Teachers in Puerto Rico are to strike next Tuesday against the attack on their pensions. The teachers have been holding demonstrations and occupations against these moves, which will severely affect the standard of living of retired teachers. However the government has gone ahead and passed Law 160 which sets the changes in motion.
The teachers intend to use the 48 hour strike next week as an opportunity for them to set out an alternative way forward for their pension scheme. They say the changes will result in a further teacher shortage, as thousands of teachers retire before the deadline, to avoid having their pensions drastically cut.
As we reported last month: The FMPR teachers' union has made it clear that this is part of a much larger fight against the privatisation of education. The President of FMPR, Rafael Feliciano, said, "There is an effort on the part of the government to dismantle the public school (system) and discredit it." He said that the law to balance the budget was designed to dismiss public employees in order to hand public services over to the private sector. Already there is a serious shortage of teachers in the territory, especially for children with special needs, 45,000 of whom have no specialist teachers, said Feliciano.
The change to the teachers' pension scheme was demanded by the private rating agencies, which have threatened to downgrade Puerto Rican government bonds to junk status if the changes are not made.
According to reports, Puerto Rico is facing an extreme economic crisis and has been called 'the Greece of the Caribbean.' Just as in Europe, the Puerto Rican government is seeking to make public services and the poor pay for a crisis for which they bear no responsibility. Meanwhile Puerto Rico is used as low tax economy by corporations seeking to avoid income tax. One such avoider is arch education reformer and anti-poverty guru, Bill Gates. According to a recent article in the UK Guardian newspaper: 'The (Microsoft) company was used as a case study in a Senate investigation into US tax avoidance, which found one example of offshoring profits through a tiny Puerto Rico office alone saved it $4m a day in taxes.'
So while teachers struggle to save the public education service in Puerto Rico, Gates and his corporate colleague, use the crisis hit country to launder their tax liabilities.