Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teachers on the move: from the classroom to the streets... to power?

From the classroom, to the streets... to power?
La Voz de los de Abajo report from Honduras Solidarity Network delegation 11/16

Yanina Parada is not your typical congressional candidate. Her stump speech isn't about vague promises or political endorsements or romanticized childhood stories. She talks about other teachers who have been shot down next to her in the streets during protests. She talks about the hard-fought gains of the Honduran public education movement over decades of struggle. She talks about her experience on hunger strike for over 40 days. She talks about teachers who died unable to pay for medicines after losing their jobs due to participation in the resistance. She talks about a global struggle against the neoliberal economic model that seeks to wipe out teacher's unions and public education and privatize everything. Yanina, who is running to be a congressional candidate for the LIBRE party (“Freedom and Re-foundation,” the political party created by the Honduran resistance against the coup d’etat), is one example among many of why some Hondurans are more interested in these primary elections than they ever have been before. During Sunday’s primaries Hondurans will have a chance to vote for people they have been shoulder-to-shoulder with in the struggle rather than those who visit them only when elections come around. 

The public education struggle goes back almost six decades in Honduras to the historic 1954 strike of workers on the banana plantations along Honduras’s north coast. During that epic strike committees of teachers formed in support of the strikers, sewing the seeds for the formation of the first teachers’ associations. Through decades of struggle Honduran teachers were able to achieve an expansion of public education, the professionalization of teaching, a law to regulate the teaching profession and protect public education and another law protecting their pension and retirement funds. These achievements were amongst the first to come under attack after the U.S.-backed military coup of June 28th, 2009. The coup government has stopped at nothing to break the teachers association’s power, privatize public education and hand its pension funds over to the private sector.

But teachers have fought back at every step of the way. They have poured into the streets at every single resistance protest, including over 100 days of daily protests in the immediate aftermath of the coup and numerous national strikes in support of the resistance. But they have paid dearly for their participation. 303 teachers were suspended for their political activity, prompting numerous to go on a hunger strike of over 40 days. Another wave of teachers was sanctioned for political reasons just days ago. Worse still, dozens of teachers have been killed, beaten and raped for their participation in the resistance. Yanina told us one story of a teacher shot in front of his students by an assassin outside the school who fired into the window of his classroom, killing him in the middle of class. Another teacher was shot by a bullet from a military helicopter above. Yet the teachers have continued their participation in the resistance undeterred and now many of them are candidates for election in the resistance's newly constituted political party LIBRE. Yanina is one of the teachers who will be running in the primary elections this Sunday to become a LIBRE congressional candidate in next year's elections.

Regardless of the outcome of the primaries this Sunday and the elections next year, Yanina and other teachers see the fight they are engaged in as a long-term and global struggle. As Yanina said today, "Our struggle is part of a global fight to defend public education against the neoliberal economic model that wants to privatize everything and do away with us. We can't stop no matter what."

Below is a message Yanina wanted to send to Chicago teachers in the wake of their historic strike and in the midst of their battle to stop the closure of over 100 schools:

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