By now you have all received a Dear Colleagues letter from President Weingarten calling for you to sign up in a “union campaign” in response to the looming cutbacks. Some comments on her statements (italics):
Unemployment…is expected to reach 9 percent in 2010.
What about the real unemployment situation? Including part time and discouraged workers? Where have our union historians and analysts been in recent years when many economists have been pointing out a real unemployment rate of between 9 and 12%, indicating a structural problem that would eventually have a huge impact on effective demand? And then, the widespread destruction of higher paid union jobs which left many workers with significantly lower incomes. All of which, in turn contributed to the explosion of private debt, the financial bubble, and the predictable collapse.
At least 46 states are facing huge budget deficits... In Albany, the deficit for the upcoming fiscal year has reached more than $15 billion.
What about the decades-long shortchanging of cities and public services as a result of taxation and spending policies? Examples, lower federal taxes on rich, states forced to pick up costs formerly paid by federal government, huge military spending, federal subsidies for corporate giants like farming and oil monopolies, and NYC subsidies to wealthy real estate and business interests. Why didn’t the union join the call for a stock-transfer tax, which would have tapped into all the profitable speculative trading?
Between the city and state, education is slated for more than $1.5 billion in cutbacks.
Where was the money when the city was rich? Why weren’t new schools built and why weren’t CFE funds spent where they were mandated to be spent—in the schools? Now we have nothing to give up. Many of our schools are already overcrowded; our class sizes are already too large, children have to travel miles all over the city because schools haven’t been built in neighborhoods with expanding populations, adding enormous transportation costs on to the education bills. Not to mention the cost of a growing education bureaucracy dedicated to excessive testing, data manipulation, administrative policies punitive toward teachers, demoralization of staff, and harassment of senior teachers. Then there is the costly chaos of closing large schools, opening up small ones, hiring four principals for one school building, repeatedly changing the bureaucratic structure, and hiring costly educational experts and monitors, with their checklists and buzzwords but nary a clue about what to do to make our schools more effective.
Predictably, the calls are already going out to reduced pensions and health benefits.
Why hasn’t our union joined the nationwide voices that are calling for universal health care? Where is a union-led movement to make social security more of a safety net for retirees by raising the income ceiling on taxable income and increasing benefits? Where were our union-designated pension board members when our pension funds were being put at risk through speculative investment?
A major call to action…a powerful public information, lobbying and action campaign…calling for… federal help and some additional fair taxes…and a hard look at the expenditure side to prioritize the classroom…[and identify] alternative education savings including downsizing the DOE’s vast testing apparatus… [and] the possibility of a retirement incentive.
Here are battles that should have begun long ago. Fair taxes? Where was the union when the upper tax rate was reduced from 39% to 35% at a time when the income gap between rich and poor was increasing greatly? Where was the union when the Bush administration launched a war that is expected to cost us three trillion dollars? Where was the union when successive administrations and congressional regimes paved the way for the eroding of our real economy through a free trade race to the bottom, the proliferation of offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes, and the destruction of a responsible banking system through deregulation? As for the vast testing apparatus, this is only one of the many boondoggles that have enriched corporate friends of the mayor and chancellor at the expense of our school system and our union members.
An effective call to action necessitates:
- clear economic demands, not just begging for a few crumbs: raising income and corporate taxes on the wealthy, closing tax loopholes and eliminating most subsidies, and re-directing federal money to states and municipalities
- mobilization of the entire labor movement nationwide to fight on behalf of workers (non-union and union) for jobs and services, universal health care, portable pensions, and adequate social security
- a call for an end to the war in Iraq and a drastic downsizing of military expenditures
- a campaign to end mayoral control and to replace the present DOE bureaucracy with a non-politicized, elected, responsible and accountable body of educational leaders who have the support of parents and teachers.