President's perspective

This is what democracy looks like

mulgrew.jpgMichael Mulgrew, UFT President THANK YOU.

Thank you, UFT members, for all that you did to help win a more equitable tax structure in New York State and secure an additional $2 billion in revenue for next year’s budget. There is no way it would have happened without the incredibly hard work that the members of this great union did to fight for the children of our city. After three years of devastating budget cuts, next year’s state budget will have an increase — $800 million — in education funding.

You are heroes in the lives of countless children whose prospects in life will be made a little better through this action. Whether it’s one more teacher added to a school bringing class sizes down, an after-school program restored, enough textbooks to go around or more support for English language learners, the beginning of the budget restoration that the Albany tax agreement enabled will have concrete benefits for our students.

All year the UFT fought to stem the tide of harmful budget cuts. We — and above all, you, as classroom educators — knew we could not take one more year of cuts, and our attitude was “whatever it takes” to keep children from further harm. The UFT was in the streets — on May 12, with a massive march on Wall Street, on Oct. 5, on Nov. 17 as part of a huge day of actions, and again on Dec. 1 — and on the phones, too. In fact, in just days UFT members organized more than 80 phone banks as word spread earlier this month that a new tax structure was being debated in the state capital.

UFT members also made a big difference by documenting and showing the world what the budget cuts have done to our children. A record number of chapters responded to our budget survey and we were able to show people exactly what the cuts have done — from increased class sizes to cuts in music, art and special education. You made “budget cuts” something more than an abstraction: You put a face on them — many faces, indeed, the faces of children who have paid for these cuts at far too high a cost.

All of this great effort unfolded just as similar reactions to the excesses of greed and wealth and skewed government policies reached a boiling point across the country. From the Wisconsin state capitol to Zuccotti Park, 2011 has turned out to be the year that people said “enough.” UFT members perhaps helped inspire this new movement; certainly they contributed to its victories and are now a part of something bigger that is demanding fundamental change in the way our city, state and nation are run.

In November, voters in Ohio (with help from UFT members) decisively rebuked Republican legislators by defeating an anti-worker bill, while voters in Maine reinstated same-day voter registration that Republicans had repealed in an effort to reduce voter turnout. These developments, along with the moves toward greater tax fairness here in New York, make this perhaps the most politically hopeful moment in years.

But our work is far from over. Indeed, it has just begun — the growth in inequality and the devastation of the economy caused by the excesses of Wall Street will take a lot more work to fix. In Washington, political stalemate is still the order of the day and an urgently needed jobs bill is nowhere near passage. In Albany, there are still gaps that need to be filled, equitably, in the upcoming budget.

And in New York City, City Hall has yet to get the message that more cuts are not the answer. The mayor has called for a 6 percent cut for all city agencies, including the DOE, in next year’s budget. This is both morally and economically indefensible. The city ended last year with a $3.7 billion surplus, even though the mayor spent most of the year insisting that teacher layoffs were necessary. In fact, the mayor has cried wolf about big deficits every year, and every year the city has had a surplus.

Now, with new state revenue in sight as well as another city surplus on the horizon, the mayor once again wants us to believe he has no choice except to continue to balance the budget on the backs of city students and working and poor people.

Enough is enough! And again, thank you for everything that you do. Happy holidays and have a great new year.

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