El PCPR publica la siguiente nota, en inglés, como parte de sus esfuerzos para elevar la conciencia política de los maestros en Puerto Rico y aportar al proceso de tender puentes entre diferentes sectores de la clase obrera internacional.
The news of the statewide strike being carried out by West Virginia teachers has been received with the greatest interest in Puerto Rico. As is the case across the United States and many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, teachers in Puerto Rico are facing stepped up attacks by capitalist governments against wages, benefits and even the right to collectively organize. The courageous struggle of the West Virginia teachers, who are defying reactionary legislation that prohibits labor actions by public sector workers as well as an official media assault aimed at delegitimizing their struggle, offers valuable lessons to their working class brothers and sisters in the US colony of Puerto Rico.
As in West Virginia, teachers in Puerto Rico face dismal wages that force them into conditions of virtual pauperism. While the salary of teachers in West Virginia averages around $45,000 a year, in Puerto Rico, where the cost of living rivals that of many regions in the United States, the average is a paltry $27,000. Dismal wages are a significant factor in the high number of vacancies that remain unfilled in both areas as educated workers are forced to migrate to other areas in search of better opportunities.
In both cases, local government officials have offered crumbs in an attempt to divide the workers. In West Virginia, the billionaire governor has used budget deficits as a pretext to offer a 1 – 2% pay raise over the next several years. In Puerto Rico, the colonial government is seizing upon a mass population exodus due to a decades-long economic slump to privatize public education through charter schools and education vouchers. This “reform” plan includes the cynical offer of a $1500 salary increase, applicable only to a limited number of teachers that qualify, at the same time that the government carries out layoffs for approximately 7000 teachers and closes 300 schools.
Additionally, pension benefits for teachers in Puerto Rico are virtually non-existent as the teachers’ pension fund has been systematically pillaged by the colonial government for years in order to satisfy vulture funds and other Wall Street institutions. In the case of West Virginia, the disastrous impact of closing down public pension plan for teachers and replacing it with a 401(k) style plan in 1991 has been well-documented. The effects of this “experiment”, which is now being imposed on teachers in Puerto Rico, serve as a valuable lesson.
Another common condition faced by teachers from West Virginia to Puerto Rico is the shifting of the increased costs of healthcare onto their backs. One of the principal issues facing the teachers in West Virginia has been the increased costs of premiums and other co-pay expenses associated with the PEIA or Public Employee Insurance Agency. Teachers in West Virginia are being asked to pay for the increasing costs of healthcare, which exceed by far the measly wage increases being offered, while capitalist enterprises throughout the state – including mining interests such as those controlled by its billionaire governor – are being showed with generous tax breaks. This is a situation very familiar to teachers in Puerto Rico where the colonial government has established a tax haven for corporations and super wealthy individuals while imposing severe cutbacks throughout the public sector.
Perhaps the most significant similarity between the struggle of teachers in West Virginia and Puerto Rico is the complete bankruptcy of the AFT-lead union leadership. In the case of West Virginia, Christine Campbell, the president of the AFT-WV has a long history of collaboration with the successive state governments in creating the current conditions faced by teachers. Puerto Rican teachers are familiar with this breed of union bureaucrat, which poses as a defender of the interests of the workers while stabbing them in the back through backroom deals carried out with government officials, in the name of figures like Aida Díaz, the president of the Association of Teachers in Puerto Rico (AMPR), the local AFT affiliate. Figures like Campbell and Díaz are cut of the same cloth. They function to weaken the militancy of teachers by subordinating their struggle to the electoral maneuvering of this or that capitalist political party.
In order to secure any significant advance in their struggle, teachers must first identify the reactionary elements within their ranks and wrest from them all political influence. The struggle of the working class requires the elaboration of an independent political program free free from the influence of the defenders of capitalism.
The class conscious teachers in Puerto Rico express solidarity with their comrades across the United States and the rest of the world. The coincidence of the struggles carried out by teachers in West Virginia and Puerto Rico is but one example of the international character of the class struggle. In this expression of solidarity, the advanced teachers in Puerto Rico, along with all other sectors of the working class in Puerto Rico, reaffirm their commitment to the principal of internationalism and pledge to continue to fight for a unified struggle of all workers throughout the world to advance the cause of socialist revolution.