The Attack on Public Services

June 19, 2012
By Barbara Kestenbaum Contributor: John Stern

As a retired AFSCME Local 372 delegate and shop steward of DC 37 who worked in Special Education for the NYC Department of Education for over 23 years, I am furious about the continuing onslaughts against public service unions in my city and cities across our nation.

At a time when child poverty—so shameful and completely unnecessary—is at an all-time high, our administration is trying to push through a NYC budget that will dramatically reduce public child care and after school programs, which have greatly enriched the lives of thousands of children. The people who do the work for these children are mostly in union jobs. The average salary for these workers is $28,000 a year, plus health benefits. The jobs provide steady and indispensable incomes to many people—including single parents—enabling them to put food on the table and live with dignity. But the city has put forth a new program called EarlyLearn, which will fund a number of many for-profit child care centers. Its goal is to enable some people to profit from a public need by eliminating the public sector union jobs of 2,000 workers!

The drive to privatize public services in the U.S. comes from the contemptuous idea that profits for the few are more important than what millions of people need and deserve. Therefore, how our tax revenues are allocated is determined not by what people need and deserve, but by how much profit some well-connected people can make. Eli Siegel—educator, critic, and founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism—asked these emergent questions:

“To whom does the wealth of America belong?,” and “What does a person deserve by being a person?” As someone who cares about the people of this great, diverse city—including our children—I will do all I can to oppose the ugliness of robbing children of their right to the full care they need.

There is terrific opposition to the Mayor’s plans. For example if child care services are cut, many working mothers–some of whom are the sole providers for their children will be unable to continue earning a living. On May 25th, a delegation of our city’s children delivered more than 5,000 letters to City Hall, urging that the city revoke the EarlyLearn program, which will close Head Start and other childhood programs, and result in the further loss of jobs. I was proud to take part in a rally at City Hall Park on May 31st, and thrilled to hear Raglan George, Jr., DC 1707‘s executive director, state:

“EarlyLearn is wrong and must be scrapped. More than 100 day care and Head Start sponsors who have built the futures of our children have been tossed to the side because the Mayor wants to open the door to privatized child care, no matter who it hurts.”

What is happening in New York City is happening across America, as the Huffington Post reports:

“The debate over child care comes at a critical time for children. Over the last decade, child poverty has increased by 18 percent, according to a report last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and one in four children in New York live beneath the poverty line….New York is hardly the only battleground for debates over child care. Wisconsin’s Republican representative Paul Ryan’s recent budget proposal called for massive cuts to the early childhood program Head Start.”

What does a city owe its citizens, including its little ones? In her commentary to the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Chairman of Education, describes the battles taking place in New York and across our nation:

“The big fight raging in New York right now is about the question: Does New York exist to have a good effect on the people living in it, or does it exist to be used for the financial profit of some persons while others struggle?”

And she writes further about this fight as to education:

“There has been the effort to privatize our education system—and to remove funding from public education, for the purpose of making public schools seem to fail. Though they won’t admit it, the basis of this drive to put education increasingly in private hands is the privatizers’ view that schools should exist first of all so certain persons can accrue a lot of money from them—not so that New York’s children can learn about the world, with its letters, science, mathematics, literature, history.”

To continue reading, click here: The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, No. 1815.

Every American deserves an economy that is fair to the needs of each individual and all persons. Strong unions are necessary for this to be.

June 19, 2012

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