We have long held that the calamitous state of public education in Mexico is perhaps the single greatest impediment to the country’s economic and social progress. The corollary to this belief is that the national teachers’ union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE, is the strongest obstacle to any genuine effort to improve education in Mexico. Since its formation in 1949, the SNTE served the single-party system as a key cog in the PRI corporatist machine. In the post-2000 multi-party era, the union has functioned as a power-broking lever in the service of its villainous, dictatorial leader, Elba Esther Gordillo. Notoriously corrupt, the SNTE has systematically enriched its leaders while rewarding only fealty to the system among the rank and file. Meanwhile, Mexico has steadily sunk in international assessments of basic education.
Earlier this month, a new teachers’ union independent of the SNTE was granted authorization by the federal government. The new union, called the Sitem, was immediately denounced by the SNTE as a tool of anti-labor political groups seeking to undermine the legitimate aspirations of education workers. Even the fiercely anti-Gordillo dissident current within the SNTE – the CNTE – decried the creation of the new union. Somewhat ironically, however, the leftist political party PRD hailed the emergence of the Sitem.
For once, we couldn’t agree with the PRD more. The SNTE not only has shown no interest in improving the quality of education in Mexico, it has fiercely fought to block efforts to reform and improve the system. As non-specialists in the education sector, we know not what may be the true motivations of the new leaders of the Sitem. The system perpetuated by the SNTE, however, is so vile and injurious to the nation that the introduction of an alternative union could hardly be worse. May we not have to eat those words.