On Thursday, May 5, the PSC will hold our biggest demonstration this year, and our first for a new contract. We will meet at City Hall at 4:00 pm and march to Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street. We are marching from City Hall to BMCC to link our opposition to budget cuts for CUNY with our demand for a fair contract. If you have a stake in either, you should be there.
One of the lessons from Wisconsin is that numbers matter. Even though the outcome remains uncertain, the protests in Wisconsin changed the political landscape far beyond that state. What made the difference was not just the brave and brilliant action of the teaching assistants’ union, whose members started the occupation of the Capitol. Nor was it the speeches by celebrities and union leaders. It was the sheer number of people – many of whom had never been to a demonstration before – who took a stand in the most personal way: being there.
I am asking you to be there on May 5. Power is built one person at a time, and the PSC has probably never needed power more than we do now. We are marching on May 5 to make our power visible to the city, to the CUNY Administration and to each other. With nearly 25,000 members, the PSC is one of the city’s major unions. On May 5, we need to think big.
We get there by starting small. Behind every demonstration are thousands of individual decisions to take action. Make that individual decision, if there’s any way you can, for May 5. Join hundreds of your colleagues who have rearranged their schedules to stand up with you. Don’t allow the outcome of our contract negotiations or the budget decisions to be determined without your voice. If you have a vision for CUNY and for your own professional life, we need you there.
On May 5, Mayor Bloomberg is scheduled to announce his executive budget. His preliminary budget already demands deep cuts to CUNY, and we expect more of the same in the final proposal. We are marching on May 5 to oppose the mayor’s austerity budget and demand a restoration of CUNY funds.
Budgets represent political choices, and the choice expressed in the mayor’s budget is clear. In the state with the greatest income-inequality in the country, CUNY is one of the few means of moving out of poverty. For thousands of students, Mayor Bloomberg’s budget would block that route. We are marching to call for an end to the war on CUNY.
We are marching on May 5 to puncture the myth of economic austerity. Wall Street profits are soaring and CEO salaries regularly top $20 million. There is plenty of wealth in the US, but it is distributed more unequally than at almost any time in our modern history.
New York State did not need to pass an extreme austerity budget. By closing tax loopholes and implementing a more progressive fiscal policy, the State could have avoided many of the cuts. Yet Albany gave a five billion dollar tax break to the richest 3% of New Yorkers – and paid for it by slashing funds for children, the elderly, the sick, the poor and CUNY. That doesn’t make economic sense, because it will not help to revive the economy; and it doesn’t make moral sense, because it blatantly transfers public wealth from the poor and the middle class to the rich. Budgets in other years have been worse for CUNY, but few have screamed injustice as loudly.
The cuts are “racist, classist and sexist,” as PSC member Heidi Lopez said in her testimony last month at City Hall. They disproportionately affect women, people of color, the poor and the working class – exactly the population that counts on CUNY for a chance of a different life. Every dollar cut from the University budget means a loss in the quality of students’ education: a professor who is so overworked that she has no time to spend with individual students, a dilapidated building that is not repaired, a class that’s too big to teach well. There is still a chance that the State budget can be amended before the tax break goes into effect: we are marching on May 5 to demand a modification of Albany’s immoral budget.
The myth of economic austerity also threatens our contract negotiations. We are marching on May 5 to show the CUNY administration we will not accept an austerity contract. Six months after the expiration of our last contract, we still have no economic offer and no contract proposals from CUNY. Informal talks about non-economic issues are making some progress, but CUNY has not yet proposed any money for salary increases or other economic needs. Meanwhile, a war on public workers is raging nationwide, and both Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo are threatening to use the excuse of economic crisis to force concessions from public-employee unions. The PSC is taking a stand for a contract that does not give in to the false premise of austerity.
PSC members have told us you do not want the bargaining team to move forward with a contract until there are real economic increases, but you have also told us you cannot wait indefinitely. If CUNY is to remain competitive nationally, salaries must continue to rise. Our other demands become more urgent as funding shrinks and enrollment climbs.
CUNY’s reliance on underpaid adjunct labor to teach half its courses is the scandal at the heart of the University. The demand to fix this system is growing, and it is being voiced by full-timers – and students – as well as adjuncts themselves. Class size and teaching loads are becoming dysfunctional; both of these must be addressed if our students’ education is not to suffer. And the logjam of promotion for higher education officers must be broken: when capable employees find a roadblock obstructing their careers, the University suffers. We are marching on May 5 to demonstrate support for our contract demands and our support for each other.
Above all, we are marching on May 5 to build power for May 6, May 7, and beyond. We will need that power, for we are up against well-financed opponents when we challenge the lie of austerity and demand economic justice. But each act of resistance helps to loosen the grip of that lie. The most important thing we can do on May 5 is allow ourselves to be changed by action; we may be surprised at what we become able to do.