Location Mexico Mexico

156 Healthcare Workers in the Region of Palenque, Chiapas (Mexico), Reinstated in Their Jobs

By Russell Aguilar Brindis and Misael Palma

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Chiapas, Mexico — On December 20, 2016, the officials of the Ministry of Health in the southeastern state of Chiapas announced that 156 striking healthcare workers in the region of Palenque, who had been fired for protesting against the privatization-destruction of Mexico’s public healthcare system, would be immediately reinstated in their jobs, with full back pay.

These workers had walked off their jobs on May 23 and organized themselves into a “Permanent General Assembly” to press their demands.

The Chiapas health officials also announced that the hospitals in Palenque and neighboring towns, as well as the medical outposts in the indigenous communities, would henceforth be fully stocked with medicines and medical supplies, as the striking workers had demanded.

The leaders of the resistance movement in Palenque hailed this “victory of workers’ solidarity at the local, national and international levels.” And they are absolutely right: It was a victory won because of the combativity of the union rank and file in the Palenque region and because of the widespread support their militant stance received from labor and community organizations across Mexico and internationally — the latter mainly through the international solidarity campaign waged by the organizers of the Mumbai World Conference Against War, Exploitation and Precarious Labour.

How did this victory come about?

On May 15, a powerful teachers’ strike broke out in Chiapas and other states of the Mexican Republic. On May 23, a General Assembly of Healthcare Workers of the Palenque Region was held. Encouraged by the teachers’ strike, the leadership of the Healthcare Workers Union (Section 50) in Chiapas held a “Regional General Assembly to analyze the situation and put forward [their] list of demands.” This is the form that the regional work stoppage had to take given the refusal by the national leadership of the parent union — the National Union of Healthcare Workers (SNTSSA) — to take any action in opposition to the “Healthcare Reform Law” enacted by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, a law that dismantles the public healthcare system (IMSS and ISSSTE) in Mexico.

But when the state leadership of Section 50 pulled back from the resistance struggle and refused to continue the General Assembly, under pressure from the national leaders of SNTSSA, the 600-plus workers in Palenque stood their ground and voted overwhelmingly to continue the work stoppage and to establish a Permanent General Assembly. In the process, they elected a Council of Representatives to organize their fight.

No sooner had they decided to continue the work stoppage than the Chiapas state authorities decided to repress the workers, first firing nine workers, and then extending the list of fired workers to 156. In this effort they had the tacit support of the state and national leaders of the SNTSSA union. In all cases the workers’ wages and rights were suspended.

But then an intense, eight-month working class resistance struggle was unleashed!

Fired from their jobs, without wages and without rights, the Palenque healthcare workers immediately sought the support of their labor allies and communities: In July, they organized a plantón, or sit-in, in front of the Ministry of Health in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas state capital. In August, they took over the union building of Section 50. On September 15 (the celebration of Mexico’s Independence from Spain), they joined with thousands of townspeople in Palenque and forced the mayor to step down from delivering the famous “Grito” — or cry of independence. The townspeople took over the podium of the Municipal Palace and gave their own Alternative “Grito.”
The same month of September, the Palenque healthcare workers attended the Conference for a New Trade Union Federation (Nueva Central de Trabajadores, or NCT) in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. There, they reported on their struggle against the privatization of Mexico’s public healthcare sector to the gathering of striking workers in the CNTE wing of the national teachers’ union, the workers of the COBACH (technical high schools), the Electrical Workers Union (SME), the National Telephone Workers Union, and others. A Commission of the SME agreed at the meeting to present the case of the Palenque workers to the national interim leadership of the NCT.

At about this time, the Organizing Committee of the Mumbai World Conference launched an international labor solidarity campaign in support of the embattled healthcare workers, sending Mumbai Organizing Committee member Alan Benjamin from the United States to speak at a September 25 Solidarity Rally in Palenque attended by an estimated 300 people.

On November 20, the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, the fighting healthcare workers marched alongside various sectors of the labor and popular movements in Palenque. On December 2, they occupied the office of the Director of the General Hospital in Palenque, insisting on a meeting with the director. On December 3, they blocked access to the important Archaeological Zone of Palenque. On December 12, they took their banners and their families to the holiday party (pre-Posada) organized by the Executive Committee of Section 50.

A few days earlier, they had sent a delegation to the National Assembly in Defense of Social Security (ANDSS) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, after which another National Assembly was held in Palenque. The healthcare workers also took their case to an assembly of the Coordinating Committee in Defense of Pemex [Mexico’s public oil sector – Tr. Note] in Veracruz. In addition, with the financial support of the workers of the SNTE-CNTE and the OPT (Political Organization of the People and Workers), they printed thousands of posters with their demands.
It was thanks to all these mobilizations, and all the support they received over these eight months, that the political pressure on the state officials in Chiapas was so strong that the government decided to cut its losses and meet the immediate demands of the strikers: reinstatement with back pay of all fired workers and full provisioning of medicines and medical supplies to all hospitals and medical outposts in the Palenque region.

The December 20 announcement by the Chiapas healthcare officials represents a huge victory at a time when Mexican workers are being fired massively at the Postal Service, Pemex, and the System of Drinking Water (Agua Potable). Strengthened by this first victory, the Palenque workers are now preparing to continue their struggle in defense of the public healthcare system and for the repeal of Peña Nieto’s so-called Healthcare Reform Law. They will surely be present at the upcoming National Congress of the NCT and in the Workers Gathering of the Southeast, in Veracruz, called by the oil workers.

 

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