New waves of student protest have been erupting in the universities and colleges in Mexico City. Students in all the major universities in the capital have come out en masse in solidarity after 14 students at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) were injured by porros (semi-fascist shock group) earlier this month. The protesters have not only called for the attackers to be brought to justice but are now making a stand against societal violence and the insecurity of daily life.
On 3 September students organising in support of teachers’ protests about low wages, were set upon by porros leaving 14 severely injured. The victims belonged to the Science and Humanities Faculty of UNAM which is the largest university in the country. After the attack there were immediate solidarity protests from the other major universities in the capital: IPN and UAM. On 5 September the main campus of UNAM was inundated with 40,000-100,000 students calling for justice and for the authorities to reveal the masterminds behind the attack, who are suspected to be the university executives and the right-wing political parties who influence them. The attackers have been identified after intense popular pressure, but the puppet-masters remain unnamed. Revealing the corruption and brutality of the university bosses would escalate the rising tension which the state is trying to reduce.
Porros are semi-fascist shock groups that are paid by the university executives to squash any form of student organisation. They are students who have historically been used to break up strikes and protests by beating up protesters or vandalising campus facilities in order to intimidate students and create an image of delinquency to discredit the movement as a whole. They were utilised heavily in the 1980s as a counterinsurgency force by the PRI government. PRI is fused with the state apparatus due to its decades of dominance in Mexican politics. In return the porros enjoy impunity from the law and certain benefits in university such as free subscription to courses and preferential treatment.
Protests have continued to grow as more universities and colleges in Mexico City and the surrounding regions have come out in support. Following the proud traditions of the student movement in 1968, students organise themselves in Protest Committees across various institutions which have had many historic victories against the porros in the past but have not succeeded in eradicating their presence on campus. Now students have revived the legacy of 1968 with the forming of an inter-university assembly to better coordinate the Committees and agree on the demands and goals of the protest. Fifty representatives from all institutions met on 5 September to plan student strikes of 24, 48 and 72 hours. The Assembly is calling for better pay for professors, improved teaching facilities to cope with the overcrowding of classrooms, free democratic elections of university directors and other executive positions, and an end to violence.
The size of the protests and the speed with which they have spread reflect the deep resentment that has built up over years amongst the youth towards the capitalist system. The porros are not the main problem but an isolated incident that has unleashed the accumulated anger on campus. In the capital and across the country youth constantly feel on edge. The National Institution of Statistics (INEGI) reports that 76.8% of 18 year olds nationally feel unsafe in their city. Women are violated and murdered on their way home from work on a horrifying scale. From January-July this year there were 387 reported cases nationwide of feminicidios (female homicides). Add to this the increasing hardship of general living conditions. Mexico suffers from an increasing global trend of poverty in employment. Whilst the government celebrates annual reductions in unemployment figures 49 million workers fail to support cover their basic needs with their earnings. The average cost of living for a student in Mexico City is $14,350 pesos per month (£581) set against average household income of a paltry $13,239 pesos per month (£536). Now the students are saying: enough is enough!
The demands have now been expanded to call out against the debilitating violence that working class people and youth suffer on a daily basis. Violence is a tool employed by the state to hamstring the student movement and cause people to live in fear. However, violence is a sign of a weak state threatened by the power of the movement and unable to coerce and manipulate it to comply with capitalism. Societal violence is a symptom of the decay of capitalism and it cannot be solved overnight with a street march. Striking and protesting is a key tool of the movement, but an indefinite strike on its own is incapable of solving the deep-rooted issues that are inherent in capitalism. The Marxists in Mexico are directly involved in calling for national protest to defend free, public education as well as protection from physical and economic violence. They also emphasise the need to link up the student movement with the wider labour movement. The protesters must realise the strength in organised struggle and join their cause with the militant trade unions such as CNTE and SME (teachers and electricians unions respectively).
Students all over the world must fight for free education and challenge the injustice and violence of a global capitalism. They cannot combat this successfully alone. The student’s struggle is the worker’s struggle and it is an international struggle of the world working class. Solidarity with the Mexican students! Expel the porros! End state violence! Workers of the world unite!
by Rob Smith, Northampton Marxists