Friday, May 30, 2014

As Labor Lays Dying

For the first time in anyone’s memory, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently met with actual public school teachers. Sandwiched between three vociferous rallies against the Lobbyist for the Students and his slimy associates, Cuomo played the Who, me?” card at the meeting, feigning ignorance about the slow-bleed of his tax cap and charter schools. While the governor may indeed be clueless about the pedagogical implications of his asinine reforms, he’s well-aware of whom his policies benefit—the richest Americans presently pilfering public education and splintering his campaign war chest. With Wisconsin Governor and collective-bargaining slayer Scott Walker jetting into New York City next month to fund raise for Republican candidate Rob Astorino, teachers across New York lack any reason to vote for either major party in this year’s gubernatorial farce election. The Working Families Party could soon add itself to this list should the party of so-called progressives vote to endorse Cuomo at their convention this weekend.  

Similar to Walker and other plutocratic politicians, Cuomo views labor as a nuisance, wishing for nothing more than a Supreme Court ruling against public sector unions in the case of Harris v. Quinn. Unlike Walker, however, Cuomo needs unions (for now) to help inflate his ballooning political ambitions should they hover toward the White House. As a Democrat, Cuomo seeks the support of labor in order to tout his liberal credentials on the national stage. Since New York’s largest teachers union (NYSUT) dictates the AFL-CIO's endorsement for governor, expect to see more sit-downs between Cuomo and teachers in the coming months. The union should work to make these meetings public, inviting any other "thought leaders" to attend.    

Christmas could come early for Cuomo, however, as the Supreme Court will soon rule on Harris v. Quinn. With the swing vote in the hands of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently seemed to argue in favor of collective bargaining, the Court is poised to castrate the labor movement with the stroke of a pen. Like a zombie infestation, free-loading union members would stagger from the shadows, desperate to save a few dollars on dues with charter school CEOs salivating on the sidelines.  Public sector unions and the horses they rode in on would soon wither and swirl beneath the shadow of Cuomo’s presidential balloon. With labor no longer a political factor, politicians of all parties would now compete for the highest corporate bidder. Workers would lose what voice they had amid a system representing the few instead of the many.

Quick to issue ultimatums to teachers about how they should be evaluated, Cuomo and others have failed to issue similar ultimatums about one of the most important issues of our time—campaign finance reform.  After all, why should they? Those in power realize the game is rigged for the richest, and only flirt with reform in hopes of winning the devotion of political parties and unions across the spectrum. In the end, Cuomo knows he only needs the support of the rich to survive, and will throw up as many roadblocks as it takes before a bill to truly get money out of politics arrives on his desk. 

Sadly, many of the working families who proudly support teachers have succumbed to Cuomo’s fiscal succubus, buying into his bloviations while inadvertently deepening the chasm of inequality across the state. Rather than cowering before Cuomo, these families must rally for public education.  Cuomo views education as merely a means to an end, however, and should unions come to an end, he’ll find other means. 
With crucial issues at stake in the election, NYSUT leadership continues to pace the sidelines, serving tepid cups of tea to membership about Cuomo.  Now is the time for NYSUT to lead the charge against Cuomo, Astorino, and all other voices on the take. New York’s teachers are poorly served by labor leaders reluctant to even shout Cuomo’s name at a rally, or print his name in a newspaper.

The power of unions resides in the voices of the many, drowning out those of the few. It is within labor's power to raise a candidate to political office willing to fight for workers. Unfortunately, NYSUT and other unions today see it as the other way around, pleading for a seat at the kiddies table instead. Those truly fighting for kids should be the adults in the room, however, and it is up to them to advocate for public education before our democracy no longer permits it.