SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, March 5 — After a 10-day militant strike, 10,000 teachers held a mass meeting at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum and agreed to the proposal of Rafael Feliciano, president of the FMPR (Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico) for a temporary suspension of the strike in order to evaluate the weaknesses and strengths of their struggle without surrendering the right to strike again.
The strike included many mass actions, street marches of thousands, militant picket lines, battling vicious attacks by riot cops and confronting the gang-up of the Dept. of Education (DOE) bosses, governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and a court order to decertify the union for violating the anti-strike Law 45.
The strikers also had to deal with backstabbing by international union hacks like Dennis Rivera, vice-president of the SEIU “Change to Win” Federation and former president of NYS Local 1199 of the Hospital Workers Union. He lunched with Governor Vilá to urge decertification of the FMPR in favor of an SEIU union. During a mass rally, when a speaker called Rivera a “vulture,” striking teachers repeatedly chanted, “He’s a rat.”
The strikers did win a $150-a-month wage hike on top of a $100 monthly increase agreed upon last year. While the cost of living here is much higher than in the U.S., teachers’ starting pay here is $19,200-a-year, much lower than any U.S. school district. The DOE agreed not to punish any striking teachers “except those involved in criminal activities” (it was the cops who criminally attacked strikers) and to put on hold the privatization of many public schools (the DOE’s plan to make the 500,000 public school students and their working-class parents pay even more for the rotten conditions).
The strikers received support from other workers and students here, many of whom joined the marches and other activities during the struggle. A mass student meeting at the Univ. of Puerto Rico Río Piedras campus organized a 24-hour strike to support the teachers. Scabbing “dissidents” had little mass support among the teachers but got a lot of coverage in the bosses’ media. And the opportunist leadership of the National Hostos Independence Movement issued a press release backing the bosses.
In the U.S., the strikers won support from both college and public school teachers. (See adjacent article on support from the City University of NY Professional Staff Congress union). The March 5 Delegate Assembly of the NYC United Federation of Teachers (UFT), with 92,000 members, also unanimously passed a solidarity resolution “to support the Puerto Rican teachers in their struggle to be treated with dignity.” But the UFT leadership gave no real support to the strikers.
On March 4, the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Agency in Manhattan was picketed, backing the strikers. PLP teachers participated in these support actions, and distributed a PLP leaflet in NYC and L.A. supporting them.
The strike was more than a trade union struggle; it was a political fight-back against the rulers’ strike-breaking Law 45 (similar to the U.S. Taft-Hartley and NY State Taylor Laws which forbid public workers’ strikes). It also fought the colonial-master politics of the Change to Win and AFL-CIO hacks, as well as the brutal repression by the “shock police.”
The strike demonstrated that, despite all the odds, these teachers dared to fight back in a day and age when so many workers accept the bosses’ attacks that make us pay for their economic crisis and endless wars (the death rate of soldiers from Puerto Rico in the Iraq war is very high). But it also showed the limitations of reform struggles.
Workers must turn these battles into schools for communism, learning how to forge a revolutionary internationalist movement to carry on the long-range fight-back for a world without vicious cops, union traitors and capitalist-imperialist oppressors. That’s the goal of workers’ power — communism — that PLP fights for. Join us!