PR STUDENTS STRIKE: Singing and chanting "Education is a right, not a privilege" to a rousing plena beat, hundreds of striking University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students swarmed San Juan’s Plaza Las Américas, a huge shopping mall emblematic of the island’s proto-NAFTA economy, on May 22. The strike began on April 21, shortly after the UPR administration announced tuition hikes, the end of tuition benefits to university workers and the elimination of some merit-based financial aid—all in an attempt to cut $100 million from the budget.
The mall protest capped a tumultuous week during which police beat, Tasered and arrested students at another off-campus protest; negotiations floundered; and the student negotiating committee was sued for blocking access to the university grounds. The campus strikers, who have been under a carnivalesque state of siege, ran their own pirate radio station—Radio Huelga, which sandwiches antigovernment rants in between Bob Dylan and salsa music—and engaged in street theater even as police accosted parents trying to pass food through the gates.
The strike has become emblematic of Puerto Rico’s deep economic and political crisis. Governor Luis Fortuño‘s slashing of the public sector is an attempt to stem increasing deficits and increase the island’s chances of becoming the fifty-first state. But Fortuño’s massive government job cuts and the UPR strike have created a labor-student coalition with broad-based popular support that has staged two national strikes in six months. By invoking Republican strategies, Fortuño has raised a new kind of class awareness. Refusing to back down on May 23, students and labor leaders vowed to bring the fight "to the spaces where the rich and powerful do not expect us to go." ED MORALES
RIGHT TO RENT: The Obama administration’s attempt to bribe, cajole or beg the banks to modify mortgages isn’t working. There were 367,056 foreclosure filings in March, a monthly record. In the first three months of the year, the safest borrowers accounted for nearly 37 percent of new foreclosures. That’s why the Right to Rent Act, introduced by Democratic Representatives Raúl Grijalva and Marcy Kaptur, is so timely. It would allow a family that receives a foreclosure notice to remain in their home as renters under a five-year lease, paying a fair-market monthly rent. The proposal was first suggested by progressive economist Dean Baker and has been endorsed by experts across the political spectrum.
"We have asked time and again for banks to work with the American people to do loan workouts," Kaptur says. "With nearly 6 million people delinquent on their mortgages and at risk of foreclosure, we can no longer afford for banks to continue turning their backs on the American people."