Posteado por: tucidides | 20 octubre 2009

Puerto Rico Unions Protest Job Cuts


 Published: October 15, 2009

MIAMI — Thousands of Puerto Rican union members gathered Thursday in a financial district outside San Juan to protest the government’s plan to lay off more than 20,000 workers in a territory with a jobless rate of 15 percent.

A general strike began at 6 a.m., bringing the bustling city to a holiday-like calm, as crowds converged on a large mall under the watchful eye of the police. There were no reports of violence, though several stores and private schools had closed.

“Today we are declaring the state of peaceful insurrection of the Puerto Rican people,” said a Methodist bishop, Juan Vera, one of the organizers, as he stood before the afternoon rally. “Today we go from protest to resistance and from resistance to civil disobedience.”

Several protesters, holding signs demanding work, directed their criticism at Gov. Luis G. 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, punishing the island with its fourth year of recession.

Governor Fortuño has said repeatedly that he did not want layoffs, but had no choice. In interviews on radio and television on Thursday, he said that it was the only way to avoid a government shutdown because of the territory’s $3.2 billion deficit.

“There was no alternative,” Mr. Fortuño said. “And there is no turning back.”

This year, the governor cut more than 5,000 jobs; this round of layoffs will eliminate nearly 17,000 jobs next month from the Department of Education and other agencies.

Anger over the governor’s plan has been simmering for weeks. On an island with little industry, the public sector plays an especially large role, employing about 25 percent of all workers.

There is widespread consensus that many public agencies in Puerto Rico are inefficient, but with estimates suggesting that the layoffs could push the island’s unemployment rate to 17 percent, some economists have criticized the governor for throwing thousands out of work instead of cutting people’s pay or hours.

“What worries us is this was done in an only fiscal mind-set, looking only at expenses, and not looking at the other impact on the greater economy,” said Miguel Soto-Class, executive director of the Center for a New Economy, an independent research organization.

The protesters generally agreed. Maria Diaz, 39, a 13-year employee at the Highways and Transportation Department, said the administration’s approach showed a lack of compassion. “Where are these people going to work?” she said. “They did not think this through.”

Even Pedro Ortiz, a 35-year-old graphic artist at a San Juan advertising agency who described the cuts as “a necessary evil,” criticized the government for a firing process that he said seemed to single out lower-paid workers, like janitors and school counselors rather than higher-ups.

 Mr. Ortiz said the protesters were driven more by passion than reason — echoing the criticism of those who said their efforts should have been focused on Mr. Fortuño’s office, not private businesses — but he said this reflected the spread of class-oriented anger.

“The government is claiming it needs to cut expenses,” Mr. Ortiz said. “But the leaders are a little unwilling to make a contribution.”

John Marino contributed reporting from San Juan, Puerto Rico.




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