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Socialist Front conference honors strike leaders

By Monica Somocurcio

and Carlos Rovira

Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico

On Nov. 15, over 150 labor and student activists gathered here on the outskirts of San Juan for the annual conference of the Socialist Front. The conference's main theme was evaluating the July general strike--known as the People's Strike--and the Socialist Front's role in it.

The conference also featured a political analysis of the Puerto Rican workers' struggle today, and an overview of the global economic crisis and elections by the front's main leadership body.

The Socialist Front started out five years ago as a coalition of three socialist organizations: the Socialist Workers Movement, the Political Formation Workshop and the Puerto Rican Workers Party-Macheteros. It now includes other smaller organizations, university and high school groups, and many individuals. Its membership has grown because of its leadership role in last summer's massive People's Strike.

The 48-hour general strike of July 7 and 8 brought over 500,000 workers and their supporters into the streets. It shut down the island nation.

It is known as the People's Strike because not only labor organizations but the masses of people, through community groups and various political organizations, were involved at all levels and were mobilized against privatization.

The People's Strike was called to support telephone workers striking against the privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. It soon became an island-wide movement against Gov. Pedro Rosselló's privatization campaign and to defend Puerto Rico's integrity as a nation.

The Puerto Rican flag was the main symbol of the strike. Although the telephone workers later returned to their jobs and the company was sold to the U.S.-based GTE, the movement sparked a return to politics by wide masses of people and a regeneration of the left.

The strike took on greater political importance because of Puerto Rico's colonial relationship with the United States.

Washington seized Puerto Rico as war booty after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Wall Street and the Pentagon have maintained an iron grip on the island for 100 years.

Rosselló represents the pro-annexation wing of the U.S. ruling class, which is trying to make Puerto Rico a state. The privatization campaign is part of the attempt to prepare the island for statehood by selling off Puerto Rico's national property to U.S. corporations.

Since the People's Strike, public support for Rosselló and his annexation plans has plummeted.

A working-class conference

Socialist Front leaders and activists played key roles at every level of the People's Strike. Reflecting this, most of the conference participants were workers.

Many belong to the most militant unions--including the Teachers' Federation, the Teamsters, the University Professors' Union, the Health-Care Workers' Union (1199), the Electrical and Utilities Workers' Union, the Independent Brotherhood of Telephone Workers, and the Independent Union of Telephone Workers.

Rafael Bernabé, president of the University Professors' Union and a leader of the Socialist Front, opened the conference with an analysis of the global economic crisis. He predicted that the coming recession will reveal the real consequences of privatization--which, he explained, have not yet completely hit the working class. He called on participants to prepare for the great opportunities and challenges on the horizon.

After Bernabé's presentation, the Directive Commission opened the floor for discussion and resolutions. The conference passed a resolution pledging to do whatever possible to defend the life of U.S. death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Another resolution supported the Iraqi people and opposed U.S. attacks against that country.

The second session was dedicated to the most militant workers who had participated in the People's Strike. A special tribute was given to Socialist Front member Luis Angel Torres, who had been beaten and seriously injured by the police during the strike. Torres finished the session with a moving speech thanking his comrades for the honor.

Many workers came to see 25 of their comrades honored with plaques for their militancy during the strike. Socialist Front leader Jorge Farinacci gave a rousing talk about the strength and heroism of the Puerto Rican working class and of these workers in particular.

Two women strikers, Soriel Cruz and Nivea Rivera, thanked the Socialist Front for the event and for its leadership in the strike.

Workers World Party sent a delegation from the United States that included the writers of this article plus Secretariat member Deirdre Griswold. Invited to speak, the delegation said that the greatest act of solidarity U.S. revolutionaries can express to the Puerto Rican working class is to smash the colonizers of Puerto Rico from within the United States itself.

WWP invited representatives of the Socialist Front to participate in the Communist Manifesto conference to be held in New York Dec. 4-6.

People's Strike was
a political strike

In his opening report, Bernabé commented on the political nature of the People's Strike.

For the first time in decades, Puerto Rican workers went beyond economic demands to challenge the government's pro-U.S. policies. A key aspect of the Socialist Front's perspective was to deepen the working-class movement's political level.

Rosselló's campaign for privatization, increased police repression in poor residential areas and incessant offensive statements against Puerto Rican nationhood have created a climate in which struggle against the regime has become a real and unavoidable option for many Puerto Ricans.

The Roselló regime was the first to use the National Guard to police working class neighborhoods--a tactic later used in Washington and other U.S. cities against poor and working people. Rosselló sparked a massive demonstration of 150,000 people in San Juan in 1996 when he offended all Puerto Ricans by saying, "Puerto Rico is not a nation."

Boycott the `plebiscite'

On Dec. 13 Roselló will carry out a so-called plebiscite on the island's status.

It is being paid for with funds diverted from social programs that the colonial government is now eliminating--even though many people are homeless and destitute after a devastating hurricane.

The plebiscite offers the options of statehood, continued colonial status in the guise of the "Free Associated State," and independence. But broad political sectors charge it is heavily biased toward statehood.

Its results are not binding. The final say on Puerto Rico's status rests with the U.S. Congress.

The Socialist Front, along with others in the Puerto Rican independence movement, is calling for a boycott of the plebiscite on the grounds that the plebiscite cannot fairly assess the views of the Puerto Rican masses because they are under military and political occupation by the United States.

Unlike others in the Puerto Rican independence movement, the Socialist Front is oriented toward the labor movement. The group views the workers as the most determined fighters against the colonial government.

Imperialist investment in the island nation has intensified social inequality and colonial oppression. But at the same time it has inevitably expanded the working class and moved it into a more strategic social position.

Puerto Rico's long struggle for national liberation from U.S. colonialism has traditionally strengthened the workers' movement, and vice versa. The Socialist Front is in a position to reshape the fight against U.S. imperialism by more closely uniting the struggle for national self-determination with the working-class struggle against corporate exploitation.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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