Public sector workers experience particular challenges from their employer, the government, when they organize and take collective action. Accountable to school administrators as well as parents, teachers work within complex power relations at the school level, the local district, and the state or nation. This article draws on labour geography’s understandings of how the relative power of workers is determined within these social environments, to explore how the ability of elementary and secondary teachers in Mexico City to protest has been limited. These obstacles are found within their workplaces governed by the local Secretary of Public Education, in broader political dynamics within the city and in a centralization of governance over education policy to the national level. As a result, between 2013 and 2016 teachers here were less likely to join protests against President Enrique Peña Nieto's policies that were harmful to their professional autonomy, and which drew strong resistance in other regions of the country. This article concludes by briefly assessing how, as Peña Nieto’s term concluded in 2018, dissident teachers turned towards the national election and a complicated relationship with the centre-left Morena political party.