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On the picket line

March 9, 2007 | Pages 14 and 15

Cook County budget cuts
New York City teachers
University of California-Santa Cruz

Cook County budget cuts
By Jesse Sharkey

CHICAGO--Despite a hard-fought campaign by unionized health workers and community activists, the Cook County board approved a budget that will cut 1,155 health care workers, close 13 school-based health clinics and eliminate such crucial programs as infectious disease control from the prisons.

Cook County President Todd Stroger's office says the budget will eliminate 2,193 jobs countywide.

The campaign against the cuts included pickets, rallies, and a card- and letter-writing campaign by school kids. The National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), which represents some 2,000 Cook County registered nurses, called the cuts "heartless" and "immoral" and vowed a fight.

The Cook County health system delivers virtually all the public health services in Chicago, from public emergency rooms that turn no one away to walk-in clinics where thousands have their only access to primary care doctors. "It's going to cause death to patients," said NNOC member Batu Shakari at a die-in organized in front of the commissioners' meeting March 1.

As part of the protests, nurses lay on the ground and held paper tombstones while Dr. Vietta Johnson of Provident Hospital explained, "Care to women and children is in severe jeopardy, it's been eliminated."

The Cook County budget survived a challenge from a coalition of commissioners who tried to lessen the cuts by raising some taxes and targeting patronage jobs. But ultimately these challenges could not overcome the Democratic Party machine--which made an alliance with Republican commissioners to pass the budget.

Pushing the cuts was Todd Stroger, who inherited his office from his father, Democratic Party machine honcho John Stroger, who won his primary fight last year while incapacitated by a stroke. Stroger the elder then handed office to his son, who won the general election by painting his opponent as a "Bush-style Republican" who would slash services.

But if Todd Stroger was the lesser evil, it sure will be hard to tell for the thousands of front-line county employees slashed by his budget and the poor and working class people whose access to health care will be sharply curtailed.

The NNOC as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson are threatening civil lawsuits to stop the cuts.

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New York City teachers
By John Yanno, UFT

NEW YORK--Members of the 100,000-strong United Federation of Teachers (UFT) will get a chance to show their dissatisfaction and anger with their current union leadership's strategy in union-wide elections this month.

Two opposition caucuses, Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC), have joined forces to run a slate of candidates challenging UFT president Randi Weingarten and her Unity caucus that has controlled the union since 1962.

A TJC leaflet asks teachers, "Are you better off than you were three years ago?" when Weingarten was re-elected as president. "The answer is no."

Teachers pay more for prescription drugs and health care. The 2005 contract increased a teacher's workweek by 50 minutes in addition to the 100 extra minutes added to the workweek in the previous contract. Teachers have lost the right to grieve negative letters and observations in their files, and senior teachers lost much of their seniority rights.

Meanwhile, teachers' pay increases lag behind inflation. Between 1999 and 2005, the cost of an average apartment in NYC increased by 50 percent while pay for teachers increased only 34 to 40 percent.

How do Weingarten and the Unity caucus get away with bargaining away teachers' rights? Through scare tactics.

In 2005, Weingarten told teachers that if they didn't accept the contract, there would be no pay raises until 2009 when current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term expires. Weingarten also told members that the UFT was not prepared to strike.

TJC urged the UFT to instead prepare for an effective strike and picketed the UFT Delegate's Assembly to urge its members to vote no on the disastrous contract.

The ICE-TJC slate promises to democratize the UFT, cutting UFT officer and staff salaries to the same level rank-and-file members receive. Additionally, ICE-TJC will fight for lower class sizes and to increase the salaries for paraprofessionals and secretaries.

While the ICE-TJC slate is up against the Unity caucus's vastly greater resources and access to the membership (including the large number of retirees who vote), the campaign can help build a militant rank-and-file movement.

Kit Wainer, ICE-TJC presidential candidate, said that this election was to "inspire, organize, listen to and learn from" UFT members. "We aim to use the election to build a rank-and-file movement of members who understand that a union is not just a law firm or a dental plan," he said.

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University of California-Santa Cruz
By Jessica Shakarian

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--More than 100 students and AFSCME union members attended a Wages Not War rally February 15 at the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC). The action combined an antiwar message with labor's "Where's the Love?" rally for the long overdue wages promised by University President Robert Dynes.

This year, Students Against War (SAW) united with AFSCME to highlight the connection between the rising military spending and the attacks on the working class at home.

The rally began at noon, with speakers from SAW and AFSCME leading protesters in a march to the UCSC chancellor's office. Several people made inspirational speeches about how money for workers' wages is instead going into the war in Iraq. They argued that organization is necessary for people to build solidarity to end the war abroad and fight for justice at home.

This solidarity walkout was part of a larger partnership with activists at other UC campuses and colleges around the country.

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