In New York, Puerto Ricans show support for island’s public employees

NEW YORK — Braving the cold, the wind, and the rain, Puerto Ricans and others gathered in front of the offices of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration here Oct. 15 in support of their brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who marched 100,000-plus strong to protest the latest wholesale firings of government workers by Gov. Luis Fortuño. He was elected to his first term last year as a Republican, promising to jumpstart the economy, but so far, job losses and negative growth have continued.

A representative of the newly formed group Red de Apoyo a los Trabajadores en Puerto Rico (Support Network for Puerto Rican Workers) stated that Fortuño’s decision to push through his plan for the massive firings of public employees is social and economic barbarity that will only intensify the economic crisis and increase privatizing basic services.

In Puerto Rico, union, church and other members of civil society protested the firings of more than 25,000 public employees by the Fortuño administration since he took office in January. At the end of September, Fortuño announced the firing of an additional 10,000 public workers.

The administration says the firings are in accordance with Public Law 7, which declares a state of emergency, and establishes a plan to stabilize the economy and save Puerto Rican credit.

Hiram Rivera, the leader of the Nationalist Party in New York, said the crisis worsens when lawmakers refuse to impose taxes on foreign corporations. Flyers, distributed throughout iPuerto Rico’s working-class and poor neighborhoods, state in 2008 foreign corporations, which in many cases do not pay taxes, realized profits of $33 million that were taken out of the country. 

This was underscored by Edwin Irizarry Mora, the former gubernatorial candidate from the Puerto Rican Independence Party, in his reply to Fortuño’s argument that his administration had exhausted all alternatives before falling back on the decision to fire the public employees. Irizarry reiterated that the alternatives his party has proposed is the imposition of taxes on foreign entities.

This was a detail of the 1947 Law of Industrial Incentives of Operation Bootstrap, , to build factories in Puerto Rico.  Under a 1947 law, the brainchild of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, whose main focus was to attract foreign capital, corporations were exempted from paying taxes on their profits for a period of 10 years. This grace period was later extended to 25 years.

The government built factories that were rented to these corporations. Plus the labor pool was another incentive. Wages paid to Puerto Rican workers were much lower than those paid to their counterparts in the United States.

Upon conclusion of the 25-year grace period, during which the corporations realized millions in profits, instead of beginning to pay the taxes, they pulled up stakes and took their industries to other countries, leaving thousands of unemployed workers. In the countries to where these corporations took their business their products were produced by workers receiving even less than the Puerto Rican workers had received.

The companies that chose to remain in Puerto Rico are still exempt from taxes, taxes that many argue, would prevent the loss of jobs and not allow the wasteful extravagances of this administration.

The Service Employees International Union put $200,000 towards a campaign to educate and mobilize their members and allies about the struggles of the Puerto Rican public employees.