Dennis Hughes, President of the New York State AFL-CIO, issued a statement of strong support for the labor movement in Wisconsin and other states in its battle for workers’ rights. He did so in the name of 2.5 million trade unionists in this state.
He also pointed to the struggle in New York over the state budget due April 1 and the struggle over the New York City budget due July 1.
In both cases public employees and the working people they serve are asked to make their share of sacrifices, while the bankers, other big corporations and wealthy not only are not asked to sacrifice anything but are stuffing record amounts into their accounts at the expense of working people.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, a newly elected self-described “centrist” Democrat, who badly beat the Republican tea-bagger, has proclaimed the necessity to eliminate a $10 billion deficit and permanently cut spending and taxes to make the state “business friendly.” Cuomo seeks to cut $2.3 billion in Medicaid and $3 billion in education. And he joins the Republican-controlled state senate in opposing continuation of the surcharge on incomes of $250,000 and the higher surcharge on incomes of $1 million. The Assembly, with a majority of Democrats ranging from moderate to progressive, supports continuing the tax for a year, applied only to millionaires to bring in several billion dollars. It also calls for restoration of hundreds of millions in the cuts to Medicaid and education. It opposes a cap on real estate taxes across the board that would cripple schools and all public services throughout the state.
The Democrats also want renewal for rent control with greater renter protections, as part of the budget package. Cuomo has now endorsed the strengthened rent control for renewal as part of the budget.
Republican (and sometime Independent) Mayor Bloomberg claims a budget shortfall of $3-4 billion and proposes across-the-board department cuts of 5 percent on top of several previous cuts, except for police. The result will be the closing of 100 senior centers, of 25 fire houses, laying off 4,500 teachers and reduction by attrition of another 1,500, and the elimination of 25,000 day care placements.
Bloomberg attacks police and fire by challenging the part of their negotiated pension plan that provides a year-end payment that he calls a “bonus.” Shared sacrifice to Bloomberg also means no continuation of the surcharge or other taxes on the 70 billionaires (including himself) who live in the City, or they will move out. A recent study once again proves his contention false.
Bloomberg attempts to use alleged budget shortfalls to go after union rights that have nothing to do with budgets: attempting to destroy seniority, tenure, and civil service while also attempting to destroy the present pension system and set up a new, inferior tier. Contracting out is another tactic to weaken the public workers, which has been proven to be laden with corruption and that costs the city extra money.
Such steps by Cuomo and Bloomberg, if successful, will impact the African American, Latino, Chinese and other racially and nationally oppressed communities disproportionately. They are much more heavily represented among the poor who are more dependent on public services. One in three people in New York City are on food stamps. And, especially in the City the nationally oppressed are a high percentage of the public employees, as these were the only reasonably good jobs available to them.
Increasingly, the budget figures of Bloomberg and Cuomo are questioned. Bloomberg admits to a $3 billion “rainy day” fund.
Is not the deep, prolonged recession such a day? Tax receipts have come in $2 billion higher than expected as a result of some recovery. $1.5 billion in real estate taxes from big interests remain uncollected. Billions each year in tax abatements are given developers and big real estate interests at the city level. At the state level, the NY Times says there is an annual total of $29 billion in corporate tax credits and other tax breaks that should be studied as to whether they are “still useful.” While billionaires are supposed to pay the same tax rate as low paid workers, in fact they pay a much lower percent since they have tax lawyers and accountants and loopholes.
The upsurge in the state and city combines solidarity with Wisconsin and elsewhere and the issues described related to the budgets. There have been many demonstrations in the city and in many other large and small communities through the state. But none yet has surpassed 10,000 and there are big events coming up.
The UFT has called on its 80,000 members to wear red tee-shirts to work on March 22. The April 4 No Business as Usual Day called for by the AFL-CIO is receiving support from the Central Labor Council and many individual unions to be honored in a wide variety of ways in keeping with the legacy of Dr. King.
A large May Day demonstration is planned at Foley Square of large and small unions and the organizations concerned with immigrant rights. And in mid-June, soon before the budget deadline, District Council 37, AFSCME, a union of 130,000 city workers along with other unions, will hold a mass demonstration against the cuts.
The fightback is taking other forms. The UFT has run a long series of TV ads. The latest features an African-American parent calling attention to how layoffs will significantly increase class size and impact the education of her children and that Bloomberg has the money to avoid any layoffs and questions what his game is.
Bloomberg is financing ads in response which try to pit new and older teachers and create divisions along racial lines. At the state level, a long series of TV ads calling for passage of Cuomo’s budget are financed by an organization of the biggest Wall St. interests and every big business organization in the state, plus the head of the Construction Unions Council, which has some unions on the side of the workers, as well. A statement calling for the millionaire tax and criticizing Cuomo for lack of concern for the lives of working people has been issued by about a hundred Democratic elected officials.
The final result of these struggles is still unknown. It is likely that some of the worst attacks will be beaten back. Bloomberg will not be given the power to set up his own system for layoffs and judging teachers.
Even Cuomo was compelled to turn against him and agree to negotiations with the union to settle the matter long after the city budget is set. The cuts will not be nearly as bad as Cuomo, Bloomberg and the Republican right want but there will be some losses.
The mobiliztion of labor and its many allies, and the growth of class and democratic consciousness will not be turned back but will only grow into the next struggles and will become a major factor for the 2012 elections against the tea-baggers and the rest of the ultra right, primarily grouped in the Republican Party, as they attempt to take hold of the entire Federal and State governments.
All this creates the possibility not only to beat back the ultra-right but to advance in an anti-monopoly and democratic direction. But an even higher level of trade union unity and unity of all working people, progressives and moderates and independents will be necessary to achieve such advances.