Tens of thousands of New York City public employees, teachers, private sector workers and students joined protests on Tuesday and Wednesday against impending budget cuts, mass layoffs and rising unemployment.
On June 14, city unions organized a mass rally outside City Hall, and on June 15 private sector unions joined with teachers and other public employees in a demonstration in Brooklyn, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan. Among those marching were many out-of-work construction workers, including carpenters, ironworkers, laborers and others.
New York City’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed $600 million in cuts that would go into effect for the next fiscal year, which begins this July 1. Hardest hit by the cuts are public schools, with the proposed elimination of over 6,000 teaching positions, which includes 4,000 layoffs.
The cuts are being carried out across the board. City community colleges face a cut of $63 million. Rent subsidies are to be eliminated for 15,000 formerly homeless families. Libraries are slated for 530 layoffs, mostly librarians. Twenty fire companies are targeted for shutdown. Cutbacks are also planned in senior centers, youth programs, homeless services, elder-care programs, continuing education programs and cultural organizations.
This draconian austerity program is being proposed under conditions in which major banks on Wall Street are making huge profits, and the five richest New Yorkers, including the mayor, have seen their combined personal fortunes grow to $92 billion.
Noticeably absent from the remarks of the union officials was any mention of the name Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, who together with Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature recently passed $10 billion in budget cuts that have translated into social cutbacks and layoffs in New York City and everywhere across the state.
The governor is threatening to begin laying off 9,800 state workers if they do not accept six-year contracts loaded with concessions, including increases in employee health care costs that, according to one estimate, would cost each worker a total of $10,000. The governor has also introduced to the state legislature an inferior pension plan for all new state employees that would, among other things, raise their retirement age and increase their pension contributions. The governor’s proposal, backed by Bloomberg, would also affect city workers.
With Bloomberg’s support, Cuomo pushed through the abolition of the so-called millionaires’ tax, which imposed a small surcharge on the state’s top 2 percent of income earners, transferring an estimated $5 billion from state revenues into the coffers of New York’s wealthiest.