Milwaukee teachers, students, parents march against cuts

Photo: Milwaukee Teachers Education Association

Photo: Milwaukee Teachers Education Association

Hundreds of members of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, students and community supporters protested in Milwaukee April 18 to end cuts to K-12 and higher education, protest toxic testing and charter schools, and demand adequate resources and services for teachers, staff, students and communities.

The April 18 demonstration is part of a series of mass protests since January when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his 2015-17 austerity budget. They are a continuation of the people’s occupation of the state Capitol in 2011. The effects of the 2013-2015 state budget, which included the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin history, are now painfully felt in every city, town and village. The vast majority of the state’s poor and working people are demanding: Hands off public education!

The 2015-17 proposed austerity budget, like the previous one, attacks every sector of the working class and oppressed, including environmental and prevailing wage laws, unemployment insurance, FoodShare benefits, senior care, project labor agreements and public education. Wall Street organizations such as Americans For Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heritage Foundation are fast attempting to eviscerate progressive Wisconsin laws won decades ago through mass struggle.

On behalf of Wall Street, Walker is now proposing at least a $300 million cut to the 26-campus, world-renowned University of Wisconsin System. He also wants to sever the system from legislative control and replace it with a “public authority” body. Although Walker hasn’t revealed specifics, research suggests the governor would appoint all board members of the public authority, leading to even more privatization of the UW System.

Supporters of public education have grave concerns about how these moves would affect state employees. Once jobs are outsourced to private employers at below-poverty wages and inferior or no benefits, those workers would not be eligible for state pensions and health care systems. That would destroy the civil service system and strip tens of thousands of employees of hard-won rights.

The proposed budget cuts would also impose hardships on working-class students, students of color, women and lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer students who already faced tuition increases under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Now the UW System faces limited academic offerings, program closures and staff layoffs.

Education is a human right!

But faculty, staff, students and community supporters of the UW System are not accepting these austerity cuts. The proposals have sparked resistance at UW campuses and beyond statewide.

Protests have been mounted by such organizations as UW Students Against Education Cuts, the UWM Coalition of Progressive Organizations, United Council, Youth Empowered in the Struggle and numerous faculty senates. Unions such as American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents UW System faculty and state employees, and a wide array of labor, community and African-American organizations are coalescing to beat back these attacks.

Youth and student led protests have taken place at UW Green Bay, UW Stevens Point, UW Madison, UW Milwaukee, UW Eau Claire and other campuses. More are being organized. Solidarity is being built among many struggles, including public education, low-wage workers, the fight against police terror and union busting.

Ben Herrenbruck, a student at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and a member of Fight Imperial­ism, Stand Together (FIST), is participating in many of these protests.

“Education is a human right and should be free. The bankers, corporate thieves and their political servants fear us … around this slogan because it suggests a fundamental connection among various struggles. More are beginning to realize that austerity in education has the same root cause as other attacks, including police terror against Black, Brown and other oppressed peoples; union busting; low-wages; and imperialist war. The root cause is capitalism. As our resistance takes on an increasingly anti-capitalist character, it’s possible to form bonds of solidarity with all sectors of the 99% against the common enemy, Wall Street.”

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