A Huelguista’s Lessons of La Huelga:

A draft of a work in progress with a constructive ending

This essay started out as a Facebook message that quickly resulted in the first few paragraphs. The message then became a draft for a collaborative essay I had been planning out beforehand. La huelga (strike) has been going on for little more than a month through several campuses of the University of Puerto Rico, including Mayagüez, where I course in a department that’ll probably close due to projected cuts to be made to the institution’s budget (of around 50%). Though disheartening, the fact that I’ll be affected by these cuts hasn’t made me any less critical of my situation as a student in a university on huelga. Clouded judgments come from all factions, and for this during la huelga I’ve taken the task of integrating myself in these factions, to understand, to gain some clarity within the clouded judgments that make up and limit la huelga as a strategy, and as a concept. Nonetheless, this essay will be biased (or clouded by myself), for these are my experiences and for I have written it (to remind you of the obvious); for the same reasons I’ve decided to integrate, I’d really appreciate your reactions.

I know about the people affected by la huelga, I consider them when I’m working in la huelga, they motivate me to do a good job (well, to be honest, an actual fucking job!). It’s sad that people consistently put effort into their careers only to be stopped when they’re about to reach a goal. It’s as if the huelga suddenly took away the ground in which you were running with a good pace, a clear horizon, having this one chance to surpass many of your limitations… Limitations in which you now have to fall, succumb because the majority decided to take your ground away; you’re left off contextually impaired. But for what? For what has the majority chosen?

Anti-huelga after UPRM’s last two assemblies (colorized)

The huelguistas have some claims, the huelguistas have some goals, the huelguistas have them in the same ground as the now-impaired. However, the huelguistas won’t be contextually impaired, for they took the ground with them. In these terms, the huelguistas would be forcing the same ground, the university, into different surroundings, a different context, and a different experience — an expected one. They look at la huelga as a strategy which, as expected, will lead to a goal in some undefined time. Here you’ll arrive, with the conviction of a huelguista, to la huelga’s main flaw: itself. Keeping la huelga up IS the strategy which will lead to the desired goals in an indefinite time. Whatever claims the huelguistas had are left up to la huelga itself to manifest and politically enforce on the other (hierarchically superior) sectors of the island’s governing body. La huelga is impotent. This not implying that it does not exert any pressure as part of the system which threatens the institution.

The impotent body of la huelga needs to be kept up, functioning, working to meet its necessities, administrating itself, and reacting to its environment; a lot of energy is invested in this primal task, its own nature. La huelga is powerless due to a lack of energy to enforce its claims on the system. The remaining energy of keeping it up and reacting is what’s left for a tangible political direction. It’s not enough energy, and in this equation I’m not accounting the fact that only a minority works on this political component; a minority which will run on la huelga’s ground with as much enthusiasm as the aforementioned impaired and affected non-huelguista students. Reading and gathering data, meeting peers, having discussions, generating material, working to meet ends — is this not resembling an association of politically interested huelguistas? Or a laboratory for those who want to learn through practice something outside STEM?

In its impotency, what’s left for pressuring is la huelga itself, just like the majority of its composition relies on. La huelga now becomes a repressive strategy within the system, exerting the sort of repression a little pebble exerts when stuck inside a hose. The pebble may be tough and withstand the constant stream of water, however the pressure of the stream will raise due to the pebble blocking its path. It escalates, a once fairly moderate and acceptable stream has intensified, for the stream meets it’s shortcoming of flow with an increase of pressure . The system flays la huelga in a reactionary manner, as an effect of the system balancing itself with the momentum of its remaining sectors. The little pebble can’t withstand the pressure of a dam.

Two engineers planning to stop this with the help of a little pebble.

I believe la huelga in many cases doesn’t recognize the virtues of being this little pebble, I believe it desires other virtues which in more than 40 days it hasn’t been able to attain. This is disheartening, though I beg all to see a positive behavioral change approximating within la huelga; an acceptance of situation filled with tangible opportunism. Nonetheless, it is expected that the binary opposite of a huelguista, the so called anti-huelga, wouldn’t recognize this virtue either. Or is the echo-chamber of anti-huelgas praising the virtues of the strategy which they oppose? Is there an echo-chamber at all, as opposed to the one operating within la huelga under the name of “pleno”? For better or for worse, huelguistas are becoming aware of their echo-chamber and their surroundings, as they’re bringing some distortion within, in the name of progress. However disorganized (or ideologically fractured) the student movement may be, the echos they emit are intelligible, whereas the anti-huelga’s are distorted, them being mere reactions to forced conditions of despair (which I deeply regret), or cases of myopic self-interest (for if you stay in the university you’ll experience the cuts regardless of your area)…

Local newspaper cut from the 1970’s (Archivo Nacional)

During this huelga period I had the chance to visit the (internet and the) national archive to gather news from past huelgas; this is the sixth in the institution’s history. It’s been very interesting to see the recursive nature of the claims, the chosen strategies, and the organization between the different sectors of the university’s community. For a change, this is one of the first huelgas directly aimed against the island’s governing body (both constitutional and extra-constitutional). For a similarity, this is the third huelga in a row featuring a clear anti-huelga faction, (not of an opposing ideology, however). Another interesting factor to consider is the effect of technology during this process, how the information is communally shared online between the huelguistas, how the huelga has generated a website to inform and gather input from the community, and how the opposition of la huelga has generated a blog to gather stories from the affected students. A quick assessment of la huelga’s productions is enough to reveal that one of the biggest effects of la huelga has been the polarization of the community with regards to la huelga itself (which resembles the ever-present and recursive partisan politics problem the island has historically showcased). The problem of polarization is to be attributed to both sides of the rationale, which, for now, I won’t be explaining.

I want to end this essay with a conclusion that has withstood all my refutations, and which has been agreed by my peers (both huelguistas and anti-). The damage has been done, that including collateral damage to ourselves, and, regardless of that, the majority has decided that la huelga continues. La huelga is tangible and has been for more than a month regardless of its appearance. La huelga is the little pebble after all — let’s use it virtuously, and after it’s useless, let’s end it virtuously. Let’s use la huelga to pressure wisely where we ought to, not to shoot ourselves or our community in the foot when it’s imperative to keep on walking. Huelguistas, choose your battles, for keeping up la huelga is as demanding as directing it politically. Anti-huelgas, understand the stakes in spite of the chosen strategy. Oppose not to destroy the morale of resistance necessary in these precarious times, but to reinforce it appropriately, to correct it with your experiences and your knowledge. Synthesize the opposites into an actually inclusive movement that assesses effectiveness and acts accordingly; in common grounds can we stop defining ourselves by what we are not. Let’s stand for education, no matter if we’re plowing the ground, planting the seed, tasting the fruit, or profiting out of our efforts to generate produce.

Random newspaper cuts and screenshots:

*English version. A Spanish version is coming.