Monday, May 2, 2011

Teachers, students unite to protest budget cuts

By Ben Carroll
Raleigh, N.C.
Published May 1, 2011 6:59 AM

After suffering years of deep budget cuts that have wiped nearly $10 billion from the public sector and facing even more devastating cuts this year, workers and students from across North Carolina have set May 3 for a showdown over the budget.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the teachers’ union with more than 60,000 members statewide, put out the call for a rally for public education at the state General Assembly when it meets in Raleigh on May 3. The call was quickly and enthusiastically picked up across the state. Many different organizations and coalitions that have been organizing to defend the public sector are planning to mobilize their members to be there as well. Organizers from the NCAE are projecting that between 5,000 and 10,000 people will attend.

Students and young people are also making a big push to mobilize for the May 3 demonstration, to stand in solidarity with the teachers and public workers, and fight back against the cuts. The NC Defend Education Coalition, a broad statewide education justice coalition, has been heading up the student organizing efforts. Representatives from the coalition have met with the Association of Student Governments of the University of North Carolina system, which gave general support for the action, and have been in discussion with many other organizations across the state.

“We are really excited for the demonstration on May 3 and have been working with a number of organizations from across the state to turn out students and young people,” said Bryan Perlmutter, a student at N.C. State University and an organizer with the coalition. “We have heard from high school students, university students from nearly every UNC system school and as far away as Pembroke, Boone and Asheville. They are all coming on May 3. We recognize that now is the time we must take a united stand to stop these cuts to education and all public services.”

The coalition is organizing a “Student and Youth Rally for Education and All Public Services” that will gather at the N.C. State Bell Tower at 3 p.m. to march through downtown and join the main rally at the Legislature at 4 p.m.

NCAE posters advertising the demonstration list the time for the rally as “4 p.m. until.” There has been much discussion about various actions that may take place that day, with the fighting examples of workers and students in Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere in the forefront of people’s minds.

The demonstration could not come at a more appropriate time. The N.C. House will be in session that evening in order to approve their draconian budget by the following day. Dominated by right-wing and Tea Party forces, the House budget cuts more than $1 billion from education, slashes more than 15,000 state workers’ jobs, and includes deep cuts in or actually eliminates many vital social services. This is coupled with proposals to privatize many services that the state now provides, eliminate the cap on charter schools in the state and lower N.C.’s corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 4.9 percent — the third lowest in the country.

Ana Maria Reichenbach, a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an organizer with Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society, is outraged. “All these corporations are making record profits, banks are sitting on trillions of dollars, and the U.S. is dropping bombs on Libya, yet we are told that there is no money for education, jobs or other things that people need,” she noted. “Now is the time that students and young people, workers and everyone from the community need to stand together to fight back against these cuts they are proposing and demand that they tax the rich and corporations.”

May 3 will be an important step forward in the movement to fight back against these austerity measures and budget cuts. It carries added significance in the U.S. South because North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country and one of only two states that make it explicitly illegal for public workers to collectively bargain, through a Jim Crow-era law, GS 95-98.

It is exactly this kind of collective, determined and bold action by workers and students that is needed in this period to push back these attacks on the public sector and build a fighting movement to win.
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