Workers Vanguard No. 972

21 January 2011


Cops Off Campus!

Support the Puerto Rico Student Strike!

Free Quality Education for All!

(Young Spartacus pages)

JANUARY 15—In the face of ongoing attacks by police as well as arrests and suspensions, students at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have been on strike for over a month against the imposition of an $800 “special fee” that they say could force up to 15 percent of the students at this public university to drop out. This follows last spring’s strike, which, with broad support from the Puerto Rican working people, beat back the government and university administration’s attempts to privatize sectors of the university and eliminate tuition exemptions for students receiving Pell Grants. On June 21 of last year, UPR students voted to strike again if the administration went ahead with its fee hike. (See “Student Strike Shakes Puerto Rico,” WV No. 963, 27 August 2010.)

The university administration and the Puerto Rican government, with the backing of their colonial overlords in Washington, spent months gearing up to smash the current student strike. The university administration hired private thugs from Capitol Security to occupy the campus and demolish the gates to the university, preventing students from barricading them as they had done last spring. The government sent in riot police, SWAT teams, snipers and police helicopters, turning Río Piedras practically into a war zone. On December 13, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that the students could not strike. Last week, an appeals court upheld the administration’s ban on protests on campus, relegating students to Orwellian off-campus “free speech” zones. One striker told Young Spartacus that the UPR administration has forbidden groups of four or more people to congregate on campus.

December marked the first time police have been on the UPR campuses since 1981, when they brutally suppressed a student strike against the tripling of tuition. On December 20, the Shock Forces riot police viciously attacked protesters at Río Piedras, arresting 17 people and sending four to the hospital. Outrageously, eight victims of this vicious police assault face trumped-up charges, including felony weapons possession and “violence and intimidation against an officer.” On January 12, ten strikers were arrested for passing out leaflets on campus, accused of “restricting the right of peaceful assembly and obstructing justice.” Dozens have been arrested for alleged “crimes,” such as defending the picket line and removing one of the administration’s “free speech area” banners.

The Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, joined the APPU professors union, the HEEND campus workers union and other trade unionists in condemning the police occupation of the UPR campuses, protesting in a January 2 letter to Governor Luis Fortuño that this was meant to “terrorize the students as well as campus workers, professors and trade unionists who solidarize with the strike.” Drop all charges against the strikers! No suspensions! No reprisals!

New Progressive Party governor Fortuño, a self-proclaimed “Reaganite,” is rightly hated for his attacks on the living standards of the population. In contrast, the capitalist Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which was soundly defeated in the last election, has taken the opportunity to posture as “friends” of students, workers and the left. But the last PPD government decertified the FMPR teachers union in retaliation for its nationwide strike in 2008 and rammed through price hikes in public services after the defeat of the 2005 UPR student strike against a tuition hike.

Key to the success of last spring’s strike was active solidarity from the Puerto Rican working class. Professors and campus employees honored the strike. While limited by the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy’s efforts to maintain class peace, support from public workers deterred the government from smashing the strike. In contrast, now many professors and campus workers are teaching and working on campus. It is urgent that the working class, whose social power derives from its unique ability to shut down the means of production and bring the capitalist system to a halt, come to the aid of the student strikers.

The attacks on public education are part of the Puerto Rican government’s union-busting austerity campaign that has included the layoffs of more than 28,000 public employees. A successful UPR strike would not only deal a blow to the government’s scheme to make working people and the oppressed pay for the island’s $3.2 billion deficit but also defend working-class families’ access to higher public education. For open admissions, no tuition and a state-paid living stipend for all students! Abolish the administration—for student/teacher/worker control of the universities!

State Repression and the U.S. Colonial Occupation

In seeking to crush the student strike, the venal Puerto Rican bourgeoisie is working in tandem with the Obama administration, which is waging its own union-busting war in the U.S. In particular, supporters of leftist organizations have been targeted. On December 22, FBI agents went after Víctor Balaguer of the Federación Universitaria Pro Independencia, a student leader who had participated in a recent protest at the UPR Mayagüez campus. Organización Socialista Internacional (OSI) activist Ovidio López was arrested and temporarily detained at the U.S. government’s Ramey base.

The close ties between the Puerto Rican colonial administration and the brutal U.S. imperialists are further illustrated by the case of Police Superintendent José Figueroa Sancha, who is overseeing the state of siege at UPR. Formerly the number two FBI agent on the island, Figueroa Sancha was “promoted” to become Puerto Rico’s top cop after the FBI’s 2005 political assassination of Puerto Rican independence fighter Filiberto Ojeda Ríos (see “Protest FBI Killing of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos!” WV No. 856, 14 October 2005). All U.S. troops and federal agents out now!

The police, the courts and the prisons are all part of the capitalist state, a machinery of organized violence to defend the capitalist class’s rule and profits against working people and all the oppressed. These agents of repression can only serve their masters—the Puerto Rican capitalist class and the U.S. imperialists. But there are widespread illusions to the contrary, including the nationalist illusion that student militants and cops have a common interest because they are “all Puerto Ricans.” While standing for the right of independence for Puerto Rico, we give no political support to bourgeois-nationalist forces, which seek to position the Puerto Rican capitalists to be the unfettered exploiters of their “own” working people.

The self-proclaimed “socialists” of the OSI, who are affiliated to the International Socialist Organization in the U.S., are also promoting suicidal illusions in the state. On December 7, a mob of some 20 guards assaulted student William Francisco Ayala. The next day, OSI member and strike leader Giovanni Roberto misled fellow strikers into fraternizing with the guards. Socialist Worker online (10 December 2010) glowingly reported this shameful episode:

“The students knew better than to see the young guards as their enemies. On the second day of the 48-hour stoppage, strike leader Giovanni Roberto got things started with a short speech in which he explained why the student strikers were fighting for demands that also served the interests of the newly hired guards.

“‘If we win this strike, we all win—because we will have made this university more accessible to us, to you and to your brothers and sisters,’ said Roberto. ‘Everyone will have a chance for a [better] future.’ The episode ended with many students and guards shaking hands and hugging each other as they forged a peace based on their shared interests.” [Brackets and emphasis in original.]

The guards demonstrated a much clearer understanding of their job description than the treacherous reformists of the OSI/ISO. To give just one example, Telenoticias reporter José Estévez asked one of them about their prior work experience:

“Guard: We’re from Loíza and…we do this almost every day.

“Estévez: What do you do every day?

“Guard: Beat people up.

“Estévez: What for?

“Guard: There for fun and here for money.”

Supporters of the Unión de Juventudes Socialistas—Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (UJS-MST) are also active in the strike. Behind a “socialist” veneer, these reformists promote illusions in capitalist democracy. After the 2008 elections, the UJS-MST ran an article bemoaning the defeat of the bourgeois-nationalist Puerto Rican Independence Party. They also supported the U.S. imperialist-backed Varela petition promoting “democratic” capitalist counterrevolution in Cuba. When it comes to the question of the cops and the state, the UJS-MST rejects as “obviously insufficient” the main contribution of Marx and Engels—that the capitalist state cannot be made to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed but must be smashed through a revolution and replaced by a workers state. Renouncing the key lesson of the Paris Commune, they claim “Marxism has not been able to produce a coherent theory about the destruction or transformation of the bourgeois state and the period of transition to communism” (¿Qué Es Y Por Qué Lucha el Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores?, undated pamphlet).

As UPR students’ experience in the course of the strike demonstrated once again, cops and security guards cannot be “transformed” or persuaded to act in the interests of the very people they exist to repress. Workers revolution will establish a workers state, whose purpose will be the forcible repression of the capitalist class in the service of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is what the revolutionary workers of Russia, led by the Bolsheviks, did during the October Revolution in 1917. The UJS-MST and OSI/ISO have demonstrated their hostility to the lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution because their program is to reform rather than overthrow the capitalist system.

The success of the UPR strike would be an important gain for working people and could inspire struggles internationally. Workers and student activists in the U.S. must see the struggle of the Puerto Rican student strikers as their own. The collaboration of the Puerto Rican colonial state and the U.S. imperialists’ agents in seeking to crush the students’ struggle underscores the need for joint struggle between workers in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. against their common enemy. We seek to intervene into such struggles to win young militants to the task of building revolutionary workers parties around the world. We fight for the perspective that the working class must seize political power in its own name, overthrowing both the brutal U.S. imperialist overlords and their lackeys, the Puerto Rican bourgeoisie, through international socialist revolution. This requires Leninist leadership to advance the unity of the working class and solidarity with all the oppressed across international lines.