Teachers and government workers carried out a national day of strikes and protests in Puerto Rico Friday. There were marches and rallies across the US territory. A mass demonstration took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city. The marchers demanded just wages and pensions and an end to the privatization of schools and government services. Despite a morning attempt by San Juan police to block a section of marchers, the protests were peaceful and high-spirited. In San Juan, in the early morning hours demonstrators began congregating in the Hiram Bithorn baseball stadium before marching toward the headquarters of the Fiscal Control and Supervision Agency. Among the many demonstrators were teachers, electricity and road workers, university professors and students.
In the last two weeks, teachers in both Puerto Rico and Minnesota have taken to the streets. Though separated by thousands of miles, and a temperature difference of about 60 degrees, their demands are in many ways very similar: Like the teachers who went on strike in 2018, they are marching for better pay, better benefits, and greater funding for schools. However, these struggles are taking place in a period very different from 2018. The pre-pandemic strike wave was driven by decades of austerity and rising rank-and-file militancy born of frustration with do-nothing labor bureaucrats. The pandemic has since galvanized workers even more, especially since rapidly rising inflation has significantly chipped away at already historically low wages.
Tens of thousands of teachers and other public workers have taken to the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico in a March of Indignation to protest a debt restructuring plan given the green light by Judge Taylor Swain of New York. Puerto Ricans call it the "Shakedown Plan" because it will enforce more austerity on a land where disinvestment in education and health care and privatization of the energy system have already caused great hardship. A National Strike has been called for February 18. Clearing the FOG speaks with Monisha Rios, a Puerto Rican social worker and psychologist, about who and what are behind the protests. Rios discusses the PROMESA, an act passed in Congress, that put a financial oversight board in charge of the islands and that has violated the rights of Puerto Ricans to have a say in what is happening.
“Puerto Rico received approval from a federal judge on Tuesday to leave bankruptcy under the largest public sector debt-restructuring deal in the history of the United States.” The executive director of the unelected Fiscal Oversight and Management Board declared it “truly a momentous day,” and a “new day for Puerto Rico.” How new, exactly, is the question of many who don’t see this debt deal as fundamentally changing the story for most Puerto Ricans, because that story has everything to do with the more than 100-year colonial relationship to the United States, and their enforced inability to determine their own economic future. Nor does it upend the notion that increased austerity is somehow, despite what you see, ultimately the way to shared prosperity and well-being.
On Wednesday, February 9, teachers across Puerto Rico called for a national strike to protest the government and the Fiscal Control Board’s (FCB) cutting of wages and pensions. Other public sector workers, namely firefighters and police, have also joined them. Teachers are demanding a decent salary, an end to pension cuts, and the resignation of Puerto Rican governor Pedro Pierluisi. Teachers have been protesting since February 4. That same day, the FCB imposed by the US Congress that has been in charge of Puerto Rico since 2016, was boasting because it supposedly already put the end of the bankruptcy process on track by approving a plan negotiated with the big bondholder funds.
Activists and Puerto Rican community members protest against Steven Tananbaum, a board member of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), for his involvement in a hedge fund that owns over $2 billion of Puerto Rico’s debt, outside of the newly renovated and reopened MOMA in Midtown Manhattan on October 21, 2019, in New York City. Drew Angerer / Getty Images On January 18, Judge Taylor Swain of New York’s Southern District confirmed Puerto Rico’s eighth amended Plan of Adjustment (POA), setting into motion the closure of the largest municipal debt restructuring deal in the history of the United States. The POA modifies approximately $33 billion of the central government’s debt as part of Title III — the bankruptcy-like process established under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) — which has already cost Puerto Ricans $1 billion.
The first student general assembly 2021-2022 at the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has announced an indefinite strike starting today, while other universities are on strike. The university students, who arrived on stage at the main campus for the UPR, made the decision in light of the academic, administrative, social and economic problems that the campus suffers from.
A worsening economic crisis, compounded by brutal neoliberal policies, have ushered in a new wave of resistance in Puerto Rico. Nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line. More and more Puerto Ricans are leaving la patria, the homeland, in hopes of a better life in the United States. The archipelago has faced an onslaught of natural disasters, including the catastrophic Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a series of earthquakes throughout 2020. On paper, Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” of the United States, a term that implies a kind of shared prosperity between the two places. In practice, Puerto Rico is a nation struggling to breathe under centuries of colonialism. It’s economy is dictated by an unelected Fiscal Control Board composed of hedge fund managers and vulture capitalists, known as la junta, which saw its power enshrined into law with PROMESA in 2016.
More than 4,000 people outraged over ongoing power outages in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico marched on October 15 to decry how the lack of electricity has affected their health, work and children’s schooling. Many of them demanded the ouster of Luma, a private company that took over the island’s transmission and distribution of power on June 1. Some also are angry at Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, which owns and operates generation units that have been breaking down in recent weeks largely due to a lack of maintenance and repair. “We’re tired of coming home and discovering that we have no lights,” said Mayra Rivera (55) adding she is especially worried about her parents, who are in their 90s, and the sweltering heat they face at home.
A coastal town like Rincón, located on the westernmost tip of the main island of Puerto Rico, is undeniably vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss. That is why, over the course of several weeks, hundreds of people have protested at Los Almendros beach in Rincón, where a swimming pool destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017 is being rebuilt.
Union organizations today warned Governor Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract — that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes and displaces thousands of workers — is not canceled. “We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient PREPA, but also one free of fossil fuels. Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country, and if the governor continues to be deaf to the people, we will do so.
Workers in Puerto Rico are planning a national strike and demonstrations today in response to the recent privatization of the island’s power system. These are the biggest strikes on the island since 2019 when workers went on a general strike against former governor Ricardo Rosselló. Several unions in Puerto Rico made the call for a national strike yesterday during a press conference including the General Union of Workers (UGT), Solidarity Union Movement, Central Federation of Workers Local 481 / UFCW, Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, Puerto Rican Union of Workers, and the Frente Amplio de Camioneros, among others. Under the call, “Fuera LUMA!” Puerto Ricans are demanding the cancellation of a contract with the private U.S. and Canadian company LUMA Energy.
Union organizations today warned Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes, and displaces thousands of workers, is not canceled. “We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), but also one free of fossil fuels. “Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country and if the governor continues to ignore the people, we will do so.
U.S. representatives have introduced two bills that would finally end Puerto Rico’s subordinate Commonwealth status. But continued colonial rule may be the only option Congress seriously considers.
One of the things often taken for granted by the independence and socialist movement is knowing when to claim a victory. As a consequence of suffering so many blows throughout its history, the movement has become reflexively cynical when having to assess some kind of partial victory or progress. Let’s recall, among other signature chapters, in 1976 the Puerto Rican Independence Party received 80,000 votes, which, when combined with those of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, equaled nearly 100,000 votes. Or the founding and progress of the Workers United Movement (MOU), which managed to bring together the country’s top unions and mobilize a sizable radical movement.