SEIU Unites With Bosses In Puerto Rico To Raid Teachers Union
SEIU Unites With Bosses In Puerto Rico To Raid Teachers Union
A Decisive Strike
By Félix Córdova Iturregui/Special to Claridad
THE TEACHERS' STRIKE of the coming days will not be yet another strike in the history of Puerto Rican trade unionism. This conflict could decide what will be the trade union scene in the years ahead. Two forces are in play: The bureaucratic authoritarian interests of the unions that understand trade unionism as a lucrative business and the democratic organizations that are accountable to the assemblies of their membership. Two radically different types of union leaders seek to prevail in this contest. Rafael Feliciano and Ricardo Santos, on the one hand, who the leaders of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) and the Electrical Workers Union (UTIER) who were elected by their membership and have salaries which are equal to those they represent. Their terms as presidents are limited by the regulations of their organizations. Both preside over massive, democratic and militant assemblies that approved a strike vote. Both organizations have systematically and continually been the targets of management/government who are the bosses. Neither of these two powerful unions has received the support of the organizations that view traditions and trade unionism as a business.
On the other hand you have the chorus of labor voices that have united behind the government and have condemned the teachers strike. Did they consult their membership? What delegate assemblies did Federico Torres Montalvo or Fernando Juarbe convene in order to take such risky positions of opposition to such an important strike? Who does José Rodríguez Báez, a bankrupt leader that allowed the privatization of the public hospitals during the government of Rosselló, represent? He did not carry out a single fight and led to the disappearance of the UNTS. The opposition voices against the FMPR, by-and-large, are just that. They are voices of isolated figures and some of them are completely discredited. While the UTIER and the FMPR fought against the IVU increased sales tax during the government shutdown, Federico Torres Montalvo and Lole Rodríguez shamelessly supported the government of Acevedo Vilá in this tax assault against the people. Montalvo and Báez supported a 7% reduction in the salaries of everyone in Puerto Rico. Rafael Feliciano and Ricardo Santos, on the contrary, represented much more that their respective memberships: they represented all workers and their families.
We cannot forget a key aspect of the teachers struggle: It will take place against a boss/management government that is the most historically discredited in the history of the Free Associated State (ELA). The labor combativeness of the Teachers’ Federation (FMPR) is facing a government led by a colonial party in marked historical decline, without a political project that is capable of garnering the popular imagination and with a list, unique in the history of Puerto Rico, of assaults on the pockets of the working masses and those marginalized from the economy. In addition, Acevedo Vilá has been so clumsy that he has politicized the conflict with his alliance, forged in La Fortaleza (seat of the colonial government), between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teachers Association. As a result of this political-trade union gluttony, led by a party in crisis and a pro-boss and discredited Association of Teachers, the local bourgeoisie will go to the strike more divided than the workers movement.
At the rank-and-file level that are no great divisions. The divisions bloom at the top where there exist bureucrat functionaries with the salaries of high-level executives, with lucrative positions, and who are far removed from the daily sweat of the working world. Who is stupid enough to believe that the New Progressive Party (PNP) will look favorably upon the imposition of the Teachers Association, an old arm of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), as the representative of the teachers via an open policy of repression? The politicizing of the strike, with this out and out alliance, will weaken even further and government that is already debilitated. Has the SEIU forgotten the results of the vote that eliminated the ties of the FMPR with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)? The Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), and we have said it, is a hard thorn that is capable of breaking any greedy and inflexible assault.
Some pro-independence sectors have criticized the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) for appealing to the Federal Court in Puerto Rico. This action by the FMPR has been enough for them to withdraw their support for the strike, basing themselves on a regrettable notion: that no labor struggle is above the struggle for national independence. According to their vision, the question of independence is an abstract construct that is beyond the concrete social life of the social classes in Puerto Rico. This type of thinking is, at the same time, based on a specific conception of the State. It is based on yet another version of the traditional bourgeois conception that places the State above social conflicts. By affirming this a sector of the independence movement has entered a street alley without a way out. This view contrasts markedly with that of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) that has reaffirmed its former militant call, “rise up those from below” in order to take to the streets in support of the teachers. The colonial domination of Puerto Rico cannot be seen as something external or outside of the relations of production and circulation of wealth. And even less can it be reduced to a simple vision of the power of one State over another.
The relationship of national oppression has been mainly articulated through the relations of production that are inherent to capital. It is a very complex relationship that has become more profound with the same historical development as wages. It functions from the inside of these relationships both at the level of production and personal consumption. It is in the complicated historical movement of the various types of commodities, whether it is at the levels of production or circulation that we find the basis and core of the colonialism that Puerto Rico suffers.
It follows, that in assuming the position that no labor struggle is above the national question, a sector of the independence movement has taken up, perhaps without realizing it, the colonial position that is in step with a segment of the local intermediary bourgeoisie. This position, if not corrected in time, will alienate even more that sector of the independence movement from the decisive arena of the anti-colonial struggle: The social relations of production and circulation whose predominance demonstrates the firm control of the big multinational corporations. The State as a complex and interlocking system to deal with relations of social conflict, has as its goal and objective to guarantee the reproduction of those dominant interests. In Puerto Rico all the courts have a colonial character. A union as a representative of a politically diverse membership, given that it is not a political party, has the right to resort to all the means necessary for its defense, and, even more so, when it is under attack by a government in its role as direct management.
The conservative reductionism espoused by the position mentioned stands in contrast to the other position that is proposed by the FMPR: the working conditions of the teachers has an equal and direct relationship to the education conditions that impact on the youth of the country. This formula has the strength and force of establishing the link between the teachers’ struggle and the interests of the great majority of the population. The present conflict will have a profoun
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