Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teachers' Strike Follow-Up

I've spent the past couple days relaying questions to my contacts. I greatly appreciate their patience as I ask them to repeat information, clarify statements, give me examples, and share some tricky details about pay. Here are some insights parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors shared with me:

1. The Status of the Planton
Per my friends and the Oaxaca Study Action Group, the teachers will return to the classroom on Monday. The government is in negotiations with the teachers' union regarding its many demands and grievances. My teacher friends say the process is transparent and public in regard to their pay, benefits, and issues pertaining to the school. However, union officials may receive extra money that is not part of the public process.

2. Teacher Pay
Ah, the big question. According to my contacts, new public school teachers make between 200 and 250 pesos per day (the current exchange rate has that equaling $18 to $23 per day), or 4,000 to 5,000 pesos per month ($340 to $425 per month). As teachers stay in the system, they earn an extra 20 pesos per day ($1.70). Teachers work a six-hour shift, plus additional meetings, weekend obligations, training, parent meetings, etc. If they work a second shift with a second group (with each group having around 40 students in the primary grades), they get extra pay. In this case, they may work up to 12 hours per day, plus meetings. They often end up paying for classroom materials and do pay for their own photocopying costs.

3. Union Power
I asked two sources about teacher participation and potential coercion within the union. According to both sources, Section 22 is a democratic union, markedly more so than the national teachers' union with which it is associated. Every teacher gets a vote and teachers must vote pertaining decisions regarding their contracts and strikes.

4. Rich vs. Poor
I have surveyed more people regarding their opinions of the teachers and the strike. The poor and working class continue to express their support while the expatriates, tourists, and business owners are furious, just full of vitriol. One interview subject said to me, "I have never met an American that supported the teachers." An expatriate said to me, "I have never spoken with anyone that supported the teachers." Both of these comments point to the value of listening to people in the neighborhoods rather than the zocalo hotel owners, restaurant owners, parents of children in private school, and foreigners who, as one of my Oaxacan interview subjects put it, "depend on the disparity between Oaxaca's and America's economies."


Jena said...

Much, much belatedly -

I'm not sure how I found your blog, but I feel the urge to comment because I have very mixed feelings. (All of what follows is colored by my own experience working as an anthropologist in a remote rural region where parents are indifferent - and sometimes outright opposed - to the school system in general. Since they would prefer their children not leave the pueblo, their children's future careers (at least to most parents' ideals) are as peasant farmers and wives/mothers, which work is best learned by leaving school as soon as you're old enough to work.)

1) The teachers I know are not entirely supportive of the strikes. But they won't be able to get work in the future if they don't participate, so there is no effective anti-strike voice within the union.

2) The strikes often cause rifts between the poor and the middle classes because ... any sustained infrastructure outage is going to hurt the poor disproportionately since they don't have alternatives for, e.g. childcare. (I can go on about this at length.) Better-educated parents can also help their kids keep up more effectively. And of course richer people send their kids to private school and aren't affected directly.

I'm totally in support of labor. I just worry that creating rifts between the poor and the middle classes is going to hurt both.

3) It's also worth noting that the teachers don't generally pay for school supplies. They ask the parents - who can't afford it either - to pay for school supplies.

Anyway, these are not really points to either side. Mostly I just want to observe that it's always very complicated. I hope this is coherent.

Serena said...

Brilliant, Jena, thanks for taking the time to comment, and with such detail. This is exactly the kind of counterpoint I need to hear. I had recently interviewed a Oaxacan man who works in the pueblitos and he told me the situation for teachers in the campo is so different than that of the teachers here in the centro. My interviews have been all centro-based so far, and thus only represent a small portion of the teachers, parents and children involved.

Yes, it's funny about the rich parents. They are hardly affected by the strikes, except in terms of getting caught in a traffic jam or three, yet are virulently anti-teacher, at least from what I have experienced.

You mention that the issue is very complicated. Very true. Fortunately, I like complicated discussions, and you open up so many more with your points. Muchas gracias!

Jena said...

(And back again, belatedly once more!)

I don't know anything about the teachers' situation in the city. The teacher's situation in the country ... well, frankly, it stinks for them, too.

They travel anywhere from 1-10 hours and thus commute on a weekly basis rather than a daily one. They're far from their families and isolated in a place where nobody thinks what they do is important. (They're also not prepared for the cultural differences, often, and offend people unintentionally, but that's a whole other story.)

And to boot, anything past elementary school is a total bandaid solution. The telesecundarias are a big fat joke.


I'm boggled by rich people's resentment, but I'm boggled by it in the US as well. The sense that many people have of deserving the advantages that they were born with ... well, I guess those are universal.

Chuck said...

Hi--I found your blog while trying to get info about the current teacher's strike in Oaxaca.
I am a teacher in the States, but also visited Oaxaca last summer and want to know more about these practically annual events. The few conversations I had with people last year, especially about the '06 strike, were not sympathetic to the teachers.