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10-12-10 - Puerto Rican Striker Tours California

10-12-10 - Puerto Rican Striker Tours California

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Published by William J Greenberg
UPR striker Gamelyn Oduardo addressed California feminists, education and immgration rights activists, and high school student organizers in October, 2010. Oduardo spoke of the two-month strike last spring--reignited in December with the imposition of the contested $800 per annum "cuota"--against fee hikes and the sale of university resources.
UPR striker Gamelyn Oduardo addressed California feminists, education and immgration rights activists, and high school student organizers in October, 2010. Oduardo spoke of the two-month strike last spring--reignited in December with the imposition of the contested $800 per annum "cuota"--against fee hikes and the sale of university resources.

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Feb 09, 2011
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02/09/2011

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Gamelyn Oduardo shares lessons of victory

December 2010

Students protest at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico during the student strike of Spring 2010. The two-month strike stopped budget cuts, fee hikes and the sale of university resources. Photo: Ricardo Alcaraz “Wow, I never heard that Puerto Rican students shut down their university for two months!” exclaimed a student at City College of San Francisco after a recent presentation. It was a common reaction to the eyewitness account of Gamelyn Oduardo, who helped organize the victorious strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Last spring’s student takeover of 10 of the 11 UPR campuses, with support from community and labor organizations, stopped fee hikes and prevented the sale of university resources. The Puerto Rican Student Tour Committee and the Freedom Socialist Party co-sponsored Oduardo’s one-week tour of California in October. The visit was a priceless opportunity to build solidarity between education battles in Puerto Rico and in California, where a huge walkout shut down kindergarten through university classes last March 4. Whirlwind tour. In Los Angeles, Oduardo met with feminists, education and immigrant rights activists and high school student organizers. After speaking to a California State University-Long Beach class, he was featured at a forum put on by UCLA campus groups. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Oduardo gave the opening address to the Statewide Mobilizing Conference against the Privatization of Public Education and Public Services, and spoke at an FSP forum, “On the Barricades for Public Education — Defying Privatization from San Juan to Berkeley.”

He took part in a tribute to Puerto Rican independence fighters Lolita Lebrón and Juan Mari Brás, spoke at UC Berkeley and community college classes, and met with members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Lessons from the front lines. Interest in the UPR strike was especially intense because the corporate media gave it little coverage. Activists thundered applause as Oduardo described how students maintained their occupation of the university by facing down baton-wielding, pepperspraying police more than once. They organized street theater, teach-ins, websites and radio stations to reach out to unionists and community members, who defiantly ferried food and provisions over campus fences to the strikers. And they were inspired by the November 2009 and March 2010 actions in California. Oduardo opened many people’s eyes to puertorriqueños’ status as U.S. citizens who have no say in electing the President, and no representatives in Congress. Disgust with Washington’s imperial policies on the island motivated attendees to make alliances with students and other fighters there. In all his presentations, Oduardo identified neoliberal capitalism as the political and economic policy responsible for cuts and privatization. He stressed that Puerto Rico, as the U.S.’ oldest colony, is being hit hard by free trade and unregulated markets designed to maximize corporate profits. At the FSP forum, UC Berkeley co-panelist and unionist Nancy Reiko Kato encouraged Californians to take a cue from Puerto Rican students, and go beyond being just a campus movement to ally with labor and the community. She emphasized the importance of international solidarity to stop neoliberalism and its cuts to public education. Long-term solution — general strike. Audience members noted in discussions that the victory of the Puerto Rican student strike is amazing in light of the recent history of workplace safeguards and public services being decimated. However, as Oduardo points out, “we knew that we had won a battle, but not the war.” As he was speaking in California, UPR students again began occupying buildings to stave off tuition hikes announced for January 2011. He says students In Puerto Rico cannot achieve lasting victories alone. “We must strengthen ties with the labor movement.” Education defenders in both places have looked to strikes as a means for ending the assault on public services. Student and campus organizers from California and other states achieved only one or two-day symbolic strikes in the past couple of years, and these had a limited effect in curtailing funding cuts and fee increases. Inspired by the militancy and success of their Puerto Rican counterparts, U.S. activists had many questions for Oduardo on how to build longer strikes.

A San Diego State student wondered how to motivate U.S. students to strike when they fear delayed graduation or disciplinary action. Oduardo said it’s a matter of being united and seeing the long-term victory a strike makes possible. “We encourage, as we have for a long time, a prolonged, multi-sector general strike that will halt the government offensive. The strike is one of the most effective weapons to fight power.” And how! Using the alliances built during the tour, students and working people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico can build movements capable of general strikes to win free public education, from kindergarten through university — and much more — once and for all. Bob Price is a chemistry professor at City College of San Francisco, and a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. Email him at rpchemist@aol.com. Related story: Read an interview with Gamelyn Oduardo

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