The Newark schools are about to be reshaped according to the avaricious, right-wing fantasies of a Christie administration that practices contempt for the poor and for minorities as a matter of policy. The “One Newark” program, despite its mainstream media hype as a means of ensuring better opportunity, is on its face a plan for closing, rather than improving, public schools and enhancing charter schools and their private sponsors. This alone should drive thousands to the streets of Newark Monday for the “day of action” designed to “reclaim our public schools.”
I am skeptical about plans for mass action, especially those led by people like Randi Weingarten the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who helped create this problem through her collaboration with the state administration last year in reaching the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) contract. Or the participation by organizations like the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) that endorsed pro-voucher Senate candidate Cory Booker, failed to produce a ground plan for Barbara Buono’s run for governor, endorsed the Camden voucher plan, and has been silent about the racist letter sent out by the Newark school administration.
We have met the enemy and he is us, said Pogo.
But the dangers of inaction are real to everyone who is not part of the one percent. If, as seems to be the future right now, the public employee unions collapse under the pressure from Republicans like Christie and Scott Walker and Democrats like Pat Quinn in Illinois, then the chance for the nation’s middle-class—especially the very old and the very young—to escape poverty in the near term are slim to none.
The Detroit bankruptcy plan is a template for the future. Instead of viewing pensions as the unpaid part of the contracts negotiated legally and in good faith, the federal courts will begin to see them as simply debts that can be dismissed as part of bankruptcy proceedings. The ultimate result undoubtedly will be, as Pope Francis has warned, death and misery for some of the newly-created poor. “Such an economy,” he wrote, “kills.”
Chicago, now, too, is trying to reduce pension benefits for public employees. Again, these rights were negotiated fairly and in good faith. They are the economic property rights of public employees and should be considered as sacred as the rights of other property owners–more so, because, unlike equity shares, pension benefits are not investments with risks known in advance. Why is it that, when corporations do anything they can to enhance profits, it is considered part of laudable American capitalism, but when retiring public employees try to hold on to their benefits, these men and women are considered greedy? They are called “you people” by corporate henchmen like Christie.
Some who are resentful of the gains made by public employees look with a kind of glee at the struggles of workers in the public sector. That’s so short-sighted. Plantation mentality. I worked for a company that promised we were “family” and would never be laid off, no matter how difficult economic times got to be. Until we were not family anymore. Until workers interfered too much with profit. Until greed won out.
The assault on the rights of public employees, the transformation of public schools into profit centers, the elimination or reduction of legitimately contracted benefits, including pensions, the assault on Social Security and Medicare—these are just steps in the march into a society so dominated by the greed of the few that either widespread misery or widespread anger is inevitable.
The pushback has to begin somewhere—or in many somewheres throughout the nation.
Monday is as good a day as any. It begins at 30 Clinton Street, Newark.