On Martin Luther King Day, January 18, in Chicago, over 200 people came to a march initiated by Public Workers Unite! to protest against cuts to public services, demanding Not on our backs! Fund public services, not the wars! Tax the rich, not working people! Money for jobs, not bankers!
The event was the largest so far initiated by Public Workers Unite! (PWU), which was founded recently in Chicago with the intent to bring together public sector workers and the people who rely on the services these workers provide.
This mission is crucial, as big business and their representatives try to blame public workers for the financial crisis and to resolve state budget holes by cutting jobs and services.
The Chicago Transit Authority has implemented severe cuts to public transit service, including layoffs for 1,000 bus drivers and maintenance workers, elimination of nine express bus routes, reduced service on many more, as well as reduced train service throughout the system.
The Renaissance 2010 program is an attempt underway by Mayor Daley and his former public schools chief, Arne Duncan (now Obamas Secretary of Education), to privatize Chicago public schools. Big business and its allies in legislatures and the press are also lining up to blame public workers as the cause of the budget problems.
For example, in Illinois, the Commercial Club of Chicago, where business owners and politicians meet to determine the policy most profitable to business, has created a website which blames Illinoiss $130 billion debt on public sector workers pensions: Illinois must reduce its spending and bring its public pension and retiree health care plans in line with the retirement plans the rest of us have. These ideas have been picked up by the mainstream press in Illinois, showing up in candidate questionnaires and editorial pages.
The Commercial Club fails to point out the real sources of financial crisis: the billions paid to bail out banks and corporations, the trillions spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the decades-long reduction on the taxes paid by the rich and corporations. According to a report from Toomuchonline.org, even if Congress passes Obamas plan to revert tax rates on the wealthy to 2000 levels, taxpayers making over $1 million will face a top tax rate of less than half 1961 levels.
Clearly, those who provide important services, and the people who need them, cannot rely on the two big business parties. Politicians are all-too-ready to cut important services rather than fund them through cutting the war funding and taxing the rich.
PWU is an attempt to unite public sector workers and people who need public services to demand full funding for these services. The January 18 march was attended by transit workers, teachers, students, welfare workers, and health care workers, as well as many who rely on the services these workers provide.
Speakers at the event pointed out that at the time of his assassination, Dr. King was in Memphis to speak to a rally of public sanitation workers engaged in an illegal strike. Public Workers Unite! voted to hold this march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor Dr. Kings legacy of struggle for social justice and defending workers needs. PWU members felt it was appropriate to mark the day with a public march to defend jobs and services.