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Against backdrop of recession & war

CUNY workers, students demand decent contract, no budget cuts

By Milt Neidenberg
New York

On Dec. 5, a short distance from the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the deafening clang of giant cranes dumping tons of twisted metal into long lines of dump trucks, hundreds of students poured out of their classrooms at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a branch of the City University of New York.

They joined instructors--part time and full time, adjuncts and tenured--and staff in protest to tell the government that quality education will not be buried in the dust and debris at Ground Zero.

The AFL-CIO Professional Staff Congress, which is affiliated with the Federation of Teachers, organized the Dec. 5 march and rally.

Speaker after speaker at the rally challenged the Bush administration, Gov. George Pataki and lame-duck Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about their lack of commitment to education. Students and faculty chanted, carried signs and marched around the campus. They demanded their share of the $20 billion that President George Bush promised as aid for New York City after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

The militant protest resulted from PSC frustration with the administration's intransigence regarding the union's demand for economic justice. PSC members have worked without a contract since July 31, 2000.

PSC President Barbara Bowen, who represents 9,000 members on 20 campuses, said CUNY has operated on an austerity budget for the last 10 years. For more than a year the PSC has fought Giuliani and Pataki's attempts to slash CUNY's budget. Now students and union members face a bare-bones budget.

Bowen also protested at a Nov.12 Board of Trustees hearing about further cuts in the CUNY budget. She asked the board: "Where do you plan to trim? Crowding more students into classrooms when some are already sitting in the halls to hear the class? ... Squeezing even more work out of employees who already put in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime?"

Bowen has consistently emphasized that the struggles for a decent contract, to stop the CUNY budget cuts and to win more money for education must be joined to force the city university to provide quality education.

These budget cuts have a racist character. The tens and thousands of students who attend CUNY are overwhelmingly African American and Latino. They include many single parents and students who also hold jobs. Many come from poor and oppressed communities, determined to get a quality education to break the cycle of poverty that has plagued their lives and the lives of their families.

Other students of color also face major hardships. Starting next semester, undocumented immigrant students will be charged higher tuition--an estimated $7,000 a year. This doubles the tuition fee for more than 3,000 immigrant students.

A Nov. 28 student protest at CUNY's Hunter College described these cuts that will so deeply affect students from other countries as an anti-immigrant "war purge."

Since the war began on Oct. 7, CUNY administrators, along with other campus administrators across the country, have turned international students in to the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other repressive agencies.

There is a growing consensus among the more active and politically conscious students that the fight against the CUNY administration is connected with the fight to oppose the U.S. war against Afghanistan. And Barbara Bowen has taken a courageous anti-war position.

Money for education and
decent contracts

The 80,000 members of the United Federation of Teachers--the teachers of the city's public-school system--are in the same boat as the PSC. They haven't had a contract since November 2000.

Their students, also diverse and multinational, are huddled in overcrowded classrooms without materials for a decent education. Special education and after-school programs have already suffered cuts.

When UFT President Randi Weingarten demanded a 22.7-percent wage increase that would create parity with teachers in the surrounding suburbs, Giuliani called her unpatriotic and selfish. Giuliani was protecting the profits of Wall Street bankers, who are guaranteed 15 to 20 cents out of every dollar of the city budget for debt service while everyone else has to scramble for funding.

Neither patriotism nor sacrifice is on the minds of these bankers and their puppet-politicians. What is: getting their greedy hands on the billions of dollars that will be coming down the pipeline to redevelop the World Trade Center and the financial center surrounding the bombed-out property. Recently, they formed an enterprise called the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation, to get every cent of money they can from upcoming redevelopment funding.

Pataki appointed John C. Whitehead to head the corporation. Whitehead is the former co-chair of Goldman Sachs, a globally powerful investment bank with political and economic influence that extends from the United States to many governments abroad. He is a former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York--the bank that has considerable power in determining the government's monetary policies. He was also a top State Department official.

Other members of the new corporation include Richard A. Grasso, chair of the New York Stock Exchange. The redevelopment corporation is charged with overseeing all aspects of revitalizing and rebuilding lower Manhattan, and miles beyond ground zero.

These financiers will constitute a shadow government whose political and economic clout will be felt across the United States.

This is a time of a deepening recession. Unemployment, increased hunger and homelessness are rising at an alarming rate. But in the face of demands to increase wages, benefits, and social services such as education, the Bush-Pataki-Giuliani axis, on behalf of these financiers and industrialists, cites the budget deficit, patriotism and sacrifice for the needs of wartime funding.

A foment of struggle is developing in schools and colleges in New York City. The protest needs to spread into the streets of New York to confront Wall Street over funding for quality education, not for war.

Reprinted from the Dec. 20, 2001, issue of Workers World newspaper

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