PUERTO RICO. Protests against privatization of electricity

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Source Librered.net / The Dawn / October 22, 2015 The president of the Union of Electrical and Irrigation Industry (UTIER), Angel Figueroa Jaramillo warned they will continue the fight against the privatization of public enterprises.


The union is making a 24-hour strike in the Electrical Power State Authority (AEE), while pronouncing itself against a business meeting that took place to promote neoliberal policies created by the New Progressive Party (PNP, which supports the annexation of Puerto Rico to the US), and which the administration of Alejandro García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), has continued.

In the “Private enterprise and government Summit: Partners for the Progress of Puerto Rico”, which took place in a Hotel of the touristic area, workers, mostly UTIER members, attended to reject the privatization of the AEE, which the Officer of Reorganization of the AEE, Lisa Donahue, intends to accelerate.

Hired by a millionaire sum, Donahue has led the restructuring of the public electric service for almost a year and she has already raised her voice in favour of privatizing the generation of electricity, which is the largest source of income. The Electrical Power State Authority (AEE) would carry on with the distribution of energy, which implies high costs of infrastructure and maintenance.

UTIER protesters, whom other public sector unions have joined, including teachers and public transport of the metropolitan area of San Juan, also stated their rejection of the labor reform promoted by García Padilla’s government. Figueroa Jaramillo rejected the demanding of new sacrifices from the workers, such as reductions in the labor rights acquired —a measure to which they have already yielded more than a year ago involving adjustments and the freezing of salaries— as the government continues to benefit sectors with great economic power.

Unionists insist that in order to contain the crisis experienced by the country, with a public debt of 72 billion dollars, they should not “put all the burden on workers’ shoulders”.

Jaramillo said that, because of the serious threat posed to workers affiliated to UTIER, he had no choice but to fight against those who “want to take us to levels of extreme poverty, and (consummate) the complete theft of our industry.”

The 24-hour strike has been conducted without major incidents. It is expected that this week the Puerto Rican executives submit a bill to the Legislature to reorganize the AEE, with the purpose of modifying the administrative structure and eliminating about half of the positions of power, among other measures.

One of the arguments expressed in defense of the reform is that the high cost of electricity is considered an obstacle to  economic development, as the country is in the worst moment of its history since the United States invaded in 1898.

However, Donahue anticipated the reform is likely to increase the cost of electricity by almost 30%, to 29 cents a kilowatt per hour. Currently it costs nine cents less.

The official restructuring of the AEE, which belongs to the US firm Alix Partners, has stressed the need to increase consumer prices.

The reality, according to Figueroa Jaramillo, is that the announced reform is aimed at guaranteeing the creditors the payment of the $ 9 billion debt that has put AEE on the verge of bankruptcy because of the corrupt management carried out by various administrations of the PDP and the PNP, which for the past 40 years have alternated in the government.

“Workers have already been deprived deprived from all the rights we acquired through the sacrifice of many comrades who came before us. If the government wants to overcome the crisis, I think they should look to other sectors” said Alexis Merced, president of the United Workers Union of the Metropolitan Bus Authority, who invited the members to join the protest.

According to Merced, “a blow to the UTIER agreement is a blow to all labor agreements”.

“Taking away the Christmas bonus, vacation days and sick days is only a favor to the rich; it means to continue the opening of the gap of social inequalities; it means to stop the economy”, he asseverated.

The president of the AEE Association of Pensioners, Ernesto Santiago Perez, warned governor García Padilla that the working class and the retirees of the public sector, who have also been stripped of their hard-earned rights, are alert to the intentions of privatizing the State Company. “They want to steal the country, promoting the privatization of public assets, dismantling state agencies and corporations and lobbying laws to dethrone benefits and labor rights”, said Figueroa Jaramillo.

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