Workers Vanguard No. 910
14 March 2008
Defend FMPR Teachers Union!
Pro-Imperialist SEIU, AFT Tops Knife Puerto Rico Strikers
MARCH 11—The Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), representing some 42,000 teachers, waged a courageous nationwide strike from February 21 to March 5. After working without a contract for more than two years, the teachers struck against a union-busting school privatization plan and against wages that are less than half the average salary of U.S. mainland teachers, who are themselves miserably underpaid. Teachers and students in Puerto Rico endure overcrowded classes, crumbling buildings, outdated textbooks or no books at all and school bathrooms without toilet paper. The strikers’ demands for improvement of these intolerable conditions were met with the U.S. imperialists’ racist contempt for the schoolchildren in America’s Puerto Rican colony, which mirrors the contempt the rulers show for poor, working-class and especially black and Latino children “at home.”
At the peak of the strike, the union effectively shut down 80 percent of the schools across the island. Over 8,000 union members, a reported 80 percent of whom were women, mobilized on the picket lines, along with many supporters, including a contingent of union truck drivers at one school. Students conducted a one-day strike at the University of Puerto Rico in solidarity with the striking teachers. Indeed, the strike had broad support from the population: on its third day, 84 percent of elementary and high school students were absent from school. In response, the government threatened to fail students for the year unless they crossed the picket lines.
In defiance of the slave-labor Law 45, which forbids waging or even “promoting” strike action by public workers, the union had to go up against the government, its courts, and scabherding police who busted open the head of one picketer on the first day and brutally assaulted many others. At least 30 people were arrested in the strike, and charges are pending against four. We demand: Drop all the charges now!
The Spartacist League/U.S. called upon all workers, especially in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast, to support the FMPR strike and to oppose the government’s union-busting campaign. As we wrote in “Defend Puerto Rican Teachers Strike!” (WV No. 909, 29 February):
“Puerto Rico is a colony of U.S. imperialism, and it is ultimately Washington that holds the whip hand over the Puerto Rican masses. It is crucial for the U.S. proletariat to defend the struggles of our class brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, and stand for Puerto Rico’s right to independence.”
Scandalously, in the face of such struggle, the bureaucrats of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU, affiliated with the Change to Win federation) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, affiliated with the AFL-CIO) did everything in their power to knife the FMPR union. The SEIU is represented by their Puerto Rican affiliate, the Sindicato Puertorriqueño de Maestros (SPM). The SPM in turn is a subsidiary of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), which was founded as a professional organization of principals and supervisors. In January, SEIU and AMPR tops announced that the SPM would call for a union election to oust the FMPR. The government decertified the FMPR a few days later.
On March 5, in the face of scabbing organized with the help of the SEIU lackeys under the protection of the riot police, the union voted to call a strike “recess” without a contract. The government now promises to halt its plans to turn 500 schools into privatized charter schools, no reprisals against strikers, and a $250 monthly increase to the $1,500 base salary, effective this July. However, the FMPR still faces the government attempt to destroy the union through decertification, which the union is appealing.
According to an article by Juan Gonzalez in the 29 February Daily News, SEIU vice president Dennis Rivera said he met with Puerto Rican Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá “maybe 20 times,” while denying claims that the government gave its support to the SEIU’s raiding expedition against the FMPR in exchange for Rivera’s offer to make $3-4 million in contributions to the governor. FMPR president Rafael Feliciano Hernández told Workers Vanguard that on February 28 the Department of Education and the union had almost reached a settlement. Feliciano said that government officials informed the FMPR that SEIU representatives were in contact that same day with the Puerto Rican government to lobby against the government’s settling with the union.
In the first days of the strike, the SEIU leadership’s minions in the AMPR took a clear side—as scabs! Aida Díaz, president of the AMPR, denounced the strike, claiming the strike vote itself was illegitimate. Then Díaz despicably bragged that “out of 27,000 associates [of the AMPR], eight are on the picket line” (El Vocero, 26 February). In an undated letter to Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde posted on AMPR’s Web site, Díaz called on the capitalist government to protect the safety of scabs.
The AFT’s role has been no less treacherous. The FMPR voted in 2004 to disaffiliate from the AFT. In response, the AFT sued the FMPR in 2005, taking the union to the courts of the capitalist-imperialist rulers, in an unsuccessful bid to overturn the decision to disaffiliate from the AFT. This is class treason! This is the same imperialist ruling class whose FBI thugs killed Puerto Rican independence militant Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in 2005 and which continues its long vendetta against independentistas. The Spartacist League opposes on principle suing the unions in the courts of the class enemy, whose only interest in intervening is to impede and punish unions’ efforts to wage class struggle.
In mobilizing scabs against the FMPR, the pro-capitalist union bureaucracies are dutifully doing the dirty work of the U.S. imperialist oppressors. These labor lieutenants of capital also work overtime for class peace at home, largely by tying workers to the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war. The AFT tops have a long history of being especially active social-democratic front men for U.S. imperialism. In the 1980s, the leaders of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which is the New York local of the AFT, directly sponsored Polish Solidarność, the only “union” in history that had the blessing of the Pope, Ronald Reagan and the CIA.
The Spartacist League was in the forefront in opposing Solidarność’s counterrevolutionary bid for power, which aimed to overthrow the Polish deformed workers state. As part of our fight in defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state, as well as Poland and the other deformed workers states in East and Central Europe, we organized a demonstration outside the UFT’s New York headquarters against Solidarność in 1981. We fight for the unconditional military defense of the remaining deformed workers states—China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam—against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. At the same time, we call for workers political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucrats and replace them with regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. This is roughly analogous to how workers must defend their unions against the capitalist rulers while fighting for a new, class-struggle leadership.
Puerto Rican workers, both on the island and in the U.S., are exploited as a low-wage labor pool by the capitalist ruling class. Some 48 percent of the island’s population lives below the poverty line. Second-class “citizens” of the U.S. with no right to vote in federal elections and no voting representatives in Congress, they are politically dispossessed and suffer the classic national oppression of a colonized people. While burning against colonial injustices, most Puerto Ricans presently do not support independence from the U.S., which would deprive them of the legal right to live and work in the U.S., as about half the Puerto Rican population does, without la migra storming into their homes or workplaces to arrest and deport them.
As revolutionary internationalists, we oppose every form of U.S. imperialist oppression. We are for the right of self-determination for Puerto Rico and demand all U.S. troops and federal agents out of Puerto Rico. We fight for the revolutionary unity of the working masses of Puerto Rico and the mainland in the struggle against racist colonial oppression and capitalist exploitation. In the imperialist metropolis we fight to break the working class from the pro-imperialist chauvinism purveyed by the labor misleaders. In the colonies and neocolonies we similarly fight to break the hold of nationalist false consciousness. The idea of a peaceful union of equal nations under imperialism is illusory; under capitalism, the division of nations into oppressing and oppressed is both fundamental and inevitable. Thus the struggle for genuine equality of nations poses the overthrow of the capitalist system in both the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Our position on the right of independence for Puerto Rico stands in contrast to that of the Internationalist Group (IG), founded by a small group of former Spartacist League members, which calls for “unconditional independence.” Self-determination is a democratic right; to impose a separate state on a people “unconditionally” is not self-determination. The sympathies of the population are a large factor for Marxists in determining how to get the national question off the agenda and clear the road for revolutionary internationalist class struggle. The centrist IG’s position, in contrast, is in the service of ingratiating themselves with the petty-bourgeois nationalists in Puerto Rico (see “For the Right of Independence for Puerto Rico!” WV No. 704, 8 January 1999).
The independentistas’ program of unity of all Puerto Ricans, including their “own” bourgeoisie, at the expense of working-class unity inside Puerto Rico and internationally, means betrayal of the working class. A clear example is the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH). While the MINH came over to supporting the strike after it began, in the lead-up to the strike the MINH national leadership lined up behind the bosses, condemning the call for a strike. MINH leader Julio A. Muriente Pérez stated in an undated Claridad Web posting: “We do not agree with the characterization made by the FMPR’s leadership that the Department of Education is a class enemy of the teachers, even if it is a governmental agency”! Logically for these nationalists, all Puerto Ricans are “friends” even when they are agents of the capitalist government. Thus, for them, there are no Puerto Rican class enemies of the toiling masses.
The SPM/AMPR tops alibi their anti-strike treachery by pointing to Law 45, which nominally recognizes union representation for public employees while prohibiting, by law, the one real weapon that workers have—the right to withhold their labor power through strike action. In much the same way, the labor officialdom of New York City—not least UFT head Randi Weingarten and SEIU honcho Dennis Rivera—let the TWU transit workers union fight alone in their 2005 strike. They aided and abetted the capitalist politicians and the MTA plantation-overseer-like bosses of the multiracial transit union by refusing to support the TWU’s “illegal” strike under the slave-labor Taylor Law. Far from embracing city labor’s best shot at turning this law into a scrap of paper through solidarity action with the powerful transit union’s strike, the New York labor tops found the Taylor Law a convenient excuse for their own miserable avoidance of militant class struggle on behalf of their members.
Supporting class struggle is anathema to the U.S. labor tops, who preach the lie that support to the capitalist Democratic Party is in the interests of the working people. We oppose capitalist parties and politicians (Republican, Democratic and Green alike) on principle and fight to build a revolutionary workers party to overthrow capitalism through socialist revolution, as the Bolsheviks in Russia did in 1917. While the union bureaucrats pour millions into the coffers of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we fight to break workers from illusions in the Democrats.
The FMPR leaders who led the strike in defiance of Law 45 do not call for smashing it but rather are working to amend it through “legislative channels” to eliminate the no-strike clause. The FMPR leadership has not, in fact, called for what is necessary: the repeal of Law 45. Union recognition has never been granted through the benevolence of capitalist governments and their laws—it has been won through hard class battles, more often than not in open defiance of anti-labor laws. Oppose the class treason of the American labor bureaucracy! Defend the FMPR teachers union!