Thursday, April 9, 2009

Youths rally at banks, legislature

Youths rally at banks, legislature

By Ben Carroll and Dante Strobino

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Students and youth from campuses and towns all over the region rallied on April 3 in front of the Bank of America and Wachovia financial centers to demand, “Bail out the students, not banks!” Both banks are headquartered in North Carolina and are the recipients of billions of dollars of federal bailout money and the two biggest holders of student loan debt.

The marchers moved from the banks to the state Legislature to demand a real jobs program that can provide work for young people, no education cuts, cancel all student debt and no tuition hikes. Marchers also demanded that if any cuts are made, that they be made in the salaries and bonuses of state administrators, University of North Carolina (UNC) system chancellors and bank CEO’s.

In February, North Carolina’s official unemployment soared to 10.7 percent, the highest unemployment ever recorded in the state since World War II. This is the fourth highest in the nation, well above the official national February unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. The official number of unemployed workers in North Carolina actively seeking work is more than 491,000, more than double from a year ago.

Total unemployment, including people who have stopped looking and people stuck in part-time jobs is closer to 20-25 percent.

Gov. Bev Perdue has proposed cutting the state appropriation to the UNC system this year by 6.5 percent, or $192 million. This would eliminate 1,600 jobs and eliminate hundreds of courses for students in the 16-campus system. At North Carolina State University (NCSU), there are plans to lay off as many as 170 workers and cut 3,000 places for students.

“Last week, 31 North Carolina State employees were told they no longer have jobs and it’s only the beginning. I find it ironic that Chancellor Oblinger still makes a salary of $420,000, roughly the equivalent of 20 dorm housekeepers’ jobs,” said Ryan Thomson, a leader of NCSU Students for Social Progress. “Our quality of education is on the decline as tuition climbs even higher yet again.”

While these banks are getting bailed out, education is becoming less and less affordable and students are falling deeper into debt.

Marchers also saw the connection between the economic crisis and the decisions made by the state to choose between social needs and war funding when they demanded “Fund Human Needs, Not War!” and for the corporations, banks and governments to “Divest From Israel!”

Bail Out the People Movement-North Carolina marchers supported legislation that had just been submitted that same week, calling on state legislators to endorse H.R. 676 for universal health care in the U.S. Congress along with voting for HB 750 and SB 427 for collective bargaining rights in the North Carolina Legislature. This legislation would empower workers to ensure the crisis does not get solved on their backs.

“Students, young people and workers need a fightback movement that struggles for the rights of all people to jobs, education, healthcare and other necessities. Washington and Wall Street created this crisis, but only a fighting people’s movement can bring us out of it,” said Trameka Lancaster, a leader of Black Workers for Justice Youth.

A broad coalition of students from NCSU, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Charlotte, Hampton University in Virginia, high school students, and young people and workers from across the state had called the action. They launched the Bail Out the People Movement-North Carolina, which includes Black Workers for Justice Youth; Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST); UNC-Chapel Hill Student Action with Workers; NCSU Student Worker Alliance; United Students Against Sweatshops; Students for Social Progress at NCSU; UNC-Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Charlotte Action Center for Justice; UNC-Chapel Hill Feminist Students United!; and the Raleigh Anarchist Solidarity Collective.

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