Brooklyn, NY – This past week should have made it abundantly clear to an increasingly impotent New York City mayor looking to axe 22,000 municipal employees from their jobs and force Public School teachers back into poorly ventilated classrooms in the middle of a pandemic — that he could very well have a genuine working class rebellion erupt on his watch.
On Thursday, trade unionists, led by District Council 37 and its allies, rallied in Foley Square to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s austerity-leadened budgets cuts targeting city workers — who up until two minutes ago, were lauded as “essential” and “heroic.” The following morning, Public School employees “pissed off” with the deal the heads of the United Federation of Teachers [UFT] cut with the de Blasio administration to push back in-classroom learning a measly two-weeks in the face of ongoing COVID-19 threats, delivered mock coffins to Hizzoner’s very own doorstep in bucolic Park Slope.
The working class vitriol aimed the current mayor further undercuts conservative thinkers who want to try and paint the colloquially-named “Bill de Blah-Blah” as some kind of socialist hero.
As Assembly Member Latrice Walker [D-55th District] said in Foley Square, “[Mayor de Blasio] went from ‘Robin Hood’ to ‘robbin’ the hood.’”
“Schools are not safe,” special education teacher Jia Lee told a group of more than 50 protesters blowing horns and banging pots outside de Blasio’s home on Friday morning. “The negotiations that happened just a couple of days ago [between the de Blasio administration and the UFT], were a farce. All it did was kick the can two weeks down the line. We still don’t know what the state our our buildings are — we never got the buildings inspection report. We don’t know the status of ventilation. It’s literally going to kill us — this administration is going to kill us.”
Department of Education employees who are against the negotiated Sept. 21 return to class, are adamant that schools should not, in fact, reopen until they are fully funded and the rest of the city records 14 days without a new case of COVID-19.
“This is a matter of life and death,”New York City School Workers Solidarity Campaign organizer Flynn Murray said. “We’re not talking about testing a few parents and a few teachers every month…we’re not talking about ‘let’s see how this goes.’ This is people’s lives that we are gambling with — and this community, these parents, these teachers, these union members, these nurses — are saying no, we absolutely cannot take that risk.”
Florida, Texas and California may have surpassed New York as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, but its 441,763 recorded cases remains staggering. Some 32,673 people across New York State have succumbed to the virus so far this year, according to Reuters.
“I’m concerned the city isn’t taking into account the lack of funding that our schools have to actually make the upgrades that have been promised, and to provide the nursing staff that’s been promised,” DOE Occupational Therapist Marilena Marchetti, told me on Friday. “We’re facing massive budget cuts from the state and we’ve been threatened with with 22,000 layoffs for public employees. So, the math doesn’t add up to me, in terms of the assurances we’ve been given to reopen safely.”
One parent activist warned that COVID-19 has not disappeared from the streets of New York.
“We are not New Zealand,” she said. “We have not solved this crisis. Just because we are tired of dealing with it, doesn’t mean it’s gone. There will be no school left if we kill all our teachers. How do you think the kids are going to get to school? On the subways, on the buses, on the streets next to essential workers who are going to get sick and who are going to die.”
Protesters both in Foley Square and Park Slope demanded New York legislators abandon austerity measures on working class people and, instead, “tax the billionaires.”
CUNY-PSC President Barbara Bowen called opposition to municipal workforce cuts a “racial justice issue.”
“We know that 22,000 cut will be disproportionally people of color who serve people of color,” she said on Thursday. “Labor and the racial justice fight must be together.”
Lee further lambasted Governor Andrew Cuomo — another faux progressive laughably lionized in the corporate media as some kind of leftist powerhouse — along with corporate Democrats, and said COVID-19 is simply highlighting disparities baked into a dysfunctional and undemocratic system — one that spawns new billionaire in the midst of a global pandemic, even while working people slide further toward oblivion.
“Our schools have been neglected for decades,” the 19-year special education teacher told me. “Governor Cuomo still owes our schools through the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to the tune of $4.2 billion statewide. But at every single turn, he’s withheld those funds, in one way, shape or another, he does bait and switches with the budget.”
While corporate American benefitted from a more than $4 trillion government bailout, New York City leaders, who also can’t seem to find a way to significantly cut the NYPD’s monstrous multi-billion-dollar budget — is looking to easily cut some $2.4 billion from its eduction coffers.
“We’re going to see thousands of layoffs during a pandemic with a governor who touts himself as the great ‘COVID protector,’” Lee said. “He’s even written a book about how he’s staved COVID and got it under control. He’s actually making people who are struggling the most in our state, he’s about to make it a hundred times worse. And while we just grew about eight more billionaires in this state. [Cuomo] refused to support any tax bills that tax the rich. They don’t pay their fair share. [Cuomo] keeps blaming the federal government or [Donald] Trump for not giving federal stimulus for COVID. But we know that is a lie — there’s plenty of money in the state.”
Lee and her allies are also highly critical of UFT leadership.
“The UFT’s strategy has always been to negotiate behind closed doors with politicians and call it unionism,” Lee said. “I would describe them and basically say that our union leadership basically operates as an arm of the government — and to that end, the corporate elite. They have never issued a survey about how we’re experiencing any of these [reopening] policies. A real union takes its cue from the rank and file. Our union has not once done that.”