Student Strikes at the University of Puerto Rico, 2010-2011

Posted on March 6, 2011

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Oil and Gas Workers on Strike | Hossam el-Hamalawy

RASHNE LIMKI

On 21 April 2010 – 200 students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) achieved what few other student coalitions have in the past couple of years: transforming what began as a 48-hour campus occupation into a full-fledged, sustained, system-wide strike, thus forestalling the conservative economic and social designs of the state. The historic 60-day strike, which began at Río Piedras (UPR’s main campus) and eventually spread to all 11 campuses, did not end with placated students and staff returning to business-as-usual, only to be undermined, yet again, by status quo forces. Indeed, the battle at UPR still rages – with the stakes higher, and the show of force, on both sides, stronger. What is remarkable about the UPR occupation/strike is the gathering strength and longevity of the action.

As of 17 February 2011, the president of Río Piedras has resigned and the police have been withdrawn from campus. While this is a small, but significant, victory for the protestors, they have not yet given up, with the blockades of Río Piedras still in effect. After the conclusion of the first phase of strikes in 2010, it became evident that the austerity measures initially proposed had merely been postponed. Student fees have been doubled for the present semester and 10 academic programs at Río Piedras, including its internationally-renowned department of Hispanic Studies, have been placed “on pause.” Despite this set-back, students continued to organise intermittent strikes and student action continued through the holidays and into the present.

Anticipating this student action, the state re-deployed its security forces to occupy the Río Piedras campus and has also spent $1.5 million to hire a private security company to control protestors. The present strikes have been characterized by violent clashes – including physical restraint, the use of pepper-spray, tear-gas and rubber bullets – between security forces and protestors as well their supporters. But as one protestor, pinned under the heel of a police boot, summed it up: “[This] only demonstrates the weakness of the government, it mobilises brute force in this way, it only demonstrates their weakness and their fear of us. They know we are right. They know the public agrees with us, and that’s why they need to use violence.”

Universities today, especially public universities, have done a phenomenal job of manufacturing consent – selling fiscal ineptitude and misguided budgetary priorities as the workings of inevitable and uncontrollable market forces. The success of the UPR strike, then, cannot be measured simply on the basis of whether any tangible outcomes were achieved. Rather, its success lies in the very persistent and resilient praxis that has put to rest any doubts regarding the possibility or efficacy of a strike within the contemporary political landscape.

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/ upr160211.html

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