MEXICO CITY — More than 150,000 jubilant teachers and their supporters marched across the capital Monday celebrating the downfall of their reputedly corrupt union boss and vowing to continue a week-old strike until the government meets their other demands for a pay raise and union democracy.
Members of the official faction of the National Education Workers Union, meanwhile, moved quickly to install a new leader after their chief for 17 years, Carlos Jonguitud Barrios, resigned under pressure Sunday, along with his hand-picked secretary general.
In a hastily called assembly early Monday, official union leaders elected Elba Esther Gordillo as secretary general in a move meant to appease the dissidents and bring an end to the strike.
Gordillo, a former federal deputy with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, immediately called for the dissidents to negotiate. The union belongs to the PRI, as the government party is called.
"I don't have any magic answers. I am a realist. I will try to better the living conditions of Mexico's teachers," Gordillo said.
A government official, playing down the huge march, hailed Gordillo's election as "a new era in the life of the teachers union."
The striking teachers, however, carried an effigy of Gordillo to the Zocalo, Mexico City's central square, with a banner across the chest declaring her "OUT."
"This maneuver of imposing Gordillo doesn't change anything for us," said Jorge Mejia, a member of the dissidents' negotiating team. "We want a national solution to all of our demands."
Want 100% Raise
The striking teachers, who earn an average of $150 per month, are asking for a 100% salary increase, free union elections and fair promotion practices. They claim to represent a majority of the teachers in Mexico City and several states.
The dissidents charge that Jonguitud ruled through force, cronyism and vote fraud and that he stole millions of dollars from the union. He has denied the charges.
Dissident leaders left the rally late Monday to resume negotiations with the government and the official union leaders.
The march was planned before Jonguitud's departure, but it turned into a victory rally after he stepped down. Several demonstrators carried a black coffin on their shoulders marked "Jonguitud," while others waved a banner claiming: "Jonguitud Didn't Resign. We Resigned Him."
Another banner carried on the long march that tied mid-day traffic in knots said: "Excuse the Disturbance. Democracy Under Construction."
At the Zocalo, the demonstrators used their banners as picnic blankets and vowed to continue their protest.
"Our fight isn't against Jonguitud. It is against the methods of control he used," said Jose Diaz Pineda, a dissident leader from Oaxaca state. "We are ready to stay here until the government answers our demands."