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We are education! Successful trade union strategies in Mexico

published 3 February 2023 updated 9 May 2023
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The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) is one of the biggest education unions in the world. It currently represents more than 1.5 million active members at all levels of education and 700,000 retired teachers. Its mission is to defend public education and protect the rights of education workers in Mexico. In this article, its General Secretary, Alfonso Cepeda Salas, shares the union's achievements and challenges in recent years.

The Coronavirus pandemic highlighted the profound changes we are undergoing and exacerbated the many challenges in the field of education.

Energising the education community: Lessons from the pandemic

The biggest challenge for our union was to keep public education alive. With the forced closure of schools, some took the opportunity to raise the old arguments of free marketeers and privatisation advocates, claiming that new technologies would replace schools and teachers.

On that front, we helped each teacher stay in touch with their students and families. We used various strategies to maintain contact:

  • Collection campaigns for the donation of equipment to the most disadvantaged students.
  • Design of support materials that we disseminated through our website, social networks, and the media.
  • Calling on our membership to document good and innovative teaching practices applied during the pandemic. These valuable experiences have also been used to highlight the professionalism and dedication of teaching staff: From walking the streets using loudspeakers to inform students about their homework, to improvising mobile classrooms from their cars; from using school walls to post homework assignments, to transforming their homes into classrooms with the quick, very quick, introduction of electronic devices for interactive lesson design.

Post-pandemic: Strengthening trade union action

Back in our classrooms, we conducted a new campaign called "Everyone in school", with the aim of reducing school dropout rates resulting from the pandemic and catching up on learning. We have been running a census to identify those students who did not return to school and to bring them back.

In addition, in the aftermath of the pandemic it was essential for us to promote job stability, which entails guaranteeing job security, salaries, benefits and rights. This has been one of the most important actions since I began my mandate: To date, more than 787,000 education workers who were previously on temporary contracts have received their permanent employment certificates.

The health crisis was compounded by the economic crisis. How did we ensure that during these years no workers were laid off, and that wage increases kept up with rising inflation? In the face of vaccine shortages, how did we convince authorities to consider teachers a priority group in the fight against COVID?

We achieved this by making the heroic work of every teacher visible, by strengthening our capacity for dialogue and negotiation with the authorities, and by keeping up our tireless efforts that won the support of the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Living our values

In conclusion, I would like to highlight the deep democratisation of the SNTE, which is fundamental to strengthening the organisational capacity of our trade unions. We continue to diversify the mechanisms that allow us to stay closely in touch with all our members, developing more horizontal decision-making processes, including through universal suffrage in leadership elections.

For the fifth consecutive year, we have organised a consultation to draw up the National Statement of Demands that we present annually to the authorities. We received more than 1.3 million responses in each exercise.

Our greatest achievement is the strength of our unity and solidarity. With deep respect for the diversity that enriches us.

For education in service of the people.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.