Celebrated as a holiday in Mexico, International Workers Day is a traditional time of official speeches and government-sanctioned parades bulging with workers marching to the beat of the pro-government Mexican Workers Confederation (CTM). As an annual political ritual, official May Day provides a controlled channel for workers to air wage, shop floor and political grievances.
But May Day in Mexico also functions as a sort of political weather vane, measuring the pulse and the mood of the masses while spotlighting political issues and forces on the rise or on the decline- whether at the municipal, state, federal and international levels.
Several northern Mexican border cities witnessed protests accompanying the official May Day celebration in 2016.
In the Baja California state capital of Mexicali, demonstrators noted the absence of Governor Kiko Vega from the official May 1 celebration as they voiced grievances about local school overcrowding, payments owed to retired state teachers, forced disappearances, and the general economic thrust of the Pena Nieto administration.
“We have many kids with special needs and we are asking that (classroom consolidation) end because a teacher can’t do it with 40 kids,” parent Elizabeth Rojas, was quoted in the local press. “A teacher needs support, and we parents are worried about the safety of our kids.”
Public safety and human rights were foremost on the minds of a group of relatives of disappeared persons who marched in Mexicali, casting the spotlight on local cases as well as national ones like the 43 Ayotzinapa college students attacked and disappeared by government security forces in September 2014.
“They took my son from his bed. He was asleep, and we don’t know anything. We have searched for him in the canals, everywhere, and nothing,” said Oralia Castro, mother of Hernan Cortez Castro, who was reported disappeared from the Mexicali Valley in October 2015.
In Tijuana, meanwhile, teachers from both the official National Education Workers Union and the State Resistance Movement, a grouping affiliated with the dissident National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), marched against educational and labor policies and demanded back payments due, an issue that also echoed on the northern border of the United States this year when Detroit teachers conducted a “sick-in” May 2 in a mass protest looming pay shortfalls.
Gaining the most press attention in Tijuana, however, was the noisy demonstration staged by thousands of transportation sector workers against alleged problems connected to a new mass transit system (SITT) implemented by Tijuana’s municipal government.
The caravan of protesting taxi and bus drivers was blamed for backed up traffic at the San Ysidro border gate that extended the amount of crossing time up to three or four hours on Sunday. Yet the transport workers’ protest stirred opposition from a group called I Love Tijuana, which plans a demonstration of its own in support of a revamped public transportation system for Saturday, May 7. A message circulated by I Love Tijuana on social media blamed transport workers for vandalizing a new bus station on April 30.
Perhaps representative of an important strain of public opinion, resident Patricia Mora said Tijuana’s public transportation fleet was expensive and of poor quality.
“It’s hard in comparison with the rest of the country, where people even pay with rechargeable cards for first-class (vehicles),” Mora was quoted in the local press.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, representative of the protesting Baja California Taxi Drivers Union, denied that transport workers were responsible for last weekend’s vandalism. Jimenez accused the municipal government of causing havoc in the SITT by oversaturating routes.
As in Mexicali where the governor did not show up for the May Day parade, protesters in Tijuana denounced the unusual absence of Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci and other officials from this year’s event. The CTM, which also did not show up, reportedly held a private event attended by Rene Mendivil, Tijuana mayoral candidate for the PRI-PVEM-PT-PANAL political coalition.
An ongoing labor dispute in Baja California got national attention this May Day. Lorenzo Rodriguez, representative of a new union representing struggling agricultural workers in the San Quintin Valley, told thousands of protesting workers and supporters in Mexico City’s Zocalo main square that his movement would press forward with boycotts of firms such as the U.S.-based company Driscoll’s, a big buyer of San Quintin-grown produce.
In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, May Day protesters were initially met by a phalanx of armed police that forcibly prevented the demonstrators from effectively expressing their grievances during a parade of tens of thousands which featured workers from the maquiladora industry marching under the CTM banner.
Nonetheless, hundreds of demonstrators regrouped and were later able to reach the section of the parade where interim Mayor Javier Mocken was located and speak out against government labor reforms, denounce repression, and advocate for free public education. Organizations participating in the Ciudad Juarez protest included the CNTE-affiliated Resssite movement, ex-braceros, the Socialist Workers Movement, the Paso del Norte Regional Popular Assembly, and others.
Sources: La Jornada, May 2, 2016. Articles by Patricia Munoz, Angeles Cruz, Jose Antonio Roman, and editorial staff. NPR, May 2, 2016. El Sol de Tijuana, May 2, 2016. Articles by Juan Miguel Hernandez, Rocio Galvan and Laura Bueno Medina.
El Diario de Juarez, May 2, 2016. Article by Fernando Aguilar. La Jornada (Baja California edition), May 1, 2016. Article by Hamlet Alcantra. Zetatijuana.com, May 1, 2016. Articles by Sergio Haro Cordero and Hector Ortiz Ramirez. Lapolaka.com, May 1, 2016. Arrobajuarez.com, May 1, 2016.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico