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General Strike! Vows Labor in Puerto Rico

By Lance Cohn, People's Weekly World, p. 3, 2 September 1995

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The Puerto Rican Committee of Union Organizations (COS) is threatening a general strike if Governor Pedro Rosseló signs the "Labor Reform" bill that was passed by the legislature into law.

The 9,000-member Teachers Federation joined with the Teachers Association, the 6,500 member strong Electrical Workers Union (UTIER), the Public Water Authority Workers and the Brotherhood of Non-teaching Workers to pledge their support for a general strike.

For the most part, the unions that represent workers employed in the public sector are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Total trade union membership in the U.S. colony totals some 70,000.

The decision to threaten a general strike came after the legislature changed laws governing labor relations. These allow for employers to establish work schedules that, among other things, allow for split shifts and reduce the hours of rest between workdays from 16 to 12. The legislation also cuts sick leave, vacation days and reduces Christmas bonuses, which are part of Puerto Rico's labor law.

Roselló's administration (PNP), the equivalent of the Republican Party in the U.S., is the leading advocate for the multinational corporations in Puerto Rico. PNP claims that these "reforms" will serve to attract more business to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is considered a Commonwealth, but becasue of its colonial status with the U.S. Congress can veto any legislation proposed by the Puerto Rican Legislature. All U.S. federal agenceis have jurisdiction over Puerto Rico.

As a result of this colonial status, factories and other businesses moving to Puerto Rico are exempt from paying taxes for 17 years. High unemployment, low wages, pollution, destruction of the rain forest and the drive to eliminate Puerto Rican culture are the byproduct of the insane corporate goal to maximize profits at the workers' expense.

In responding to this brutal attack, the COS brought hundreds of protesters to picket the hotels who support this legislation. Federico Torres Montalvo, president of the Puerto Rican Workers Central, one of the unions that make up the COS, said, "The march is to call attention to the hotel industry because it is the one pushing for changes in the labor laws."

UTIER President Carlos Reyes Dávila, director of organizing for the Gastronomical Workers Union, summed it up by explaining how to defeat the reform bills. "We have to stick together," he said. "We also need letters from U.S. workers and their unions sent to Gov. Rosselló opposing this attack on labor in Puerto Rico."

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