May 2011 Issue
April 21, 2011

From the president's desk: Collective action ignites a movement

Author: Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United

Spring signals a rebirth — a rebirth, not only in nature but, as the cold, hard winter recedes from memory, a rebirth in our spirit. The themes of spring and rebirth also serve as metaphors for a new energy and urgency gripping the labor movement around the country.

This issue of NYSUT United reports on the AFL-CIO's "We Are One" rally, where more than 15,000 union members jammed the streets of New York, stretching from Times Square down Seventh Avenue for more than five blocks. NYSUT is proud to have played a critical role in initiating, organizing and leading the rally.

The rally culminated a week of protests and demonstrations in every corner of New York and throughout the U.S. Despite efforts by anti-union forces to try to drive a wedge between private and public sector union members, dozens of rallies drew tens of thousands of union members — electricians, health professionals, carpenters, government employees, auto workers and throngs of educators from our classrooms and colleges.

Many were veterans of years of demonstrations against injustice, but politicians should take careful note: Thousands of young workers — those who entered classrooms or joined their trades in the last five or 10 years — also took their place in the proud lines of unionists speaking up and speaking out.

The Times Square rally and dozens like it sent a clear message to elected officials, reminding them that the labor anthem, "Solidarity Forever," doesn't mean solidarity when convenient. The words resounding through the canyons of Seventh Avenue were aimed at every politician, Democrat and Republican: If you wait for an election year to stand shoulder to shoulder with organized labor, you'll be standing alone.

In too many states, politicians are aiming to dismantle the core of collective bargaining, shifting even greater power — and wealth — into the hands of their political backers. But Gov. Scott Walker's assault on organized labor in Wisconsin, instead of disheartening workers, provided a spark that is turning a moment into a movement.

The battle certainly isn't confined to Wisconsin and the Midwest. The battle rages in the Northeast and here in New York as well. We see tax breaks for the wealthy while poor school districts see their state aid frozen or cut. We see attacks on collective bargaining and attempts to destroy the fairness created by seniority. And, in the corridors of our state Capitol, we see attacks on public employees, on due process, on compensation and on pensions.

Unfortunately, the battle will be played out again in at least some school districts around the state where unscrupulous school boards and administrations will try to use the May 17th budget vote to cut costs by eliminating positions and programs vital to today's students. It will be critical for voters to be given the information needed to understand which budgets are good for kids and which are designed to hurt kids.

Yes, warm breezes are upon us — a welcoming sign of spring. But the winds of change are here as well: change aimed at pushing back against the bluster of selfishness and greed; change aimed at a rebirth for equity and fairness — carried by the fresh winds of collective action.