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U of MN Clerical Workers Protest Governor Pawlenty

by Brad Sigal |
March 3, 2003
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Signs say, “Save public education!”, one letter per sign
University of Minnesota clerical workers say, “Save public education!” (Fight Back! News)

Minneapolis, MN – More than 150 clerical workers at the University of Minnesota protested Governor Tim Pawlenty when he came to campus on Feb. 28. Pawlenty had the nerve to show his face on campus just a week after he proposed to cut the University’s budget by $185 million. He was also pushing a wage freeze for University workers and yet another large tuition increase for students, who have already suffered two years in a row of 13% tuition increases.

The protest against Pawlenty was organized by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3800, which represents 1,800 clerical workers on campus. Local 3800 member Kelly Ryan said, “I can’t believe that the new university president Bruininks actually invited Governor Pawlenty to campus a week after he said he wants to decimate the U’s budget. We’re here today to defend public education and public services in the state of Minnesota.”

Local 3800 president Phyllis Walker said, “Somebody has to stand up to the governor. The democrats in the legislature are cowering and nobody is saying the obvious – the only way to address the so-called budget crisis is to tax the rich and the large corporations.” Research by the Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice has shown that the huge tax giveaways for the rich and corporations are the cause of the budget deficit.

According to Wayne Cox, executive director of MN Citizens for Tax Justice, simply changing the tax code back to how it was in 1998 - reversing the tax giveaways to corporations passed in the late 1990’s - would eliminate the $4.5 billion deficit entirely. Cox writes: “In the last five years, the Legislature has enacted billions of dollars in permanent tax cuts while assuming some $2 billion of costs associated with reducing local property taxes. These decisions were premised on huge budget surpluses that never materialized. The state cannot afford to give back money that it is no longer receiving.”

In fact, the ‘crisis’ was the predictable result of huge tax giveaways to big corporations and the rich, followed by the current recession. Now that there is less money coming in to the state, those same corporations and the rich say they have to cut money from programs that benefit working and poor people.

The protest against Pawlenty was also attended by some student anti-war activists, who carried signs that said “Money for education not for war!” One student protester, Erika Zurawski, said, “While the governor and his buddies in the White House say we have to cut education to balance the budget, they have endless billions of dollars to bomb innocent people in Iraq.”

Governor Pawlenty was elected in 2002 with only 25% of the vote in a 3-way election. He does not have a mandate or majority support for the brutal chopping he is trying to do. Pawlenty refuses to raise state taxes to balance the budget, but his cuts to state services will put the burden on cities and counties, which will be forced to raise taxes on the city and county level.

The clerical workers’ protest against Pawlenty was an opening shot in a growing fightback against the agenda of privatization of public services and slashing of the social safety net. As the size of the attack starts to sink in, more and more organizations are speaking out and joining the struggle to stop the cuts and stop Pawlenty’s and other politicians’ whole backward agenda in its tracks.