April Fools! CUNY’s Budget Reveals the Folly of Lobbying

A lobbying proponent entreats the Board of Trustees, in vain.

The verdict is in. After over a year of PSC’s (latest) costly and time-consuming effort to lobby “progressive” politicians and the Board of Trustees to enlarge CUNY’s budget, the new budget dropped on April 1st. To say it is wretched is an understatement. It doesn’t even fund CUNY’s mandatory cost increases such as rent, energy, contractual step increases, and fringe benefits. It’s unclear how CUNY will even fund something President Bowen claimed was won in the last contract: a course load reduction for full-time faculty. For adjuncts, the situation is even more dire. There’s nothing even approaching $7K. Adjuncts are offered the same paltry 2% raise everyone else gets.

In short, all the bus trips to Albany, pep rallies for the cameras, endorsements of “progressive” Democrats, phone calls, postcards, and persuasive moral arguments at the Board of Trustees meetings have come to naught. This latest rebuke of the lobbying tactic might be brushed off by the relatively affluent full-timers who call the shots in PSC, and continue to cling to illusions that change will come from speaking truth to power. They are comfortable enough to be able to afford their fantasies. For adjunct faculty, however, these illusions threaten to rob us of our ability to keep the lights on, the rent paid, and our most basic needs met. For us, this foolishness is deathly serious.

Predictably, President Bowen responded to the budget by lauding the organizing that produced it, and vowing more of the same. “PSC members,” she wrote in an official statement, “will redouble our advocacy through the remainder of the Legislative session as we continue to work with the Senate, Assembly and Governor to achieve adequate funding for CUNY and a fair collective bargaining agreement.” Thus, the tactic that has already wasted far too much of our time, money, and energy will now be redoubled.

Of course the politicians know everything we are saying already, and just don’t care. Higher education spending, in real dollars, is lower in virtually every state because there is no sustained pressure on politicians or the business elite to give public education any more than crumbs. That pressure can only come from real power exerted large-scale direct actions like disruptive strikes, as we have seen proliferating over the last year.

Determined to ignore the growing movement of education strikes, and to instead make the same old mistakes over and over again, Bowen and company are now lobbying the City Council and Mayor de Blasio to increase its funding for the senior colleges. Not only is de Blasio not agreeing, he’s proposing a decrease in City funding for the community colleges, which would decrease city spending on CUNY by $21 million. (This is the mayor, incidentally, that the PSC endorsed in 2013 and 2017.) In other words, the first shoe dropped on April 1, with the state budget. The second shoe may be dropping in early June, when the city budget is finalized.

Meanwhile, an alternative is growing, across the CUNY system. We are part of the nationwide movement of educators challenging austerity and going on the offensive for a change. We are building a strike movement from the bottom-up, cultivating solidarity and power within the workplace, not in the backrooms of Albany. Our movement empowers rank-and-filers to take power over the conditions of their lives, not union bureaucrats to take power in closed door meetings with lawyers and politicians. In the last year we have seen time and again how only an upsurge from below has a shot at reversing the trend of austerity in the US public sector. The CUNY movement will be led by an energized rank-and-file, or it will be nothing at all.

It’s a new era. Join us!


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