Defending public education in the USA
A NEW movement of students and education workers has erupted against vicious budget cuts in public education across the USA. On 4 March student and public sector union activists organised protests. Below are reports from Socialist Alternative (CWI) activists, many of whom played leading roles in their areas.
Leon Pinsky reports from New York:
Over 700 students, transit workers, school teachers, left activists and socialists held a day of action to defend public education, mass transit jobs and to fight massive budget cuts proposed by state and city hall officials. Several unions endorsed the action, linking their struggles against attempts to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis.
Over 100 people protested outside City Hall, then marched to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hearing, chanting: "From NY to California - Save our schools!" and "Hands off my MetroCard!", a reference to the cancellation of free MetroCards for students.
In Boston, Genevieve Morse reports: Students on three campuses in the University of Massachusetts held rallies and teach-ins to discuss and take action against crippling budget cuts.
Socialist Alternative helped organise the rally and teach-in at UMass Boston. About 150 people rallied for two hours chanting slogans like: "We don't want no corporation, we want our education" and: "Education under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"
During the teach-in, about 75 students, union activists and community members agreed to campaign against administration members such as Robert Manning, chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, who says UMass is "privatising whether we like it or not," and the president of the UMass system who got a bonus after asking all the unions on all the campuses to take further concessions in their contracts!
In Olympia in Washington state, Ben Gallup reports: Our protest began with a funeral ceremony, with a coffin, eulogies for education, jobs, health care, etc. and a funeral procession to the state capitol with 25 to 30 cars, whose windows had messages like, "R.I.P. Education ... the bankers got all the bailouts".
At the capitol they wouldn't let us bring in the coffin but eventually let us in. But when protesters started singing "Amazing Grace," but with new leftist lyrics, they kicked us out.
In Seattle, Aditi Kaushik reports: Socialist Alternative organised a day of action involving around 85 people to save public education at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC).
A speaker explained how public education faced cuts of $90 million in Washington state and how the Democrats had proven to be "loyal servants of big business." Her speech, and that of speaker Philip Locker, rejected the Democrats' excuse that there was no money. Big banks were given bailouts and the war machine kept running, while public education and social services were attacked.
Logan Steele and Ramy Khalil report that the rally at Western Washington University spearheaded by Socialist Alternative drew over 50 students and workers eager to protest against the state government's proposed tuition hikes and cuts to campus services and jobs.
They marched to the college president's office and presented him with 200 signatures on petitions against education cuts.
When a working-class Latino student asked if the president would issue a public statement against the tuition hikes, he replied "no." He also claimed it was not politically realistic or popular for politicians to tax the wealthy.
He gets a $300,000 salary annually, $25,000 for stock investments, and a house - all paid for by our tuition and taxes.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Marlon Pierre-Antoine reports: Socialist Alternative organised a rally at Kirkwood Community College. That evening, local radio stations reported that the struggle of the students and workers was alive in Iowa and that there are those in the state saying 'no' to the endless tide of cuts, hikes and layoffs.
In Minneapolis, Brandon Madsen reports: Over 200 people rallied at the University of Minnesota, where youth, students, and university workers spoke out against budget cuts and tuition hikes and joined a march.
The demonstration was built by campus and community groups. Also present were union members of SEIU Local 26, fresh from a bitter contract struggle with the cleaning companies.
During the march, chants included: "Chop from the top!". This demonstration showed the potential to build around anti-cuts, pro-affordable education demands, and reflects a changed situation from last year, when the mood to fight budget cuts was less.