[Excerpt] This essay examines the continuing struggle of rank-and-file teachers to democratize the SNTE, a union of between 800,000 and one million members linked to the PRI. In particular, the essay analyzes the dissident movement's strategy of organizing to hold and win elections in union locals, and assesses the advantages and limitations of this strategy over a ten-year period (1979-1989). What were the implications of organizing within an official union for the movement's internal organization, demands, strategies, and ability to achieve its goals?
This essay is divided into three parts. The first looks at the official union as an institution that structured the protest movement within it. The laws, procedures, organizational structure, and leadership of the union set boundaries for the movement's actions, shaping, though not fully determining, its demands, strategies, organization, and what it was able to achieve. The second part examines how the movement overcame some of these constraints in pursuing a legal or institutional strategy to democratize the union. This part also analyzes the gains and limitations of the movement's legal strategy as experienced by those sections of the movement that obtained legal recognition. The last part looks at how changes in the movement's political environment affected the ability to achieve its goals. This section focuses on the Oaxacan case and argues that the relations between government and union officials were crucial to understanding the movement's important breakthroughs, as well as the limits to organizing within official unions.