solidarity with Mexican Students!
By DEREK SEIDMAN
(Los Angeles YSA)
In an amazing display of strength and resistance, Mexican students at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) have continued to keep the largest university in Latin America closed down for over three months, striking against a government onslaught to substantially raise the tuition costs, which in the past have been virtually free.
Earlier this year, UNAM president Francisco Barnes de Castro attempted to skyrocket the tuition from about .3 pesos to 1360 pesos (from about 3 cents to $136) for those who could afford it. The students saw this as an immediate threat towards their right to a free education, which was established in the 1917 Mexican constitution.
On April 20, they showed the government how serious they were about that right-they shut down the entire school!
UNAM, which is attended by 270,000 students and located in Mexico City, was the birthplace of the 1968 student rebellion against the autocratic and corrupt regime that opened fire on thousands of protesting UNAM students, killing hundreds. The current student strike is the longest in the school’s 89-year history.
The students, in addition to protesting against the tuition increases, have also raised new demands against the time limits on attending the school, as well as a demand to have negotiations with the administration broadcast live on television. Perhaps their most ambitious demand is for a new board to be set up giving students an equal say in the decisions with the administration and faculty.
The move by the administration towards placing the burden of educational costs on the students, most of whom could hardly afford it, is just one of a series of recent attempts to do so. In 1986, UNAM backed off similar proposals when students began to protest.
The students see the government attacks on their right to a free education as a shift towards trying to mold the school around a more elite, white collar orientation-in other words, more oriented around Mexico’s floundering market and private companies. Many students are protesting to preserve the liberal arts legacy of UNAM.
Yet the attacks on free education, won through the Mexican Revolution, represent something on a much broader scale. Historically, when the ruling class is going through a period of instability, its first option is to attack the state-run social benefits, such as medical care and education.
The general direction that capitalism is currently headed, despite ruling propaganda that claims things are “stable,” is rapidly downwards towards catastrophe. Latin America in particular has been struck hard by the recent collapse of the Asian markets. Mexico, which had to be rescued in 1994 from economic disaster, is especially vulnerable.
These attacks on social benefits and gains won through past struggles are things we American youth have a rich experience in (e.g. affirmative action, bilingual education, medical care, etc.)
In early June, after seven weeks of protest, the administration buckled down and graciously “agreed” to let students pay the fees voluntarily. Yet the students know all too well that any concession to the government that infringes even a fraction on their educational rights will only give the ruling class momentum for further attacks.
The protests have a wide range of support in the working-class communities. Many unions and parents’ groups have openly showed their support in statements and demonstrations that have reached up to 100,000 people.
Parents have displayed a great amount of support for their children; the students’ popular chant, “Pueblo, escucha, tu hijo está en la lucha” (People, listen, your child is in the struggle), has been heard in a different tone recently: “Pueblo, escucha, tu madre está en la lucha” (People, listen, your mother is in the struggle).
As this issue of Socialist Action is coming off the press, the students’ strikes continue to grip the entire Mexican country, and is a highlight in the international youth movement and radicalization that is presently occurring.
Youth for Socialist Action, which gives full support to the Mexican students, is an active revolutionary youth leadership organization that is working to attract the young people now emerging with a political conscience from capitalist turmoil. We work to lead us all towards building a formidable struggle that will challenge bourgeois rule and take us into a new socialist epoch without human suffering and misery.
If you are serious about making revolutionary change, join the YSA!