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Confrontation outside SEIU convention in Puerto Rico

Published Jun 4, 2008 11:31 PM

As thousands of delegates and guests poured into the quadrennial convention of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and as the Democratic Party primary contest between Sens. Obama and Clinton was taking place, a drama far more meaningful to the workers of Puerto Rico took the stage in San Juan on May 31. Hundreds of members of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), a militant, independent union of teachers, in a courageous display of creative and tactical skills, broke through metal barricades, scores of armed police and SEIU staffers.

FMPR President Rafael Feliciano Hernández gave a series of press interviews and exchanged views with SEIU delegates. In an on-the-scene telephone interview with a Workers World supporter of FMPR he said, “In the local newspapers and the TV news outlets, the protests of the FMPR and the solidarity expression of the [SEIU] delegates were the primary news.”

FMPR’s Rafael Feliciano on the bullhorn.

Later, Feliciano commented on an evening workshop: “About 15 SEIU delegates and some 40 militant teachers came. The discussion was extraordinary. Solidarity was paramount and we shared how the bureaucratic, corrupt leadership hurts all of us. Moreover, we defined bridges of communication for future actions.”

The underlying lesson unfolding is the failure of business unionism—top down, opportunistic, class-collaborationist leaders. The FMPR is structured from below. FMPR President Feliciano earns $2,600 a month, no more than the highest paid teacher. He is limited to two consecutive terms. Dues are based on affordability. Most important, the FMPR is dedicated to raising class consciousness, and to view management/the capitalist government as adversaries.

In a document—“Analysis of the Puerto Rico Teachers Strike of 2008”—Luis Ángel Torres Torres, FMPR secretary of education, analyzes the lessons of the ten-day strike. His insights show how important the trade unions are as instruments of progressive change that elevate the role of the multinational workers/teachers. The document concludes, “There is no triumph without struggle, and no struggle without sacrifice.”

Many feel strongly that when the convention is over, the FMPR will have made many new friends and will be stronger as they fight the Puerto Rican government and SEIU-Stern leadership’s attempt to steal their members.