Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Labor leader and organizer of Puerto Rico's first major socialist party, Santiago Iglesias Pantín was born on February 22, 1872 in La Coruña, Spain, where he attended public schools and apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. His desire to see the world led him to board a ship in 1887 at age fifteen. He arrived in Havana, Cuba, where he participated in union organizing activities and served as secretary to the Workingmen Trades Circle from 1889 to 1896. In 1896 he fled Cuba because he was wanted by Spanish authorities for his involvement with the Cuban revolutionary movement.
Iglesias boarded a ship, intending to travel to England, but instead disembarked in Puerto Rico. In May 1897 he established Ensayo Obrero, a newspaper advocating the unionization of the working class in Puerto Rico. He was jailed for these efforts by the recently instituted Autonomist Regime. After spending seven months in prison, Iglesias and other political prisoners were released at the request of the United States Government after the occupation of the Island by American forces. Immediately after his release, Iglesias resumed his labor organizing activities, which brought him to the attention of the military governor of the Island, General John R. Brooke, who interceded on his behalf when the Spanish Government requested his extradition. General Brooke also allowed Iglesias to continue his labor organizing. On October 23, 1898 Iglesias helped found the Regional Federation of Workers and Porvenir Social, a newspaper he published until 1900.
In 1900 Iglesias traveled to the United States, where he met and established a relationship with the president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, who appointed him general organizer of the AFL for Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Iglesias returned to Puerto Rico, where he organized unions throughout the Island, and in 1903 he established the newspaper, Unión Obrera. Three years later he became one of the founders of the Free Federation of Puerto Rican Workers, which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. In 1908 he was the Free Federation of Puerto Rican Workers candidate for Resident Commissioner, but he was defeated by Tulio Larrinaga.
Iglesias believed that statehood was necessary to improve conditions for workers in Puerto Rico. Accordingly, in 1914 he established La Justicia Social, a newspaper he published until 1925. In 1915 he organized the Socialist Party, which campaigned for statehood. Under Iglesias' leadership the Socialist Party grew rapidly. In 1916, under the banner of the Socialist party, he was elected to the Insular Senate and was subsequently reelected, serving until 1932. During this time he also participated in the international labor movement; he served as secretary to the Pan American Federation of Labor from 1925 to 1933.
On November 8, 1932 Iglesias was elected to a four-year term as Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives. His victory was a result of a coalition between the Republican Union Party and the Socialist Party; four years later this same coalition reelected Iglesias. While in Congress Iglesias served on the Committee on Insular Affairs, the Agriculture and Labor Committee, and the Committee on Territories.
Iglesias introduced numerous bills to improve the economic, political, industrial, and agricultural life of Puerto Rico, including a measure to amend the Organic Act by granting the people of the Island the right to elect their own governor, who in turn could appoint the heads of various departments. He introduced many bills intended to enable the people of Puerto Rico to form a constitution and a state government, and be admitted into the Union on equal footing with other states, but these proposals did not pass.
As Resident Commissioner Iglesias continued the work of his predecessors to extend social benefits and laws such as social security and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to Puerto Rico. Iglesias was successful in including Puerto Rico in numerous federal benefits and laws, including the Federal Highway Act; the Bankhead-Jones Act, which sponsored the development of agricultural experimentation; the Slum Clearance Act, which helped in the reduction of malaria-infested slums; and exemption from the payment of a stamp tax on steamship tickets between Puerto Rico and the mainland, which helped increase tourism.
He died in office in Washington, D.C. on December 5, 1939.
Publications by Santiago Iglesias:
Luchas emancipadoras. San Juan: 1958.
For further reading:
Córdova, Gonzalo F. Santiago Iglesias Pantín, Creator of the Labor Movement in Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Universitaria, 1980.
Figueroa, Javier. Diccionario histórico biográfico. Madrid: Ediciones R Madrid, 1976.