News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Workers in U.S. most dangerous industry demand protection

From the People's World
By Dan Margolis, Chair
New York State Communist Party

He's had a gun put up to his head during a robbery. He's been assaulted with a crowbar, and had every window in his car broken. He's had a jagged beer bottle shoved into his neck. He was nearly maced.

All of this on the job.

Of colleagues he knows: One was stabbed in the lower neck with a hunting knife. One was choked by a woman. One was shot in the eye after being robbed. Another remains in a four-year coma after a violent assault. Still another, Ndiaye Serigne (pronounced "Jay Serene"), was beaten violently on Halloween by mask-wearing men.

Police officer? Soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? What sort of job does he, David, as well as his colleagues, hold?

They work, according to the Department of Labor, the most dangerous job in the United States: New York City taxi driver. While New Yorkers tend to take cab drivers for granted, they perform the most dangerous, and one of the most grueling, jobs in the city.

In Serigne's case, the four masked passengers jumped into his cab, one of them taking the front seat. Since it was Halloween, Ndiaye wasn't surprised by the masks. But after crossing the bridge into Staten Island, the man in the front seat switched off the meter, and told Serigne that "now it's a free ride." Serigne, in a move that may have saved his life, ignored his assailants' orders to pull down a narrow street and instead drove to a nearby gas station. It was there that he was beaten and the passengers-turned-attackers fled. Now when he looks at the security camera video, he can't believe what he sees.

"I'm just thankful that I am alive," he said, noting that a childhood friend from his native Senegal was murdered on the job only three years ago. "We are just workers, but some passengers treat us so badly."

According to taxi workers and their representatives, this is a horrible story, but one that is neither an anomaly nor even surprising.

"Drivers are 60 times more likely to be killed on the job and 80 times more likely to be robbed on the job than any other worker in the United States of America," said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance yesterday.

Taxis move nearly half a million people each day, she added. "The airports, finance, restaurants, Broadway, every single industry in New York City, depend on taxi drivers for their bottom line. Our bottom line is our lives need to be protected."

Now taxi drivers, united into the TWA and well as elected officials are going to do something about it. Standing next to Desai, New York State Assembly member Rory Lancman, D-Queens, announced that he would introduce a bill into the Assembly that would extend protection already won by bus and subway workers to taxi drivers.

"Men and women who drive these taxis are entitled to just as much protection as the people who run our trains, drive our buses," Lancman, who chairs the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, said.

Under recently-enacted laws, won after a sustained fight by Transport Workers Union Local 100 and its allies, anyone who assaults a bus driver, or subway or railroad worker, is to be charged with a felony and potentially sentenced to prison time. Lancman, the TWA and some transit workers present, want to see that protection extended to taxi workers. The law would also require a sign in each cab warning would-be assailants that any assault could lead to prison time.

The bill would send a signal, Lancman said, that "we in New York state will not tolerate [violence against drivers], and we will take every measure that we can to make sure that when these men and women get into their cab to start their shift, at the end of it, when they leave that cab to go home to their families, to go home to their children, that they come home safe and sound."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Communist Party on NYC council election results: The struggle continues

New Yorkers elected a new city council November 3, with some remarkable, and contradictory, results. Some incumbents were sent packing, some new progressives were elected and some important victories were gained over the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine. At the same time, the pernicious effects of racism were exposed in some races, most notably the 19th district, in Queens.

Overall, the election results were better than might have been expected. Some of these important results are mentioned above. Another is that, for the first time in this city's more than 400-year history, most seats in the council are held by an African American, Latino, or Asian American, meaning that the council much more accurately represents the complexion of this predominately racially and nationally oppressed city. Four members, or about eight percent of the new council, will be openly gay, the highest number yet.

In addition, about 25 percent of the incoming council's members will be non-incumbents, i.e. new members. This is for various reasons: some went off to fight for higher office, others simply retired. But there is another, more important reason: popular revulsion with those city councilors who agreed to go along with Bloomberg's plan to override the will of New Yorkers and overturn the results of two term limits referenda-thus paving the way for himself to run for a third term. Many have seen this as an undemocratic power grab. Five incumbents were defeated, at least partially due to complicity in Bloomberg's power grab, marking the highest number of sitting councilors thrown out in nearly two decades.

At the same time, there were some serious setbacks. Two council seats were lost to Republicans, giving that party a total of five out of 51 seats. Worse still, one of the seats they picked up can be attributed to anti-Asian racism.

John Liu, the first Asian-American ever elected to any city office, left his council seat in the 20th district, which includes Flushing and surrounding Queens communities, to fight for-and win-the seat of city comptroller. There were several Democratic candidates who ran in the primary. Two Korean Americans, two Chinese Americans and a white candidate. In this district, the necessity was to build a coalition of Korean and Chinese people, as well as the relatively small African American community and some of the white population in order avoid a vote fractured along ethnic lines-and losing to the Republican.

John Choe, one of the Korean American candidates and Liu's former chief of staff, was in the best position to do this: he had worked for years with the entire community, and had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party. However, his candidacy was not able to overcome the divisions, especially given that another candidate, S.J. Jung, also a Korean American, received the backing of the Working Families Party. Choe ultimately lost to the little known Chinese American candidate Yen Chou, who lost to the (also Chinese) Republican candidate Peter Koo. It is worth noting that the margin of difference was less than the total number of votes cast for the Working Families Party and Green Party candidates if they were combined.

In the 19th council district, in Queens, Democrat and Korean-American Kevin Kim lost to Republican heathen Dan Halloran for the seat given up by Democrat Tony Avella. This, the other Republican pickup, looks to be due entirely to racism. Halloran ran an almost openly racist campaign, in which he essentially told voters that were Kim to be elected, Asian developers would change the entire community to look like (overwhelmingly Asian) downtown Flushing.

To make matters worse, the term used above, "heathen," was not an insult: this is what Halloran calls himself. In fact, he's a member of a bizarre religious sect called Theodism, which describes itself as heathen. This sect worships the gods and goddesses of Northern Europe-and has been linked to extreme racial beliefs.
Also, Kim's Asian campaign workers were reportedly harassed and surrounded by white thugs who chanted "white power" and "Asian man out!" all while carrying Halloran paraphernalia. It is clear that, in a district that is very much Catholic-and therefore not predisposed to vote for heathens and where Asian American campaign workers were set upon, and which had been previously Democratic, that the use of racism was the primary reason for Kim's loss.

It would be wrong to paint all whites in the 19th district as racist, of course. Halloran, beat Kim by only about 1,300 votes, so it is clear that at least a good section of the area's white population voted for Kim. Clearly, there is a basis here for the struggle against anti-Asian racism going forward.

At the same time, there were strong gains for Asian Americans. As mentioned above, John Liu, who was born in China's Taiwan province, has become the first-ever Asian-American elected to any citywide position. Also, Margaret Chin defeated incumbent Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary in the first city council district in Manhattan, making her the first ever Chinese representative of the district that includes Chinatown. Both of these elections are historic steps forward for the Asian American community, and New Yorkers should celebrate them.

In the 34th district, which represents Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn, as well as Ridgewood, Queens, incumbent Democrat Diana Reyna handily defeated, by a margin of 60-35 percent, her main opponent, Maritza Davila.

While Reyna is an incumbent Democrat, this race represents a victory for the grassroots. Vito Lopez, who represents the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine, and is notorious for alleged patronage and corruption scandals, and who is known to place people into office based on their allegiance to him, backed Davila, because Reyna, in essence, decided to fight for affordable housing instead of take Lopez's orders.

Even though she lost the Democratic primary, Lopez decided to take Davila to the general election anyway, on the Working Families Party line: He made an unholy alliance between himself, Democratic clubs he controls, the WFP and the Catholic Church. (The Brooklyn diocese is particularly thankful to Lopez for helping to scuttle state-level legislation that would have lifted the statute of limitations on child rape; the church claimed that if all their victims in Brooklyn and Queens were awarded compensation, the diocese would likely be bankrupted.)

Lopez failed miserably, delivering a rout to the Brooklyn Democratic machine, and empowering progressive currents within the party there.

On Staten Island's north shore, in a blow against racism, Debi Rose was elected the first African American council person to serve any area of the Island. In addition, Rose is openly progressive; she's a member of Staten Island's Peace Action and other organizations.

In uptown Manhattan, Ydanis Rodriguez, who is connected to Dominican left organizations, won with 94.7 percent of the vote-10,672 ballots to 592-after winning about 60 percent of the vote in a six-way primary. Rodriguez has been a staple figure in New York City progressive politics, especially in the fight for immigration reform.

In the primary elections, Jumaane Williams beat incumbent Kendall Stewart in the 45th district in Brooklyn, making him the first Grenadian to ever occupy a seat in the council. So ebullient was the Grenadian population, in New York City and abroad, Williams and his family were invited to meet with, and be congratulated by, the Prime Minister of Grenada. Williams beat Stewart in a six-way primary race by 12 points. Stewart, unpopular for siding with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in changing city term limit laws over the objections of city voters, ran on the Independence Party line in the general elections, after running an extremely dirty campaign. In that election, he suffered an even worse defeat, by a difference of 59.1 points.

Williams, who is only 32, has worked with progressive city council members, including Rosie Mendez, D-Manhattan and others, and has spent his time fighting for housing rights.

Of course, New York City has a number of progressive city councilors who were reelected. Perhaps the most well-loved on this list would be Letitia James, who enjoys an almost celebrity status in Brooklyn, as well as around the other boroughs, for her work in civil and human rights, as well as leading the fight against Forest City Rattner, a multi-billion dollar developer aiming to demolish much of the Fort Greene and Prospect Heights sections of Brooklyn in order to build luxury condos.

Twice in this discussion the Working Families Party was mentioned as playing a nefarious role. This fact cannot be avoided, but, at the same time, it is important not to demonize the WFP. Virtually all of the elected progressives (aside from Reyna) were backed by them. As the party is based in the city's labor movement, both the progressive and reactionary trends on display in the latter are also on display in the former. As we were so glaringly shown in the mayoral race, there are some big divisions in the labor movement-and they were also on display in these elections as well. The question for progressives becomes not how to defeat the Working Families Party, but how to help it, and all of labor, become more united, and to defeat reactionary trends. A weakening of the WFP would be a weakening of the progressive movement. The same goes for labor overall: progressives must work to help unite the labor movement.

Further, the Working Families Party is now leading or has recently led a number of important campaigns: it is fighting to ensure that all New Yorkers are eligible for paid sick days; it fought for fair share tax reform a few months ago; and, in what may have been its most heroic move this election cycle, the party fought a strong, if unsuccessful, battle to stop Bloomberg from overturning the term limits law.

This is only a brief sampling of some of the more exciting races, and some preliminary analysis, but even here it can be seen that the results of the elections were contradictory: some reasons for jubilant optimism, as well as reasons to renew important fights, especially against racism (as the mayoral election showed) are on display.

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NYS Communist Party on budget crisis

Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson made a speech before an extraordinary joint session of the State Senate and Assembly, pushing the legislative bodies to accept his plan to alleviate the state's more than $3.2 billion deficit for this fiscal year (of which, four and a half months are remaining). Included in the Democratic governor's plans are about $1.3 billion in cuts to schools, health care and municipal governments.

Many people, both inside and outside the legislative chambers, are opposed to the governor's plan - and for good reason: there are ways for the state to remain fiscally solvent without balancing the budget on the backs of working people and the poor.

Today, both bodies, which the governor called out of recess, are expected to discuss these plans. Senate Democrats have come up with an alternate deficit reduction plan that would, they argue, eliminate the need to make any cuts to services important to working people. In the plan are the restructuring of the state's tobacco bonds and an increase in the hours casinos are legally allowed open.

Others, including some in labor, have signed on to this plan. Across the state, thousands of people and organizations have been demanding that there be no cuts to health care of the public schools and universities, which are already reeling from budget cuts and tuition hikes.

The Democrats are right: there is no reason for Paterson to cut these services. But, according to the New York State Communist Party, overlooked are a number of other ways to raise revenues.

From the New York State Communist Party:

Billions of dollars could be raised by implementing the full Fair Share tax reform that was demanded months ago (i.e. a surcharge on those making more than $250,000 per year, instead of $500,000, as was enacted). In New York City alone, there are about 60 people with an income of over $1 billion. A small one percent surtax on them would generate $1 billion dollars.

A one percent stock transfer tax on those with more than $500,000 (which would leave out virtually anyone whose retirement fund is tied up in a 401k) would raise another billion dollars.

But there is waste in the budget, says the NYSPC. There are things that can be cut - things that benefit only the wealthy and the big corporations. Ending the subsidy for industrial development zones would save $4 billion, more than the entire budget gap for this year.

Currently, there are 10,000 governmental units in the state, government bodies that overlap uselessly and serve mainly for patronage for a wealthy few. Trimming them a good deal would save another $4 billion.

Clearly, there are billions of dollars to be had. The question for the governor and the legislature is this: Will you go after the obscene amount of wealth that is being either given to or horded by the rich and super rich? Or will you put the burden on the already immiserated working people of our state?

Friday, November 6, 2009

In Thompson's defeat, seeds of future victory

It would be a mistake to classify Bloomberg's November 4 mayoral reelection win as anything but a defeat for the working people of New York City. At the same time, however, there is no reason to despair; on the contrary the election results represent a basis for optimism moving forward.

First, to dispense with the obvious: Although the billionaire representative of Wall Street, big developers and the Republican Party won, New York City elected John Liu comptroller, marking the first time in this city's more than 400 year history any Asian American has held citywide office. Further, a grand people's coalition formed around Liu: his campaign was composed essentially of the city's entire labor movement; the African American, Latino and Asian communities; women; youth; the LGBT community and a large percentage of white liberals.

It is this exact coalition that, if it remains united, can usher in all sorts of progressive changes in New York City.

Further, there was important progress made in the city council elections. For the first time ever, racially and nationally oppressed council members are in the majority. In other words, the council has actually begun to reflect the people of New York City. A prime example would be Margaret Chin, who defeated an incumbent and became the first Chinese American to represent the district that includes Chinatown-ever.

But the results of the mayoral race itself, though it was a defeat, should leave us feeling hopeful. Firstly, the Democratic challenger, lost to Bloomberg by less than five points, about 46 percent to 51. This is an astoundingly low margin of victory for Bloomberg, given that pollsters predicted the incumbent "independent" (read: Republican who supported George W. Bush and thinks Giuliani would be a good governor) would score a margin of victory in the double digits, as he did in 2005. In that election, he beat Fernando Ferrer by nearly 20 percentage points.

Bloomberg also put a lot into this election: officially, he put about $100 million into his campaign, the most any candidate has spent vying for municipal office in the history of the world, literally speaking. (By contrast, Thompson, who abided by the city's campaign finance rules, and therefore spent less than $7 million.) However, in reality, Bloomberg spent even more: if one counts money the Bloomberg campaign spent essentially buying the Republican and Independence Party lines, as well as giving "charitable donations" to agencies that, in turn, endorsed and even put people on the street for Bloomberg, the figure is closer to $200 million.

With his money, Bloomberg was able to send daily fliers to people, targeting recipients by race, gender, party affiliation, neighborhood and so on. He was able to run TV spots attacking Thompson every day for months. And he had the best campaign operation money can buy: hundreds of paid staff and a very highly sophisticated get-out-the-vote apparatus.

But with all of that, and two terms of incumbency, Bloomberg was only able to get ahead of Thompson by five points.

How did Thompson do so well, one might ask. The first thing to be said is that people don't really like Bloomberg that much anymore: he's known to be an out of touch billionaire, and people are especially unhappy with his maneuvers to change city election law to allow himself the opportunity to run for a third term (though New Yorkers had voted twice to limit all city offices to two-terms).

Thompson himself was good on the issues, and generally connected with the working people of New York City. While no campaign is perfect, his hit most of the right notes. He campaigned on a platform of, as he put it, taking the city back from Wall Street and the big developers who have been pushing working New Yorkers further and further out of the city. (In fact, a recent study showed that 1.1 million working New Yorkers had already left.)

Further, he had the backing of the vast majority of the African American, Latino, and Asian American elected leadership, and most of those communities. According to the New York Times, 82 percent of African Americans, and 65 percent of Latinos, voted for Thompson. Large sections of the Asian communities voted for Thompson, especially South Asians, who voted 61 percent for Thompson.

Thompson also had the backing from a number of the city's largest labor unions, including Transport Workers Union Local 100, AFSCME District Council 37, and a host of others. Labor did an impressive job of mobilizing the vote for Thompson. In many areas, DC 37 (which had endorsed Bloomberg in 2005) and TWU Local 100 worked together to bring out voters and drive them to polling places. All of the unions made efforts to contact their members and ask them to vote for Thompson. CWA Local 1180 put $500,000 into advertising, and TWU held several demonstrations and distributed leaflets condemning Bloomberg.

Thompson had the backing of most progressive elected officials as well as dozens of Democratic Party clubs, community organizations and churches.

Essentially, Thompson's campaign had the makings of the sort of all-people's coalition, the type we previously wrote would make it possible to defeat Bloomberg and his millions. As it turns out, we were correct in that assessment. A relatively little-known candidate, with less than $10 million (compared to $200 million), because of a broad coalition, nearly slew Goliath.

The question then arises: was it actually possible to win? The answer is an emphatic "yes." While Thompson had many things in his favor, he had a lot working against him (aside from a lack of money.)

Firstly, we can't ignore racism, which was fanned at the top, i.e. from the Bloomberg campaign itself, as a deciding factor. While it is true that there have been great strides forward in the fight against racism, especially with the election of President Obama, we are nowhere near living in a "post-racial" society. Simply looking at a map of who voted for Thompson and who voted for Bloomberg gives lie to that story: where red denotes an area that supported Bloomberg, the whitest neighborhoods were, on the map, also the reddest. To be sure, thousands of white people voted for Thompson, but there is clear evidence that a large percentage of the city's white population is still under the influence of racist ideology. (This was made shockingly stark in a city council race in Queens, where extreme racist rhetoric was used by a Republican pagan (literally) to defeat Kevin Kim, a Korean American.)

The Bloomberg campaign was almost explicit in its racism: Giuliani, stumped for Bloomberg, telling a crowd that "we don't want to go back to the days of Dinkins." He added, "You know what I mean." We know what he meant.

Another factor was a feeling, promoted by Bloomberg, that the incumbent's victory was inevitable. After the election, campaign leaders said this was an overriding strategy of the campaign: the spending overkill, even though Bloomberg's team knew it would annoy New Yorkers, was aimed at convincing people that he could not be defeated. This helped to suppress the vote for Thompson: If Bloomberg will win anyway, many reasoned, why go and vote at all?

This air of inevitability also played into another huge problem for Thompson: a split labor movement. While some big labor unions supported Thompson, a greater number sat the election out. SEIU 1199 and the United Federation of Teachers both avoided making any endorsement, while SEIU 32BJ and some others endorsed Bloomberg. It's possible to say that any one of these huge unions, with tens or hundreds of thousands of members each, could potentially have pushed Thompson to victory, had they either endorsed Thompson, not endorsed Bloomberg, or, better yet, both.

While we would never actually condone endorsing Bloomberg or sitting out the elections, We can certainly understand why they did: Bloomberg essentially told them, "I'm going to win the election, and you know what will happen to you if you oppose me." Most of these unions were simply concerned what might happen to them if they stood up to Bloomberg and he won: would he attack their contract? Would he go after them and do real damage to their members?

The results of this mayoral race are contradictory. We can look at the elections and see a bitter defeat, given that Bloomberg won. We could look at them and see a victory, given the closeness of the race and all the obstacles that Thompson and the movement around him had to go up against.

Most importantly, we can see opportunity.

What we said before was proven true: If we can build a movement of the labor movement, the African American, Latino and Asian communities, white liberals and other progressive forces drawn around that core, the people can defeat anyone. In this election, this coalition was built, but only partially. But even a partially built coalition was able to put us within a hair of replacing a 17th richest man in the world, who represents, as mayor, Wall Street and big developers with a mayor sympathetic to labor and progressive sectors of New York City.

Next time we go all the way.