Monday, October 24, 2011

Teachers Union supports Occupy Wall Street

by Leo Casey
Leo Casey
Over the last few weeks, a small team of New York City building inspectors descended upon UFT headquarters, responding to a mysterious 311 call. Our building has been placed under police surveillance, and at times police have been posted as guards at our doors.
The One Percent appears to be a tad bit irritated by the UFT’s support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. We were one of the unions who took the lead in organizing the October 5th rally and march which brought out thousands of New York’s working people to express their solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. UFT President Mulgrew has been at Zuccotti Park a number of times, speaking to the assembly, and was joined by AFT President Weingarten on one occasion. Our headquarters are a few blocks away from Zuccotti, and we have provided space for meetings of different groups supporting OWS. We have also given over a major section of our street level space to storage for OWS, for donations of materials and supplies sent to them and for the stowing of personal belongings on the morning when Bloomberg threatened to “cleanse” Zuccotti. This was the space that the building inspectors suddenly needed to inspect.

Oh, and last weekend, we sent forty sandwiches left from our conference for charter school educators over to Zuccotti. I had not thought much of that donation until Fox Business Network senior correspondent Charles Gasparino called the UFT on Monday. It seems that Gasparino had visited Zuccotti over the weekend and decided that it was a haven for communists. And he had witnessed the masses at Zuccotti eating our sandwiches. Why, he demanded to know, was the UFT providing sustenance to violent revolutionaries? Confronted with the results of Gasparino’s crackerjack investigative reporting, I decided that it is time to confess. Yes, I authorized that sandwich smuggling operation.

Now New Yorkers are not particularly concerned with how those in the pay of Fox and parent company Newscorp spend their time, at least not until we learn that they are illegally eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of families who lost loved ones on 9-11. But can someone explain to me the purpose of spending public funds to do inspections of the UFT headquarters, and in having the police spy on who comes and goes from our building?
We do know that New York’s leading representative of the One Percent and the tenth wealthiest American according to Forbes Magazine, one Michael Bloomberg, is not so happy with our support of Occupy Wall Street. Referring to what the New York Times identified as “public sector unions,” Bloomberg opined that “their salaries come from the taxes paid by the people they’re trying to vilify.” Now Bloomberg travels in different circles than most of us, but he seems to know some educators I never met in 27 years of teaching in New York City public schools: teachers named General Electric and Bank of America, who paid no taxes this year, and teachers named Citibank, Goldman Sachs and AIG, who were given billions of dollars in bailouts out of taxes paid by New York City public school educators, among others. Indeed, all the teachers I know actually pay taxes, and have never been the beneficiary of billions of dollars in bailouts. Bloomberg’s world seems to be an alternative universe, in which black is white and white is black. And isn’t there a bit of the blurring of public office and private interest in the person of Michael Bloomberg when city building inspectors and police appear at the doors of a union that supports Occupy Wall Street?
For the record, we always thought that the reasons why the UFT supported Occupy Wall Street were not difficult to see. As a labor union and as democrats, we have deep concerns about the economic polarization of American society that has taken place over the last three decades, resulting in the growing disappearance of the middle class and corporate dominance of our political culture. We watched the unfettered greed of the One Percent send this nation into the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression,  leaving the Ninety-Nine Percent of Americans bearing the burden of the economic hard times. Meanwhile the One Percent continues to profit, with its forty percent share of the national wealth growing.
And Occupy Wall Street also strikes close to home for us. Over the last decade, public education, teachers and unions have increasingly come under attack from the One Percent. Of the top ten wealthiest Americans identified by Forbes Magazine, nine, including Michael Bloomberg, have been involved in political campaigns against public school teachers. Just consider the roster of those who have set out to strip away the rights of teachers: Walton (Wal-Mart), Murdoch (News Corp), Gates (Microsoft), Broad, Robertson, Icahn,  Fisher (the Gap), Langone (Home Depot), the Koch brothers and Bloomberg. And just think of the wealthy hedge fund managers and Wall Street speculators who are the money and the power behind organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform and Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies. Our own experience as teachers gives a particular resonance to the slogan “We are the Ninety-Nine Percent.
Leo Casey is vice president of academic high schools for the United Federation of Teachers. He is a New York City native and the son of two New York City public school teachers. He continues to teach a class in global studies every day at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan. He is a regular contributor to Dissent’s Arguing the World blog. This post originally appeared on Edwize, the UFT’s blog.
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