Yesterday (October 15, 2009) in Puerto Rico, close to a hundred thousand workers protested government layoffs in a 24-hour general strike. A dozen unions, such as the Central Puertorriqueña de Trabajadores (CPT) and the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), participated in today’s general strike in reaction to massive firings of public workers on the island. Many businesses and schools were closed, but the airport remained open after the governor threatened to charge protesters with terrorism if they blocked airports and seaports. The spokesperson for Coalición Todo Puerto Rico [Coalition All Puerto Rico], Methodist bishop Juan Vera, said that the group will enter a phase of “peaceful insurrection” and civil disobedience that will not end until the government abandons its intransigent and hostile attitude.
The massive protest began in with demonstrations, marches, and caravans originating from different points in the metropolitan area, such as Plaza Las Américas, the San Juan port zone, Monacillos, Río Piedras, and others, and converged in Hato Rey blocking traffic and activities along Roosevelt Avenue and the Milla de oro [Gold Mile], considered the heart of the banking/commerce sector. Although Miguel Muñoz, interim president of University of Puerto Rico closed down all UPR campuses from October 12-16 and police guarded campus entrances to prevent students from using them as mobilizing points, thousands of students and educators as well as civic, religious, and environmental organizations joined the general strike. In another sign of the mass support for the strike, the archbishop of Puerto Rico, Roberto Gonzáles, said that the workers’ protest is a “legitimate” effort to keep the government from carrying out firings that will have “negative consequences for individuals and their families.” Many institutions fear Fortuño´s retaliatory measures. For example, recently, the governor signed an act that releases lawyers from compulsory affiliation, a step perceived as a move to economically disarticulate the Colegio de Abogados [Bar Association], which would no longer receive dues from its graduates.
Last month Governor Luis Fortuño announced the firing of 17,000 public workers under the new Law 7 to help close a $3.2 billion budget deficit. The move followed the layoffs of 4,000 workers in June. The cuts are expected to push Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate as high as 17 percent as the job cuts could reach 30,000 in coming months. Law 7, passed in March, allows Fortuño to unilaterally dismiss public-sector workers, overriding labor laws that previously prohibited such actions. Law 7 effectively voids any job protections the unions may contain and clears the way for even more radical reduction in the number of public-sector workers by allowing for Public-Private Alliances, “a euphemistic phrase for handing over government functions to private corporations.”
For full article (in Spanish), see http://www.elnuevodia.com/elparonorompeelimpasse-627058.html
For full articles (in English), see http://socialistworker.org/2009/10/15/general-strike-hits-puerto-rico and http://www.fsrn.org/audio/headlines-thursday-october-15-2009/5598