Teachers: We will defend nation’s schools against right-wing authoritarianism / by Mark Gruenberg

NEA president Becky Pringle | NEA

CHICAGO —Becky Pringle and Kim Anderson have sharp messages for the nation’s right-wingers who despise public school teachers, their students, and everyone who doesn’t genuflect to the rightists’ mantras: We, the teachers, will defend our students and our schools against your threats and authoritarianism—and come after you at the ballot box.

Pringle, president of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, and Anderson, its executive director, threw down the gauntlet in the first two days—July 3-4—of the union’s 6,000-delegate Representative Assembly, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Democratic President Joe Biden followed Pringle to the podium, but via zoom, for a two-minute address on July 3. Unlike her—and unlike his live appearance just weeks before at the AFL-CIO—he didn’t talk politics.

Instead, Biden reiterated the importance of unions: “I will keep my promise to be the most pro-union president in history because I know how much unions mean to America.”

And Biden touted his $130 billion for schools included in the American Rescue Act—the first money bill to battle the impact of the coronavirus-caused depression. Both NEA and the Teachers (AFT), whose convention opens in Boston on July 14, lobbied hard for the funds. “Your right to bargain collectively” is also key to improving schools, Biden said.

What Biden didn’t say, but the White House admitted by implication on July 5, is that much if not most of the money has gone unspent. It unveiled a new initiative—the National Partnership for School Success—between states, local school boards, businesses, and others to break that gridlock, and hire 250,000 more teachers and mentors for U.S. schools.

“Today, President Biden is calling on schools to use the $122 billion in ARP funds to provide high-quality tutoring, summer learning, and enrichment, and afterschool programs that are proven pathways to helping students make up for lost learning time “due to the pandemic —at least two to four months’ worth per student—”and succeed in school and in life, including by supporting their mental health, the White House fact sheet for the partnership says.

Pringle didn’t mention the funding problems in her speech, nor did Anderson. The fight against the right took up big sections, though not all, of their speeches.

“NEA, in 2022, our generation is being called to teach, and lead and heal this nation.,” declared Pringle, a Philadelphia science teacher. “We are being called to defend freedom during its hour of maximum danger. And we, the NEA, welcome that calling.

“We will begin by placing every candidate for political office on notice: If you refuse to keep our schools safe while calling on us to take up arms, if you disrespect us as educators and refuse to pay us as professionals, if you disregard or deliberately fuel the inequities that impact our students’ ability to learn, if you continue to wage a concerted effort to disinvest in and destroy our public schools know this: One in every 10 households in this country has an NEA member!”  The union has more than three million members, in every state and territory.

“Just as we did in the presidential election of 2020, we will make sure you know who we are. If you stand against our students, we will stand against you. If you vote against our educators, we will vote against you. This November, if you get in the way of our progress toward a more just nation, we will get in the way of your election,” she vowed.

Pringle declared NEA will “lead a movement that unites not just our members, but this entire nation, to reclaim public education as a common good, and then transform it into something it was never designed to be—a racially and socially just and equitable system that prepares every student, every one, to succeed in this diverse and interdependent world.

“At this RA, we will unpack that big ol’ vision together. We’ll imagine, how it would actually look in its fullness; determine what we need to do, together, to ensure “all students, all educators, and all schools are excelling and everyone knows it!”

Rights being stripped away

“And we will do that work understanding that the rights many of us have spent a lifetime fighting to secure, are being stripped away in our lifetimes.”

Anderson, parent of several public school students, singled out former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, though not by name, and his MAGA movement for criticism. She also blasted extreme Supreme Court rulings that further shove religion into schools and openly carried guns everywhere. And she hung the “authoritarianism” label on the rightists.

For 39 years, teachers “have faced the privatization movement that would turn free, universally accessible public schools…into centers for profit,” Anderson said. She linked that right-wing cause to a “so-called ‘education reform’” drive creating “flawed, privately run unaccountable charter schools” to deliberately weaken teachers’ roles and to “ignore racial and social inequities.

“And then we saw the rise of authoritarianism in this country after the election of 2016.” And not just in schools, but in the wider society.

The rightists’ authoritarianism includes “concerted efforts to delegitimize the free press” and “set up an alternate social media world in which Americans are fed a constant diet of misinformation,” a polite way of saying rightists and white nationalists inflame people with lies.

“We’ve seen one of our major political parties be completely hijacked by a socio-political movement—the MAGA movement—that inspired over 2,000 people to illegally, criminally attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Facing judicial-imposed theocracy

“And now it appears we face a judicially imposed theocracy, given the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in the last two weeks” revoking the constitutional right to abortion, sanctioning unlimited guns, and expanding the reach of religion in public schools.

Teachers, both said, must fight back against all those trends—and for freedom, for themselves to teach, or their students to learn and, as Anderson said, to “just be.”

  • “As we have for decades we will fight tirelessly for the right to choose. We will fight unceasingly for the rights of our LGBTQ+ students and educators.
  • ‘We will ‘say gay,’” despite a right-wing-enacted Florida law banning teaching about sexuality in primary grades and limiting it afterwards. “We will say trans. We will use the words that validate our students and their families; words that encourage them to walk in their authenticity, to love themselves fully to become who they are meant to be.
  • “And we will continue to take seriously our responsibility as educators to teach our students this nation’s true and complete history: The dynamics of our rich diversity, the triumphant moments, and those where we turned our backs on values” in the Constitution.

That’s a slam at the latest rightist social issue: Protesting, disrupting school board meetings, and passing laws in deep-red states banning the teaching of critical race theory. CRT is an academic theory of the impact of systemic racism on U.S. society. It’s discussed—not taught—only in higher education.

Right-wingers and white supremacists have launched a crusade of lies declaring CRT is taught in primary and secondary schools. Their ban on CRT has a racist subtext: Whitewashing the history and impact of 250 years of slavery, through 1865, the following century of Jim Crow, and continuing systemic racism.

While politics was a big topic, NEA delegates approved a comprehensive, if general policy statement setting out the union’s direction. Its points—some of which dovetail with the fight against the right, include:

  • “A restorative justice philosophy to create a school climate that rejects the criminalization and policing of students.
  • “Providing training and support for culturally competent instruction.
  • “Developing and implement plans to end disparities in disciplinary and behavioral practices” and
  • “Creating a community-centered school environment to foster safe, positive environments and engage all members of the public school.”

“Look up, NEA. You get to be the champions for our students,” Pringle concluded. “Look up, NEA. You get to defend our democracy. Look up, NEA. The sun is still shining. We will not be defeated. We will never give up. We will never give in. Every day, all day, we will stay centered in the work we have been called to do together. Every day, all day we will embrace our resistance as joy.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, July 7, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Biden budget: Hike the military, defuse protests by taxing the rich / by Mark Gruenberg

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. Susan Walsh | AP

WASHINGTON—Tax the rich to reduce the nation’s yearly budget deficit but give the military more than ever.

Taxing the rich and making corporations pay more, not padding the military, is the big takeaway Democratic President Joe Biden wants voters—and some centrist lawmakers—to get from his proposed $5.8 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year starting October 1.

But there’s a big problem in Biden’s budget, as far as progressives are concerned: The record amount of money for the military and its dependent war corporate contractors: $813 billion, counting some extra defense spending hidden elsewhere than in the Pentagon’s own budget line.

“Right now, billionaires pay an average rate of 8% on their total income. Eight—that’s the average they pay,” the president declared when he unveiled the budget blueprint on March 28.

“If you make a billion bucks, great. Just pay your fair share. Pay a little bit. A firefighter and a teacher pay more than double the tax rate that a billionaire pays. That’s not right. That’s not fair.”

But on spending, Biden’s numbers contradict his words. As he drums up support for the war in Ukraine and paying for the weapons he is pumping in there, he increases defense spending by $31 billion and reduces non-defense spending—for education, labor, health, fighting the coronavirus, and other “discretionary” programs—by $13 billion, to $915 billion. The president attributed that decline to winding down and ending anti-pandemic aid. He said nothing about whether the budget could allow revival, in whole or in part, of his Build Back Better agenda killed by Democratic Party conservatives led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

And he justified the Pentagon dollar hike by claiming the military needs more money so it can help Ukraine. And even if the Ukraine war is not enough of an excuse to fatten the military budget, he raised the alleged threat the nation faces down the line from China to justify the increase. “We’re once again facing increased competition from other nation states—China and Russia,” he declared.

That analysis irks critics of war spending and gladdens the hearts of the military contractors who dine and drink at the Pentagon’s table.

“At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said in advance of his panel’s March 30 hearing on Biden’s budget blueprint.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. AP

“Appropriators and advocates” must always defend spending “to expand access to health care” while cutting its costs to workers and families, to build affordable housing, to fight climate change, and to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., former chair Mark Pocan, D-Wash., and longtime anti-war Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in a joint press conference.

“But such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon’s endlessly growing, unaudited budget. We will continue to vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal, as we have in years past,” the three promised.

Biden preferred to concentrate on hammering the rich.

“My budget contains a ‘billionaire minimum tax’” of 20%, he said. The top “one-hundredth of 1% of the Americans will pay this tax. The billionaire minimum tax is fair, and it raises $360 billion that can be used to lower costs for families and cut the deficit.”

And Biden would raise the top tax rate on the highest end of income of all the superrich to 39.6%–its level before the GOP-Trump tax cut four years ago for corporations and the rich. The corporate tax rate would rise from the current 21% to a proposed 28%. It was 35% before the Trump-GOP cut.

Biden also would eliminate the “carried interest” deduction, a bonanza which lets hedge fund Wall Streeters pay on their gains at lower tax rates. Killing that tax break alone would raise $406 billion in fiscal 2023, the budget tables show. Biden also would increase estate taxes on the rich—rolling back part of the Trump-GOP giveaway—by $48 billion.

What Biden did not say was hedge fund vultures who claim “carried interest” use the windfall to grab loans to buy and destroy companies, notably newspapers, and lives, all in the name of corporate greed.

Instead, “My budget also ensures corporations pay their fair share. In 2020, there were 50 Fortune 500 companies that made $40 billion in profit combined but didn’t pay a single, solitary cent in federal taxes. My budget raises the corporate tax rate to 28%, far lower than the rate it was between World War II and 2017 when it was lowered,” he said.

Overall, all of Biden’s tax hikes on corporations and the rich, if enacted, and that’s in doubt, would raise $2.5 trillion. But that sum stretches over a decade.

So, for example, the billionaire minimum tax doesn’t kick in—if Congress approves it—until fiscal 2024, which starts Oct. 1, 2023. And it raises only 10% of its $3.6 trillion decade-long total in that fiscal year.

One revenue raiser not in Biden’s budget: The increased money that would come into the Treasury from higher fines and the wider reach of those fines—to corporate honchos and covering more offenses—for company labor law-breaking. The new basic fine for a first-time law-breaker would be $50,000, rather than net back pay to illegally hurt workers. Corporate repeat offenders would pay $100,000 per abuse.

Those higher fines and related provisions, taken from the Protect The Right To Organize Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, were in Biden’s Build Back Better budget “reconciliation” bill for this fiscal year. They’re not in his budget blueprint.

The Democratic-run House passed BBB on party lines. The evenly split Senate didn’t even debate it. The revenue raisers from BBB carried into Biden’s budget were the corporate and individual income tax hikes and elimination of $45 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuel firms. Those companies benefit in other ways not contained in the budget: Gaining European market share as sanctions hit against Ukraine.

Biden’s budget, like any other presidential spending blueprint, is a political document, intended to set out priorities. “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” the president said. So here are some other Biden values:

More money for schools, especially those whose teachers have classes full of low-income kids.

Funds for that program, called Title I, would double, which cheered Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, one of the earliest union commenters on the budget plan.

“It includes $1 billion to help schools hire additional counselors, school psychologists, and other health professionals to address the mental health crisis,” she added—a crisis the coronavirus pandemic illuminated. And Biden adds $400 million “for the Education Department’s Full-Service Community Schools Program, which aims to bring healthcare and other social service programs onto school campuses.” Adding such wraparound services in schools is a longtime AFT aim.

“It’s clear Biden is making important investments in helping our public schools meet the needs of every child and provide more opportunities for students to recover and thrive after two years of disruption,” Weingarten said.

More money for pro-worker enforcement programs. Biden again seeks $319.4 million for the National Labor Relations Board. That’s $45 million more than this year—and the figure the House OKd before the Senate eliminated that hike, leaving NLRB at $274 million,

And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get a record $704 million, which would let it hire 330 more staffers, rising to 2,346. The budget envisions a 7.6% increase in OSHA inspections, from 31,400 to 33,790. That doesn’t count state OSHA inspections.

The NLRB’s staff union welcomed that agency’s hike with “Yes, but…” tweets. The first one noted the NLRB budget stalled at $274 million yearly in 2014. “While this proposal is encouraging, the agency needs these resources now,” the staff union said.

“If the NLRB’s 2014 budget had merely been increased to match inflation, our budget would stand at $328 million this year…We need these resources in FY2022”—the current fiscal year—”to adequately carry out our agency’s mission of enforcing federal labor law.” Its current year total: $274 million, again.

The comparison between military money and domestic spending led to political fireworks when Biden Budget Director Shalanda Young testified on March 29 before the Senate Budget Committee. Chairman Bernie Sanders is labor’s longest-tenured supporter in Congress. He also hates growing the military, especially when the Pentagon outspends the next 11 nations’ military budgets, combined.

“At a time when corporations are making obscene profits by charging outrageously high prices for gas, food, and rent, we need a budget that takes on the unprecedented corporate greed that is taking place in America today by enacting a windfall profits tax and preventing corporations from ripping off working families,” Sanders added.

“At a time when over 700 billionaires in America became nearly $2 trillion richer during the pandemic while tens of millions continue to struggle, we need a budget that demands that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes and substantially improves the lives of working families with children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”

Flak also came from the right. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will take over the panel if the GOP wins control in November, slammed Biden’s budget, too…for not spending enough on war. “The Biden budget fails once again to fund our national defense at adequate levels,” was one Graham complaint.

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, March 30, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/biden-budget-hike-the-military-defuse-protests-by-taxing-the-rich/