The Proletarization of the Puerto Rican

Miguel Soler (excerpts)

An economist recently described the Puerto Ricans' situation by saying: "The Puerto Ricans are becoming with every step, less the actors and more the spectators of the economic drama in Puerto Rico." In this way the economist described the phenomenon by which the eons of our country are losing possession of the means of production and are being converted into salaried workers in the firms of North American foreigners. That is, they are being proletarianized. They are being integrated into the working class, into the service of foreign capital.

Let us try to define the term proletariat, or the "working class". Lenin gave us one definition of a social class. "The classes," he said, "are large groups of men who are differentiated among themselves tith respect to the place they occupy in the historically determined system of social production, by the relations in which they find themselves with respect to the means of production, by the role they play in the social organization of work and consequently by the mode and the proportion in which they receive part of the social wealth available.

In accord with this definition, the fundamental classes in a modern capitalist society are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie exploits and the proletariat is exploited. The bourgeoisie possesses the means of production and the proletariat does not. The capitalist plans production to obtain profits for himself; the proletariat carries out the production. The bourgeoisie or capitalist appropriates the major part of the social wealth and the proletariat can only sustain himself by selling his labor power for a price.

The establishment of modern capitalism in Puerto Rico and its growing control of our economy keeps proletarianizing with accelerated rhythm whole sectors of our society. If we compare past census data with the most recent, we become aware of the disappearance of small merchants, small farmers and small owners of shops and businesses. On the other hand, we note the rise of those salaried groups in manufacturing, construction, transportation and communications sectors. Jobs that were of a domestic nature are now salaried. There are also significant changes in the functions of engineers, lawyers, technicians and researchers. While in the past such skilled workers were more or less independent in the productive process, today, due to technological development, they are found working in factories or institutes at the service of the big businesses. The same is also true of chemists, physicists, biologists, and economists. Although relatively privileged, these "new working class" groups are drawing nearer and nearer to the rest of the proletariat. These Puerto Ricans are utilized by the "yankee" capitalist businesses, directly or indirectly, in creating a surplus. All sell their labor power in the colonial market in exchange for a wage.

It is undeniably true that the modern capitalist in Puerto Rico proletarianizes an increasingly wide sector of society while simultaneously continuing to stratify tile once simple Puerto Rican society, and stratifying divides. Frantz Fanon wrote in his work The Wretched of the Earth , that social stratification serves an important function for imperialism -- breaking national unity. The country is divided into social strata with conflicting interests that fight among themselves, confused by the myth of social mobility.

We observe, then, two phenomena created by the penetration of modern capitalism in Puerto Rico: (1) the proletarianization of the Puerto Rican (2) the rupture of national unity.

It is perhaps the simultaneous occurrence of these two phenomena that must determine the orientation of our political work. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think that if the Puerto Rican proletariat were to be united, a unified and successful struggle against imperialism would ensue. National unity will be proletarian unity. Our job is this: to achieve the unity of the exploited sectors for independence and for national liberation.

Degree and Forms of Exploitation by Foreign Capital

Unemployent. As we all know, one of the problems produced in our colonial situation is the sub-utilization of one of the most important fountains of wealth of any country -- the labor force. Because of the systematic destruction of our agriculture and the politics of the capitalist which substitues machines for men, hundreds of thousands of men and women in our country have been separated from the productive process.

In a working force of 800,000 workers in 1960, the date of the last census count, only 551,690 persons were working. The rest were unemployed. This equals 30% unemployment, double what it was in the United States during the depression. The situation is really worse than the figures indicate because the agricultural workers who represent a sizeable sector receive starvation wages. In this agricultural sector, half of the work force is unemployed six months out of every year. The problem of unemployment will increase in the coming years due to increasing mechanization and automation and to the steady disintegration of Puerto Rican agriculture.

The youth and unemployment -- According to economist A.C.Barton, the rate of unemployment of Puerto Rican youth compounds the cause for alarm. Taking into account only those youths between 14 and 19, we find the following situation: There are in Puerto Rico around 311,528 youth between those ages. Of these,154,904 are male and 156,624 are female. Half of the young men attend school. The other half receive no education. Of the group that does not go to school, only 32,588 are working. That is to say, 45,356 or 39.6% of Puerto Rican men between 14 and 19 years of age are unemployed.

To have an idea of the tragedy that youth in the colony live, we need only point out that of,the 45,000 compatriots forced to emigrate to the misery of the stateside city ghettos in the 1950s and 1960s, 62% were youths between 20 and 24 years of age.

Drug Addiction -- Data revealed as a result of a study carried out by the Puerto Rican legislature gives us an idea of the level of exploitation that the narcotics business represents in this country, especially among unemployed youth.

There were one thousand known addicts in 1961 and ten thousand in 1964. This represents an increase of 900% in three years. An addict uses an average of five or six bags of heroine a day, each bag costing between four and six dollars. The total drug market in Puerto Rico in a year involves from 70 - 90 million dollars.

The Center for Study of Addiction reports that the majority who seek treatment haven't worked in the last to years. It is also known that the most common way of getting money for drugs is through some form of crime, murder and robbery,growing daily here in Puerto Rico, are a product of the monstrous drug business in our country, a business that is controlled by the mafia, the northamerican gangsters.

Automation -- In order to be able to compete with firms in the United States, those established in Puerto Rico must develop their technology at the same rate it develops on the continent. Through the development of technology the capitalist raises the productivity of his workers and therefore his profits.

In Puerto Rico, the yankee capital has acted freely to mechanize and automate. Thousands of workers have been left unemployed as a result of mechanized sugar refineries without receiving one cent of compensation. The shippers have also mechanized their operations so that very little of the cargo arriving in our ports is touched by human hands.

The number of workers per factory has dropped from 80 to 55 in the Fomento factories in the last five years. Many opportunities for employment in business offices are rapidly disappearing due to the increased use of computerized systems.

It can generally be said that yankee business in its enthusiasm for profits, is mechanizing and automating its operations in Puerto Rico without concern for the effects on the life of the Puerto Ricans. The colonial government, controlled by the absentee owners, is an accomplice in this process. The Puerto Ricans themselves pay the social cost of the resulting unemployment.

Minimum Wages -- Perhaps there is no better way of showing the nature of exploitation of the colonial regime in Puerto Rico than by examining the tremendous struggles that go on when the U.S. Congress legislates on the minimum wage in Puerto Rico.

The wages being payed in Puerto Rico are less than half the wages paid in the United States. In this differential of wages lies an advantage for the business that establishes itself in our country to compete with the United States. According to the advertisements that Fomento distributes to the capitalists of the north to attract business to Puerto Rico, the net corporate profit is more than double the profit rate of investments in the U.S. For Puerto Rico to continue being attractive to yankee exploiters, it is necessary to maintain this wage differential.

Rise in the Cost of Living -- Puerto Ricans are also exploited as consumers. Puerto Rico is the fifth largest market for U.S. goods in the world and the second largest for the hemisphere as a whole. Yankee capital maintains a complete monopoly on our commercial activity, both internal and external. Maritime and air transportation are controlled by northamerican monopolies. And with the development of industry has come the control of the food distribution, clothing and other consumer goods markets by big chains of supermarkets and department stores. The advertising controlled by capital creates consumers. The people "want" more of what they can buy and thus take out loans, rich are also controlled by foreign capital. Nineteen percent of all loans in the last year, for example,were personal. With absolute control over the financial life of the country, yankee capital fixes interest rates in such a way that wages paid to Puerto Ricans do not cover the contracted debts.

This phenomenon is the cause of the so-called lack of savings. This "showcase of progress" is the country with the highest level of inability to save in the world. The cause for this is the inability of Puerto Rico to accumulate capital which results in an external debt that doubles every five years. Last year it was $1.28 billion.

It should be noted that in spite of the rise in per capita income, there has been a reduction in saving. This tends to demonstrate the thesis that wages paid in Puerto Rico revert immediately back to the pockets of the foreign capitalists. That is to say that they give us the wing from the breast to eat, as our jibaro (peasant) says.

Welfare -- The decaying yankee economy has created great masses of men and women in our country who, not being able to participate in the processes of social production, have entered a parasitic existence. About 675,000 persons receive alms sent from Washington that are administered by the colonial politicians in power. One out of every four families in the "showcase for progress" depends on the so-called public charity to subsist. These families are found principally in our devastated rural zone; they are agricultural workers. The average income of these 120 thousand families who receive maintenance is $4.44 weekly.

Maintenance is a product of economic exploitation of our country. But it is at the same time a form of. spiritual and political exploitation. Families are reduced to a state of begging. The party in power conditions the welfare recipients to support the present regime at the polls by threatening to cut off the pittances if they don't.

The Housing Problem -- In Puerto Rico, one out of every three houses is inadequate. Hundreds of thousands of families live in shacks on the outskirts of San Juan. Ousted from the agricultural sector by the process of penetration of yankee capital in our country, the agricultural workers have come to the metropolitan area to look for a new environment. Because they have not had the skills that could be used by manufacturing, they are left unemployed. A few have been employed as unskilled construction workers, On top of these vile living conditions they see the world of so-called progress which, although they construct it, is unreachable. The slums of the area of San Juan are a belt of violence that circles the colonial city .

These are some of the problems that affect the working class in Puerto Rico. It is starting with a deep understanding of this reality, that our work must be oriented.

EL TEATRO CAMPESINO (Farmworker's Theater)
Is Corning to the
Village Theater Wednesday July 19th at 8:45P,i.
105 ,2d Avenue (at E. 5th St.) Thursday July 20th
view Yok, ew York Admission -- $150-$3.00
Nine men, sons of grape pickers, from the fields of Delano,
CalifDnia, have invented a new art form. Its only subject
is the strike, Cesar Chavez's successful action that built the
first Farmworkerst Union.. These men were there, chief figures
in that strike. They sang Lexican songs in the fields and
wore the masks they made to explain the struggle to their fellow
campesinos. The struggle is not finished...

Tags: Puerto Rico, capitalism, exploitation

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.