Puerto Rico: Attacks on Labor

September 25, 2007

On November 10, over 10,000 workers, representing 42 labor unions, paralyzed traffic for hours as they marched to the Capitol building in San Juan. They were protesting the mid-October assassination of Teamster leader Juan Rafael Caballero Santana as part of a new wave of repression unleashed against the labor movement in Puerto Rico. The march was led by a caravan of 2,000 trucks from the Teamsters Union and the General Brotherhood of Workers. The massive demonstration was called by the Comité Sindical Contra Represi6n (CSCR or Trade Union Committee Against Repression), a newly formed organization of Puerto Rico's most important unions with the purpose of combatting the anti- labor policies of Romero Barcelo's government. The murder of Caballero is merely the latest attack against the most militant and progressive forces in the trade union movement. Harassment of Teamster organizers, for example, began immediately following the September 23 execution of corporate lawyer Alan H: Randall by a self-identified "labor commando" group. Randall, a member of the Federal Bar Association, had been holding seminars and advising the major American capitalists on how to weaken and destroy labor unions on the island. A meeting in Puerto Rico of the FBA, postponed because of Randall's death, had been scheduled to hold seminars on "union violence" and terrorism. According to a statement signed by some 26 of the unions which subsequently formed the CSCR, the violent death of Randall has been used as an excuse to attack trade unions and labor leaders despite the lack of any evidence about the identity or motives of his assassins. The document states: "Only one thing is clear: the interest in repressing the workers' movement." It also warns authorities that "the workers' movement is indivisible. Therefore, any action against a labor leader, or against a union, will constitute an act of aggression against the entire workers' movement." Representation in CSCR incorporates a broad spectrum of political positions including left and independent unions, with the majority affiliated with the social- 48 democratic Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). AFL-CIO unions, representing some 43 % of organized labor in the island, have as yet made no effort to involve themselves in the current situation. The demonstration was the first of a number of actions the committee plans which press for the creation of an impartial commission of inquiry into the Caballero murder. Two representatives of the CSCR, in New York for a public meeting a few days after the march, described the growing unity of the union movement. One of the representatives, Luis Carrion, is a Teamster official who was personally harassed after Randall's death. He said that the publication of the joint statement and the formation of CSCR marks "the first time since the Ponce Cement Strike in 1973 that the labor movement has joined efforts to advance labor unity in our nation." The CSCR hopes to avoid the past errors which aided the disintegration of the MOU (United Workers Movement)-the last attempt at unified labor action. Both Carrion and Ramades Acosta Cepeda, the other representative and a member of the Independent Union of Airport Workers, emphasized that whatever results from this new organization, all those involved will have developed a better understanding of how the leadership must be responsive to the concrete struggle of the working class. According to Carrion, the new mobilization is not dominated by union officials but rather depends on rank-and-file participation. In the past few years, since the implementation of a new plan for Puerto Rico involving heavy capital investment, the colonial government has taken ever more stringent measures to stifle the resultant unrest by the affected sectors. In its effort to secure peace and profits for these new projects, the working class and others on the island have been subjected to unemployment (officially listed at 25% but, according to most estimates, is pegged at about 50%), low wages, decertification of unions, the use of professional strike breakers, the quashing of student protests by the colonial police, surveillance and fabrication of cases against known labor and independentista leaders, and the creation of a death squad responsible for kidnappings and assassinations. Speaking for the CSCR, Carrion said that "the new repressive phase begun against the labor movement will find among the Puerto Rican workers a more conscious class enemy, more experienced and more united. "Our struggle is not just for economic demands, but is integrated clearly and necessarily as a political struggle, for we are waging our battle against U.S. imperialism, which is holding our island as a colony for its own purposes... For our labor organization, the struggles of the Puerto Rican workers are closely linked to those of workers the world over and especially to the struggle of the Northamerican workers within the context of a profound internationalist ideal." Carrion closed his talk with a call for actions expressing that solidarity.

Tags: Puerto Rico, labor, strike, labor repression

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