Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Not Going Back to Brunch

Public sector workers across multiple unions gathered on Inauguration Day to send a message to the new Biden administration that we must rebuild and fully fund our schools, our hospitals, our social programs, our transit system, and our city.

David Klassen

January 21, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share

It’s not too often that you get nurses, social workers, teachers, professors, and transit workers together in a Zoom call, let alone for a political demonstration. But given the rise of austerity policies and cuts to the public sector over decades, and in the wake of the mass protests over the summer of 2020 which underscored the urgency of investment in communities rather than cops, such a network feels natural and inevitable. A cross-section of public sector workers began gathering over Zoom and holding public webinars in Fall 2020, building to a protest and march on Inauguration Day in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, marking what we hope will become a new era of labor activism and power. 

Funneled through our immediate demand to tax the rich is a vision of a completely renewed society that serves the interests of working class people: investment in community services that rely on care rather than punitive measures, support for Black lives and Black Trans lives with a defunded and ultimately abolished police force, renewed infrastructure for public transportation with strong wages and benefits for subway and bus operators, affordable healthcare within a system that values hospital nurses and staff, and a holistic educational program that serves the public good and fully funds education workers from K-12 through college. Few union leaders were present at this rally, which was instead organized by a circle of dissident rank and file caucuses working to reform their unions internally — groups such as Local 100 Fightback within the Transport Workers Union, which represents the MTA, the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) within the UFT, which represents the Department of Education, Rank and File Action (RAFA) within the PSC, which represents the City University of New York, and DC 37 Progressives with in DC37, which represents public servants and civil service titles. Resources and support from the DSA Labor Branch and other branches of the NYC-DSA were vital in bringing these groups together.  

With the return of the Democrats, some liberals may be “going back to brunch,” but rank and file members of unions simply can’t afford to. Public sector workers were threatened with 20,000 layoffs and forced to provide $1 billion in givebacks that were stolen from promised back pay and benefits. Governor Cuomo cut state Medicaid funding by over $2 billion. Near the end of 2020, a now tenuously deferred “Doomsday Budget” threatened to ravage the public MTA subway system by firing 9,000 workers and increasing transit fares by $1. Primary school educators have been forced to return to unsafe working conditions in the midst of a pandemic, with a highly contagious variant of COVID on the loose and a shoddy and inconsistent vaccine rollout. Meanwhile the state education budget remains frozen, and the City University of New York continues to increase tuition for its majority Black and Brown working class students while depreciating the quality of education by relying increasingly on underpaid and temporary adjunct professors for instruction.

One of the many diverse and compelling speakers at the J20 march was Hannington Dia from the MTA: “The MTA lionized us, they campaigned for us. They said you’re the heroes, you keep New York City running. We see it in the stations, we see it in the Oculus, we see it all over. They’re romanticizing us as heroes. You’re the horses that pull the carts that keep the city running. But despite that, you did not give us proper PPE […]  You ignored us, while simultaneously pretending to care about us, and now 131 of us have died.”

Sean Petty, Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse (Health & Hospitals/Jacobi) observed: 

“We’ve lost at least 500 city workers to this virus. We’ve risked our lives to save others – getting people to the hospital, caring for them, educating them, and overall keeping this city running. Billionaires have sat in their suburban mansions and cashed in. We will not stand by silently while the rich benefit from years of tax breaks while our budgets get drained and our services destroyed.”

The rally and march through the streets of the Financial District on a bitingly cold winter evening in January rang with chants for worker and union power, while the normal phalanx of cops lurked in the sidelines. All who gathered hold that the transition of government power back to Democratic control cannot signal a return to apathy or apoliticism. Daniel Kroop of the newly formed Association of Legislative Employees (ALE), the NYC Council union remarked in his speech “We can’t live off promises or America ‘healing.’ We need real change.” Organizers from RAFA and MORE held a shared banner highlighting continuity between the struggles facing K-12 and college workplaces and their unions. Also present was a representative from NYCHRP (New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines), who reminded us that immigrant and undocumented workers are often on the front lines of COVID and completely sidelined in discussions of labor and representation. 

Mary Maddox from MORE gave a rousing impromptu speech: “Students, if you’re mad because your teachers are tired, and they can’t serve you and can’t give you the attention that you want and you need, we’re sorry. We’re doing our best with less than nothing. If you’re mad look up,” gesturing toward the UFT headquarters building. “Look up at Mulgrew, look up at de Blasio, look up at Cuomo, look up at these billionaires who have more money than they could ever spend.”

Speakers and posters also praised and expressed solidarity with the 1400 striking workers at Hunts Point Produce Market, who walked off the job to demand a paltry $1 an hour raise and stronger health coverage, and are facing repression by police while out in the winter cold.

While union density in the US as a whole hovers depressingly in the single digits, the percentage  of public sector workers in New York State that are unionized is over 66 percent, which means that the workers and services on the chopping block have union representation. This substantial majority also means that unions have the capacity to bring the normal functioning of the city to a grinding halt through coordinated strikes, once they truly allow the rank and file to lead. Unfortunately, public unions in New York have been loath to use their full power to protect themselves and the communities around them. But the rank and file organizers of this march are working to change that, building power within their workplaces and dissident caucuses within their unions, and are now organizing increasingly across sectors to make sure that the current crises are not resolved at the expense of the working class. More than just staving off the worst of the cuts, we are beginning to envision what a fully-funded public sector could mean for people who have witnessed nothing but the bare minimum for far too long. The credible threat of a strike is a shift in the right direction and one that will hopefully continue to spread.

The economic, political, and social situation in America was dire even before the inept ruling class response to the pandemic devastated working families. And the political response of those in power across city, state, and federal levels has been consistently inadequate for the scale of the problem. In the face of a possible eviction wave, rising unemployment, accumulating personal debt, depleted savings, and other signals of a dire economic landscape, the state has given multiple signs that they will continue to make drastic and substantial cuts to essential public services to maintain a balanced budget — a trend that will not be remedied with the new administration without unflinching public pressure and formidable worker power.

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

Teachers in NYC Pay Out of Pocket for Abortion. Healthcare Must be Accessible to All

The following is a speech by a public school teacher in NYC against the overturn of Roe v. Wade and in favor of abortion rights for all.


June 28, 2022

Republicans’ Legislation Against Drag Shows Is Part of their Anti-LGBTQ+ Agenda

Right-wing reactionaries are taking aim at drag shows as part of their attack on LGBTQ+ rights. These proposed bills will undoubtedly open the floodgates for more and more explicit attacks against queer people across the country.

Sawyer Smith

June 14, 2022

We Need a Militant Mass Movement for Reproductive Rights and We Needed It Yesterday!

We need a mass movement for abortion rights.

Mary Nicole Reeves

June 10, 2022
A hand catching grain coming from a machine.

Food, Famine, and War

If anything proves that famine and food insecurity are man-made, it is the current food crisis that is putting millions globally close to starvation.

Michael Roberts

June 7, 2022


Remain in Mexico Policy (August, 2019)

Supreme Court Allows End of “Remain in Mexico” Policy, U.S. Imperialism Continues

The Supreme Court will allow the Biden administration to end Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. The decision is a needed reprieve for asylum seekers, but make no mistake: it is nowhere near enough.

Emma Lee

July 4, 2022
On the left, Ruth Fischer, former German communist party leader. On the right, the cover of her biography by Mario Keßler.

Ruth Fischer: The Ongoing Fascination of the Ultra-left

Ruth Fischer was the chairwoman of the Communist Party of Germany in the mid-1920s, before she became a supporter of McCarthy. Her ultra-left policies continue to provoke discussions among socialists. A massive biography by Mario Keßler offers some lessons for revolutionary strategy today.

Nathaniel Flakin

July 3, 2022

Western Imperialism Expands with New Military Bases and NATO Members

The NATO summit in Madrid has expanded the alliance’s footprint — a result of the U.S. and European role in the Ukraine war, and a big win for Western imperialism. Workers must use our power to fight the U.S. and NATO agenda, without giving any support to the Putin regime.

Sam Carliner

July 1, 2022

The Court is Trying To Kill You: SCOTUS Bolsters Climate Change

The Supreme Court just gutted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s power to regulate emissions. It’s time for the climate movement to stand up and fight back against the capitalist institutions that are killing the planet.

Sam Carliner

June 30, 2022