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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Communist Party Statement on statewide elections

The 2010 elections:
Strengthen the fight for peace, democracy and equality!

The National Situation

We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the extreme right has gone on a rampage, especially with the formation of the so-called Tea Parties, perhaps the most openly racist “movement” this country has seen in decades. While polls show that they represent a very small portion of American working people, they have an undue amount of influence, as they are supported by, even created by, much of the mainstream media and the Republican Party, the tools of extreme sections of monopoly capital.

Labor and the people’s movements have won some amazing victories under the new balance of forces that was ushered in with Obama’s election, especially health care reform and the stimulus package of 2009—but much more needs to be done. Every good initiative by the President, by Congress and by the people’s movement has run up against immediate obstruction by the minority Republican Party. The recent attempts to deny extensions of unemployment compensation are but one example of their callous disregard for the well being of America’s working people.

This is why the 2010 elections are of historic importance: we could consolidate the victory of 2008 and move forward in a pro-people and anti-racist direction, or we could see the beginning of a big step backwards. In order to improve the economic situation and the situation of working people overall, and to beat back the Republican-Tea Party offensive, we need to ensure that the Republicans do not pick up seats in the midterm elections and to further turn the Congress against them. While the Democrats are far from perfect, the biggest obstacle to progress it the Republican extremists’ bloc.

The Situation in New York State

Using the current economic crisis as a pretext, monopoly capital—the corporations, the big developers and so on—is on a rampage to break unions and to decisively shift power even further away from working people towards Wall Street. Here in New York, their first line of attack has been to cut services and, as we’ve seen in the budget fights and the attempt to privatize schools under the guise of creating more charters, to break the public sector unions.

The assault on public workers is an assault on all workers: they hope to divide public and private working people in order to weaken the working class fightback overall.

While monopoly capital has a home in both the New York Democratic and Republican parties, the Republicans are leading the most vicious assault. And while there are Democrats in our state leadership who’ve taken some terrible positions, the legislative Democrats have by and large been the group that has been most responsive to the needs of working people. Senate Democrats, for example, were able to restore $600 million in education funding, and more in health care funding, to the budget. The prospects of overriding the gubernatorial veto would be much greater were there far fewer Republicans.

Consequently, as bad as Governor David Paterson has been, our main enemy is at the present time still the Republican Party, the preferred party of Bloomberg, Wall Street and the big developers. In the upcoming elections, working people have a great stake in ensuring that there are more Democrats and less Republicans in office.

Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic ticket

Still, there’s absolutely nothing to be excited about when it comes to the Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo. He’s been arguing for exactly the same business-friendly, anti-worker policies as David Paterson. Further, his shocking insensitivity to the African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Afro-Caribbean communities is despicable. How can it be that, in a state where millions of African Americans and Latinos live and contribute, there is not a single member of either of these communities on the statewide Democratic ticket?

The only possible response to this is condemnation.

The way forward in the fight against racism

While we understand the indignation felt by the African-American and other communities, we don’t consider the creation of the new Freedom Party, co-chaired by City Council member Charles Barron, to be a viable tactic to fight racism. We believe that history has shown that the only way to defeat racism is for all working people, Black, white, Latino, Asian, male and female, old and young, unionized and unorganized, to unite together in common struggle. We see the anti-union posturing and chauvinism that has come from some of the state Democratic leadership as two sides of the same coin. You can’t defeat one without the other. Consequently, you can’t win workers’ rights without all sections of the working class, and you can’t defeat racism without the participation of white working people.

When united, we win; divided we lose.

Council member Barron has said that African Americans have been used by Democrats. It is true that the African-American community has overwhelmingly supported Democrats in all of the most recent elections, including between 80-90 percent support for Spitzer in the previous gubernatorial elections. And we’re sure Barron is right to suggest that Cuomo is banking on the mature political sense of the African-American and Afro-Caribbean people of New York to vote, despite the obvious shortcomings and chauvinism inherent in his campaign, against the Republican candidate.

We see the answer to this differently, however, and also take note of the fact that no other leaders of the African American community have as of yet endorsed Council member Barron’s proposals. We have to ask the question of how the working class, the racially and nationally oppressed, women and youth can build up the movement to push the state Democrats to offer better choices. We’ve seen that, in communities across the state, we’ve been able to do so: all one has to do is to look at the progressive, labor-oriented, Black, Latino and Asian city council members. There are many in the Democratic Party, and even more in its orbit, who are part of this fight: the labor movement, especially the transport workers, the service workers, SEIU 32BJ and 1199, and the teachers; organizations of racially and nationally oppressed people; women’s rights organizations—all of these groups especially, as well as the African-American and Latino Democratic clubs, the progressive Democratic clubs, the peace movement and so on. This movement must defeat the Republicans in November, but at the same time it has to strengthen the anti-corporate, anti-racist currents pressuring the state Democratic Party. Many of these important progressive forces are working within the Working Families Party.

In doing all this, these forces help to build their own independence.

We should throw ourselves into the fight with the optimism of knowing that, despite Cuomo’s shortcomings, we can build the movement stronger and better, and the November elections can be a huge step forward in defeating the anti-worker, racist extremists and building a broader and more united movement for peace, equality, civil rights and democracy, both at the state and national levels.

State Committee
New York State Communist Party

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Islamic center has broad support in new york

To see original article, click here.

Some media reports give the impression that Islamic fanatics have won the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero, over the wishes of the vast majority of New Yorkers. But the truth is far different. A self-described moderate Islamic group hoping to promote tolerance and diversity, and to do its part to help rebuild the community injured by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is hoping to build a community center-and people of all faiths are supporting them.

The controversy arose when the Cordoba Initiative, which aims at "improving Muslim-West relations" announced it would renovate a building - which is already used as overflow for a nearby mosque - into an Islamic community center.

"This is a center like the 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Center," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative said at a press conference. "It is meant to have programs to serve the community, to serve the Muslim and the non-Muslim community. This is also our expression of the 99.999 percent of Muslims all over the world, including in America, who have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism."

An assembly of extreme-right wing Republicans, Tea Party members and others influenced by their rhetoric has denounced the project because it is to be built near to the site of the 9/11 attacks. They claim it will be a "breeding ground" for terrorists and demand that the government intervene to stop its construction.

As many point out, despite the Republican-right hype, the center isn't actually that close to the old World Trade Center site. In a huge city like New York, a few blocks is essentially a world away.

And, said Feisal, "We condemn terrorism. We recognize it exists in our faith community, but we're committed to eradicating it." He appealed for the help of non-Muslims, saying, "We cannot do this by ourselves. We need your support, we need your cooperation. We need coalitions of Muslims and non-Muslims together to achieve the common objectives that we as patriotic Americans want to achieve."

People of all political and religious persuasions have voiced support, including Christians, Jews, and others, even outspoken atheists. These disparate groups all argue that, no matter how offended some may feel, there is no basis for interfering in the Bill of Rights guarantee that the government must not discriminate based on a person or group's religious affiliation.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Jewish American group J Street, said the fight over the Islamic center is, in many ways, a battle over the soul of the United States. "The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion," he said.

J Street collected 10,000 signatures "to counter the opposition" to the plans "to build a community center in lower Manhattan modeled after Jewish Community Centers and Y's all over the country."

New York's Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in an August 3 speech, noted that the building OS private property and "the owners have a right to use it as a house of worship" and said, "The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right."

"Part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance," Bloomberg said. "It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11."

New York City's progressive Comptroller John Liu voiced his support for the project, saying, "The development of both the mosque and the center gained strong support of the local community board earlier this month. Both are dedicated to promoting education and understanding, and intended to help bridge the divide and unify New York."

While those raising a hue and cry over the project say the Bill of Rights religious liberty protection must be suspended so as not to offend families of 9/11 victims, many survivors disagree.

Donna Marsh O'Connor, spokesperson for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said, "This building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lunatics protesting mosque aren't so different from bin Laden

An angry mob showed up in lower Manhattan to protest the opening of an "extremist Islamic center that aims to mock the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and create an army of jihadists who'll wage a battle that will eventually, if successful, destroy the America."

Sound far-fetched? That's because it is.

The above statement is pure fabrication. Pure fabrication - with the exception of the angry mob. They actually did show up.

Egged on by right-wing talk radio and the rest of the tea party crowd, these people descended to protest a "mosque" they perceived to be too close to Ground Zero.

Every mosque, they argued, is a "breeding ground for terrorists, as Islam is based in cruelty and terror and its logical outcome is the fight against modernity, democracy and tolerance."

Further, given that the 9/11 hijackers were Islamic, the hate-talkers say, the "mosque" must certainly be a slap in the face to those who perished. (Whether or not this would be an insult to the several hundred Muslims who also died there was never explicitly said.)

What's being built two block away from Ground Zero isn't even a mosque at all, but a community center based on Islamic values. According to the website for Cordoba House, the center's name, the mission will "[promote] tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City."

While these are likely not values appreciated by the frothing demonstrators, they are a far cry from mocking 9/11 victims.

Then there's the concept that if people of one religion do something wicked to some particular group or in some certain place, it naturally follows that the presence of that religion near the people or area where the atrocities occurred is somehow an insult. But except in the case of Islam, no one in America believes that. If that were the case, there should be no Christian churches near any synagogue, given the horrible persecution that Jews have experienced for centuries at the hands of Christians. But there are synagogues and churches side-by-side all around this city.

And, of course, Catholic churches are allowed not only to be near, but also to run, elementary schools.

Most nakedly obvious is the blatant bigotry against Islam. Those protesting the "mosque" argue that it is a religion of hate based on violence. A fair reading of the Koran will reveal some truly ugly verses-but the same can be said of the Bible. There are acts of genocide, incest, hatred, collective punishment, and so on in both the Old (Torah) and New Testaments.

But millions upon millions of religious people, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, base their faith not on this or that terrible verse, but on a perception that their preferred holy book tells them to love their neighbor.

Sure, Osama bin Laden calls himself a Muslim, but Pat Robertson (who told America we deserved 9/11) calls himself a Christian. In Israel, the hateful settlers take the Torah as their basis, but so do the progressive and democratic sections of the Zionist movement.

Just as most Christians and Jews are not extremists, neither are most Muslims. In fact, the very center being protested has as its aim to "provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all."

Compassion, generosity and respect for all: These are values common to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as any nonbeliever, Communist or true progressive.

Perhaps, most chilling of all is what these demonstrators were demanding: the government to stop the construction of a community center specifically because of the religion of those building it. In short, they wanted the suspension of the Bill of Rights.

Is there anything more chilling than thousands of people demonstrating against fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution?

Osama bin Laden and his thugs wanted to destroy the west, particularly the United States. They failed miserably. Only seven years after 9/11, the American people elected the first ever African American president, a man who grew up in a Muslim country and whose middle name, Hussein, is the same as that of two current or recent Middle Eastern rulers.

There is a huge democratic movement in this country, with labor at its core, that is white, African American, Asian, Latino, Arab and that unites people of all faiths or lack thereof. Its aim is to continue the very American tradition of the fight for peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and freedom-including of religion.

In an ironic twist, though many of them sported American flags, those protesting downtown had much less in common with this movement-and much more in common with bin Laden.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Forget budget cuts; tax the rich

By Dan Margolis, for the NY State Communist Party

Reading the news, one could be forgiven for believing the false notion that there is too little money in the state of New York. The state budget - due on April 1 - still hasn't been passed, as Albany can't come to an agreement on how to plug the $5 billion deficit. Instead, the legislature has been passing a series of week-long budget extenders to keep the government running.

But while the effects of the crisis are real, the perceived lack of wealth is not.

A federal court struck down Gov. David Paterson's plan to furlough state workers and delay their pay raises, and now he is now calling for thousands of layoffs. Paterson openly questions whether or not an agreement made between labor and the state in 2009, which says that there would be no layoffs in return for big pension concessions from labor, is binding. Even if it can't be overridden, the governor is laying the groundwork for the layoffs to take place as soon as the agreement expires.

On top of that, many in the state Legislature are working to slash funding to education, aid to cities and towns, health care and other areas. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken advantage of the situation and is pushing to reduce the city's workforce by nearly 4 percent. After widespread protest, the mayor was forced to retreat on his plan to axe several thousand teachers, but he is now threatening their planned pay raises.

All across the city and state, the effects of the budget crisis are being felt. Even the New York Public Library has been forced to send out appeals to its supporters urging them to get in touch with their local representative to halt the mayor's proposal for the biggest funding cut to the library system in the city's history. The transit system is planning to lay off hundreds of station agents (there would have been more had a judge not intervened) and to shut down train lines and bus routes.

On the surface, the deficits seem huge. The state is short $9.2 billion, and the corresponding figure for the city is $4.9 billion. In addition, the MTA, a public authority, faces an $800 million shortfall.

What to do?

Of course, there are a number of ways to reduce wasteful spending without cutting services important to working people, and a number of watchdog groups and unions have pointed them out.

But the money is there. Instead of making draconian cuts, the state should simply raise revenue.

Let's put the deficit into perspective: If you add up the city and state deficit, and throw in the MTA to boot, you come up with a total of $14.9 billion. Our mayor, who is presiding over the gutting of people's living standards, is a billionaire. So much of a billionaire, in fact, that he could pay off all of the city and state debts and still have more than $2 billion left over. To put that number into perspective, Bloomberg would then, if he lives to be 108 years old, still have, not accounting for interest, $50 million per year to live off of.

And there are more like Bloomberg: According to a 2008 issue of Forbes, there are 70 other billionaires in the city limits, and they have an average net value of $3.3 billion. These 70 New Yorkers - out of nearly 8.5 million and not including the mayor - control $231 billion alone.

On top of all that, this is the home of Wall Street and its huge firms like Goldman Sachs and others, and countless multi-millionaires.

Compared to all this wealth, the $15 billion the state needs to sustain services to working people seems like a trifle.

Aside from the pressure that monopoly capital can put on the city and state governments, there is simply no reason for New York to face layoffs or cuts to social services. Perhaps more than any other state in the country, we can, if the political will is there, balance the budget - or go further and enact our own statewide stimulus plan.

A small surcharge on the billionaires, a stock transfer tax (specifically tailored to exempt 401k and other pension savings), ensuring that the Fair Share tax law doesn't sunset: all of these things could solve our budget problem.

A planned demonstration by AFSCME District Council 37, which represents 125,000 city public workers, as well as a number of other rallies and campaigns to get people to contact their representatives, are all steps in the right direction.

What's needed is the reemergence of the coalition that enacted the Fair Share Tax Reform a couple of years ago, a broad alliance of all New York City labor, the Working Families Party, the African American, Latino, Asian American communities, religious groups and others.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fight for public parks in NY

By Elena Mora

Most mornings, I take a 45-minute walk around my Bronx neighborhood. My route takes me past Harris Field, where my kids played baseball with the Mosholu-Montefiore Little League. My oldest played there for seven seasons, and I have lots of good memories of Harris, of sitting in my portable chair, rooting for my kids and schmoozing with the other parents.

Unfortunately Harris Field has been closed for two years now, and from the looks of the place (construction fences closing it off, dirt and rocks everywhere), no one will be playing baseball or any other sport there anytime soon.

What's the problem? In a nutshell, lack of money.

In the spring of 2008, a renovation project began at Harris, with a budget of $6.6 million, which soon went up to $8.7 million. However, the price tag skyrocketed to $15 million, after high levels of lead were found in the soil.

Given the budget crisis facing the city, and the priorities of the Bloomberg administration, it's hard to imagine how they will find money for a park in the Bronx, despite the fact that Harris was a very busy place. In addition to the Mosholu-Montefiore sports program, the Bronx High School of Science, DeWitt Clinton High and others shared its six fields.

For the past two years, M-M has had to cut its Little League program from 1000 to 500 kids, and the high schools have scrambled for space. Unfortunately, playing field scarcity is a common story here in NYC- unless you have money, as when a group of private schools brokered a deal with the city to reserve for themselves the choice times on Randalls Island fields in exchange for paying part of the renovation costs.

What's happening at Harris is just a tiny part of the catastrophe that's in the works when it comes to the public places where working-class people relax, play and enjoy nature.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, state parks from coast to coast are threatened with deep funding cuts - in fact, they list "state parks" as #1 of the most endangered sites.

This year nearly 30 states have proposed or enacted such cuts and a recent survey estimates as many as 400 state parks could close. And city parks are in as bad or worse shape.

Here in New York, Governor Paterson recently came up with a cynical proposal for saving New York's parks - cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Fund. Needless to say, environmental organizations are outraged at this King Solomon-like choice.

Is there no money for parks? The Central Park Conservancy (a private foundation that runs Manhattan's Central Park) raises 85% of its $25 million annual operating budget from private donors, and pays its president $364,000 a year. Richard Hammond, the CEO of the recently opened Highline park in lower Manhattan receives $250,000 a year.

When I read this, I thought about the fact that Paterson and gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo have both come out against the State Assembly's "millionaire tax" -- a 1 percentage point increase on millionaires, and another 0.75 points on those earning more than $5 million per year.

Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has estimated that a small tax of a quarter of 1 percent imposed on the sale of a wide range of securities would yield $100 billion to $150 billion.

As the Central Park Conservancy slogan says, "You gotta have park." Unless we believe that Manhattanites "gotta have park" more than people in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, then funding must be found to keep all of our parks open and cared for. Unless we believe that the students at exclusive private schools in Manhattan have more right to sports than kids in the Bronx, funding must be found to quickly clean up and renovate Harris Park.

So yes, tax those millionaires (the "half-millionaires" too). Tax those Wall Street bonuses, most of which were given as stock transfers to avoid income tax. Find the money, because we all gotta have park.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NYC rally in solidarity with U of Puerto Rico students

On the rainy afternoon of May 18, hundreds converged in front of the Manhattan office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), The group, made up of political, student and community representatives, came to demonstrate against the budget cuts to the University Of Puerto Rico, a public university, and against the massive wave of lay-offs which workers are currently suffering in Puerto Rico.

The rally also honored UPR, a public university, as an example of a most productive higher education system which contributes to the social, scientific and economic development of Puerto Rican and US societies.

Public school teacher Norma Perez declared, "The decision of the Luis Fortuño government to continue the wave of massive lay-offs and budget cuts to public education is a social and economic act of barbarism adding to the deepening crisis, increasing the process of basic services' privatization". She added that the students in Puerto Rico "are getting a raw deal as the university administration tries to eliminate the tuition exception for athletes and artists, among other students of high academic achievement." Perez is an alumna of the UPR who received a sports scholarship to help pay for her studies. Eric Ramos, a representative of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno (PIP) in NYC, declared, "We live in times of economic crisis in the colony as well as in the US. Instead of imposing taxes on domestic and foreign corporations the government administration prefers to eliminate public services to the people." According to Ramos, this only makes things worse when "the authorities prefer evasive styles and punishment instead of dialogue with negotiations."

Marisel Hernandez, representative of the Latino and Latin American Students Organization in NYC declared, "The students present clear, precise democratic demands, however the government resorts to intimidation." Hernandez denounced the mobilization of the Police Special Forces, the eviction of the students in university residencies and the denial of water and food to the students inside campuses.

The demonstrators distributed information to people coming out of their work places in the area. The Network in Support of Workers in Puerto Rico from NYC petitioned the government to return to the table for dialogue and negotiation to reach agreements that will satisfy the UPR students in order to end this conflict at the most prominent academic institution in Puerto Rico.

At the end of the day, Perez remarked, "The students of the UPR with their actions present Puerto Rico's best face to the entire world."

The Network in Support of Workers in Puerto Rico/La Red de Apoyo a los (as) Trabajadores (as) en Puerto Rico is a coordinating body of political, community, students' groups and individuals concerned about conditions in Puerto Rico today.

Save public libraries!

By Elena Mora

Full disclosure: I LOVE books. I love the way they look stacked on shelves and scattered on my bedside table. I love the way the pages feel; I love the way they smell.

Ipso facto, I love the library.

When I was home on maternity leave with twins more than a decade ago, my sanity was saved by the public library system, which in New York is especially wonderful since you can order any book you want online, and it will be delivered to the branch of your choice. (Even without that I would have benefited from the proximity of my local branch - two blocks away - and the fact that everything there is free, a big plus when your family has expanded from three to five overnight!)

I go to the library at least once a week, either the branch near my home in the Bronx, or near my job in Manhattan, and both are always PACKED. I mean, seriously, at the Manhattan branch, I frequently have to wait on line to check out books. And the Bronx branch is always full of people, from kids to teenagers to senior citizens.

So I do not pretend to be unbiased, and in fact, I was outraged that, as the NY Times reported last week, "public libraries are always among the first city services to be threatened with substantial cuts."

Now, billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget has other outrageous cuts, all of which have in common that they make working people pay or suffer for the economic crisis. Proposed to be closed are 16 daycare centers, 50 senior centers and 20 firehouses. Parks, pools and beaches will be shuttered.

But the cuts proposed to the libraries are as cruel as the others, and I wondered, why are they "always among the first?" Is the idea that libraries don't provide essential services?

In fact, public libraries are absolutely essential, to a democratic society, and to the overall wellbeing of working people.

As Margalit Susser, president of the union that represents Queens library employees put it, "We're more than a library, we are part of the community."

Libraries are not just about books - people go there to read newspapers and periodicals, for movies and music, for classes and concerts. And millions use the internet at the library.

A recent study by the University of Washington found that "low-income adults are more likely to rely on the public library as their sole access to computers and the Internet than any other income group," and that "people relied on library technology to find work, apply for college, secure government benefits, learn about critical medical treatments, and connect with their communities."

Libraries are community centers, hosting cultural events and offering classes. They teach English to immigrant adults.

Of course, the two key (and beautiful) words to remember when it comes to libraries are "public" and "free."

Which is why libraries should be fought for as hard as we fight for everything else that is threatened by the economic crisis. And by the way, needless to say, Bloomberg's cuts to the libraries include lots of layoffs -- close to 1000 workers -- many of whom are women.

Christian Zabriskie, from Urban Librarians Unite, said, " These budget cuts will destroy the public libraries in this city as we know them, marginalize our impact on our communities and deprive our citizens of information, culture and entertainment."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bloomberg, the NY Public Library and Lenin

By now, most New Yorkers have heard details of Mayor Bloomberg's budget and the draconian cuts it would impose. Instead of taxing the rich, "our" mayor wants to cut services. The most infamous gash is the proposed laying-off of nearly 7,000 teachers, but Bloomberg's knives reach far and wide. For example, here's what the NYPL has to say about the cuts:

Don't Close the Book on Libraries - Act Now The New York Public Library is facing a potential $37 million cut in City funding. This is the harshest cut in our history and comes at a time when more New Yorkers than ever are using the Library, many with no alternative for the services we offer. We are preparing for the possibility of closing 10 library branches, a reduction of staff by 36% percent, 25,300 fewer programs and classes for kids and adults, and a cut of 6-day service to 4 days across the NYPL system.

Our public library, now under assault, is known throughout the world. So much so, in fact, that it was used by the Russian revolutionary VI Lenin as an example of what can be achieved in a democratic society. Here, in full, is what Lenin had to say about libraries, specifically, the NYPL:

There are quite a number of rotten prejudices current in the Western countries of which Holy Mother Russia is free. They assume there, for instance, that huge public libraries containing hundreds of thousands and millions of volumes, should certainly not be reserved only for the handful of scholars or would-be scholars that uses them. Over there they have set themselves the strange, incomprehensible and barbaric aim of making these gigantic, boundless libraries available, not to a guild of scholars, professors and other such specialists, but to the masses, to the crowd, to the mob!

What a desecration of the libraries! What an absence of the “law and order” we are so justly proud of. Instead of regulations, discussed and elaborated by a dozen committees of civil servants inventing hundreds of formalities and obstacles to the use of books, they see to it that even children can make use of the rich collections; that readers can read publicly-owned books at home; they regard as the pride and glory of a public library, not the number of rarities it contains, the number of sixteenth-century editions or tenth-century manuscripts, but the extentamong the people, the number of new readers enrolled, the speed with which the demand for any book is met, the number of books issued to be read at home, the number of children attracted to reading and to the use of the library.... These queer prejudices are widespread in the Western states, and we must be glad that those who keep watch and ward over us protect us with care and circumspection from the influence of these prejudices, protect our rich public libraries from the mob, from the hoi polloi! to which books are distributed

I have before me the report of the New York Public Library for 1911.

That year the Public Library in New York was moved from two old buildings to new premises erected by the city. The total number of books is now about two million. It so happened that the first book asked for when the reading-room opened its doors was in Russian. It was a work by N. Grot, The Moral Ideals of Our Times. The request for the book was handed in at eight minutes past nine in the morning. The book was delivered to the reader at nine fifteen.

In the course of the year the library was visited by 1,658,376 people. There were 246,950 readers using the reading-room and they took out 911,891 books.

This, however, is only a small part of the book circulation effected by the library. Only a few people can visit the library. The rational organisation of educational work is measured by the number of books issued to be read at home, by the conveniences available to the majority of the population.

In three boroughs of New York—Manhatten, Bronx and Richmond—the New York Public Library has forty-two branches and will soon have a forty-third (the total population of the three boroughs is almost three million). The aim that is constantly pursued is to have a branch of the Public Library within three-quarters of a verst, i.e., within ten minutes’ walk of the house of every inhabitant, the branch library being the centre of all kinds of institutions and establishments for public education.

Almost eight million (7,914,882 volumes) were issued to readers at home, 400,000 more than in 1910. To each hundred members of the population of all ages and both sexes, 267 books were issued for reading at home in the course of the year.

Each of the forty-two branch libraries not only provides for the use of reference books in the building and the issue of books to be read at home, it is also a place for evening lectures, for public meetings and for rational entertainment.

The New York Public Library contains about 15,000 books in oriental languages, about 20,000 in Yiddish and about 16,000 in the Slav languages. In the main reading-room there are about 20,000 books standing on open shelves for general use.

The New York Public Library has opened a special, central, reading-room for children, and similar institutions are gradually being opened at all branches. The librarians do everything for the children’s convenience and answer their questions. The number of books children took out to read at home was 2,859,888, slightly under three million (more than a third of the total). The number of children visiting the reading-room was 1,120,915.

As far as losses are concerned—the New York Public Library assesses the number of books lost at 70–80–90 per 100,000 issued to be read at home.

Such is the way things are done in New York. And in Russia?

How can we let this institution, which inspired and inspires people around the world, fall victim to Bloomberg's budget scissors? A fight is necessary. Here's what the NYPL suggests:

Here is how you can help right now:

We appreciate your support and will keep you informed about the status of Library funding in the next few weeks.

We agree fully that everyone should do the above things. But further, we need to demand that no cuts be made to any service on which working people depend. There are 60 billionaires in this city. Bloomberg himself could, out of his own pocket, fill the entire deficit and still have more than $10 billion left over. While working people, especially young people, whose education is under assault in school and at the libraries, face all of these cuts on top of the foreclosure and unemployment crisis, the billionaires, with Bloomberg as their leader, refuse to do their fair share.

This is an outrage.

Let's work with labor and other allies, including in the City Council and the state legislature, to stop the cuts, and further demand that there be fair and adequate taxes on the rich!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Applause for Governor Paterson for his Leadership on Immigration

From the National Latino Congreso:

Latino Groups Praise Creation of Pardon Review Panel for Immigrant New Yorkers Facing Deportation as a Sensible and Humane Approach to Local Problems Created by our Broken Immigration System

The National Latino Congreso (NLC), the paramount consortium of federal, state, and local Latino civic and leadership in America, today applauded New York State Governor Paterson for his recent announcement that he would create a panel to assist him in reviewing pardon applications of legal immigrants facing deportation as a result of old or minor criminal convictions. Governor Paterson's action is a response to our national government's aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, which often expels immigrants without due process and any kind of consideration to the person's contributions to society or whether they will be torn away from their United States citizen children or spouse.

"In the absence of progressive national immigration reform, Gov. Paterson is taking a courageous and just step to mitigate what is clearly a deeply flawed system" stated Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, President of the Hispanic Federation. "This action by Governor Paterson will restore some sense of fairness and justice for immigrant New Yorkers, and help keep families together."

"Governor Paterson's action comes as a welcomed sign of real leadership, especially in light of what has taken place in Arizona, said Antonio Gonzalez, President of the William C. Velazquez Institute. "We will be calling on other state executives to follow his lead."

"We are deeply grateful to Governor Paterson for his common sense response to the despair felt by many immigrants in his state and across our nation, declared Oscar Chacon, Executive Director of NALACC. "What this once again reminds us is that enacting the right reforms is the only way out of the current national environment of hostility, racism and growing hate crimes against Latinos and immigrants in the United States."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why were there separate May Day rallies

By Pat Fry

Though the New York Times did not print a word of it, there were two May Day rallies and marches in New York City last Saturday, one estimated at 15,000 – 20,000 in front of downtown Manhattan’s Federal Building at Foley Square, and the other estimated to be a third less in size assembling a couple miles away in Union Square.

For the first time since the anti-communist derailment of May Day in the Cold War days of the late 1940s, labor unions officially sponsored a May Day March and Rally – a celebration that began with the Chicago general strike of workers for the 8 hour day May 1, 1886. Under the banner of “Labor and Immigrant Rights and Jobs for All,” the Foley Square rally represented the mobilization efforts of numerous unions – AFSCME District Councils, AFT/United Federation of Teachers, Professional Staff Congress, CWA District 1 and CWA Local 1180, IBT Joint Council 16 as well as 5 Teamster locals, NY State United Teachers, two locals of the RWDSU/UFCW, SEIU 32BJ and SEIU 1199 UHE, Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU, SEIU Workers United, the Laborers LIUNA Local 10, 78 and 79, LIUNA Mason Tenders District Council, UAW Region 9A, the UAW National Writers Union, and the NYC Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (NY LCLAA).

The keynote at the rally was given by Arlene Holt Baker, Executive Vice President of the AFL CIO, and the highest ranking labor leader of color in the country. In her remarks, which have been widely circulated by the AFL-CIO, she called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to take immediate legal action to stop the Arizona law from implementing its “ill-guided and unconstitutional law.” She urged Present Obama to publicly oppose and terminate all programs – including collaborations between state and local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that result in racial profiling.

In addition, numerous organizations of immigrants rights, and workers centers were sponsors, including the NY Immigration Coalition, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, NY Civic Participation Project, Sociedad Hondurena Activa de Nueva York, Cabrini Immigrant Services, NY Taxi Workers Alliance, the Domestic Workers Union, the NAACP, and religious organizations including the Bronx Muslim Center Mass, Council on American-Islamic Relations New York, Islamic Center of Jackson Heights, Labor Religion Coalition of Greater NY, American Friends Service Committee. It was an impressive center-left coalition and represented some of most critical sectors of the social justice movement today. The immigrant workers that rallied at Foley Square were organized either through their unions or through immigrant organizations.

The history making May Day effort was first discussed informally among a an ad-hoc group of left labor activists of the Labor Left Project, and then taken up by labor leaders and activists associated with NY LACLAA, an organization that embodies the core leadership of labor and immigrant workers that have historically played the leading role in the organization of the U.S. working class.

The other May Day event that took place at Union Square – the May Day March and Rally for Worker and Immigrant Rights – was organized by the May 1st Coalition, an initiative of the International Action Center and activists of the Million Workers March. Union Square has become known as the location for May Day rallies in the years following the massive 2006 immigrant rights march in NYC as elsewhere and the IAC, never missing an opportunity, has sponsored May Day rallies in the years since at Union Square.

Many lamented the confusing mobilization of two separate rallies. Some organizations had to decide which to support. There were efforts made in the months preceding the rallies to work toward a coordinated effort that would merge the two rallies and marches, but to no avail.

Instead of cooperation, what resulted were anti-union smears and denunciations toward the unions and immigrants rights organizations that spearheaded the Foley Square mobilization. Some responses heard went like this: “we are marching with the little people, not the fat cat union bosses.” Verbal assaults were also common attacking President Obama and the Democratic Party.

It is hard to imagine how anyone would not welcome an historic departure for the organized labor movement from one of the longest lasting holdovers of the cold war – going from opposition to participation in May Day. It is also perplexing why some forces would not openly welcome the organized labor movement embracing justice for immigrants and calling for a boycott of Arizona and calling upon the U.S. government to demand the law be overturned. The emergence of labor and its most organized expression – the trade unions – assuming its historic role in advancing political demands for jobs and immigrant rights is a day many have long awaited.

But rather than embrace this new development, the IAC sponsored rally consistently narrowed the basis of participation with slogans and issues that were not singularly focused on the political demands that could unite the widest possible support from broad forces – justice for immigrants, labor rights and jobs for all. It should be noted that many of the immigrants who participated in the Union Square IAC sponsored rally did not necessarily support the sectarian content of the rally. Clearly, had not the Foley Square May Day been organized, the powerful voices of unions and organizations that assembled in Foley Square would have been absent on May Day.

Nor would there have been a platform for the many elected officials who spoke passionately on the need to unite to defeat the Arizona anti-immigrant bill – Cong. Charles Rangel, Cong. Nydia Velázquez and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Also speaking was Cong. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who is the sponsor of the most progressive immigration legislation in Congress. Several other legislators spoke who had just passed city council and state legislative measures in NY to denounce the Arizona law. These progressive leaders are the core of legislators that the movement can now count on to sponsor legislation to pressure Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Fundamental to these two widely divergent approaches are important ideological differences. The unions, organizations and elected officials that were represented on May Day aim to not only defeat the Arizona law and others like it, but to win a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Only efforts that are inclusive and broad based, uniting left and center, organized to bring pressure on the levers of government – is the way to win for all working people.

Pat Fry is a labor union activist in New York City and a National Co-Chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

Saturday, May 1, 2010

NYC May Day rally: thousands bring tradition back, urge legislative reform

By Peter Gale
From the People's World newspaper:

The thousands of people jamming Manhattan’s Foley Square on May 1 demanding labor rights and immigration reform are part of a long tradition, stretching all the way back to the 1800s. The date was picked by the world working-class movement in memory of workers rallying peacefully in support of the eight hour day in the Haymarket Square rally, which became a massacre on May 4, 1886 in Chicago. Until now, it has been more widely celebrated in other countries than in the country where it started. But Latinos have sparked an interest in May Day rallies in the United States since 2006. This year, many labor unions climbed on board in unity with immigrant organizations.

The boisterous crowd was about two-thirds Latino, reflecting the fighting spirit among Latinos to fight for immigration reform, and reflecting the large immigrant population in New York City from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, and other countries in Central and South America.

Members of the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, Service Employees International Union, with many unionists from Local 1199, the Laborers Union, United Federation of Teachers, Professional Staff Congress, and other unions were present in force.

The most common poster seen among the crowd was “Friends Keep their Promises.” This slogan was a reminder to the Senate that immigration reform is part of the Obama agenda. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has been preparing immigration reform legislation to introduce this year. It was originally intended to be a bipartisan effort in a partnership with Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC. Graham appears to have been pressured by Republican obstructionists who are trying to say “no” to everything in the Obama agenda. It is not clear whether Graham will continue to help pass any bipartisan legislation, so Schumer now appears to be working mostly with Democrats, while trying to woo one or two breakaway Republicans.

A few days before the rallies, President Obama warned that Congress may not have the “stomach” to pass immigration reform yet. It is not clear just how much a step forward the Schumer legislation will be.

In the meantime, immigrants are suffering from threats of deportation, harassment, discrimination, and occasional violence from employers, landlords, and some whites who worry that they might lose their jobs to immigrants willing to work for a minimum wage, or sometimes less. The labor movement in the United States has realized that it must fight discrimination and racism against immigrants in order to foster unity in the fight for labor rights and economic justice. The labor movement has come slowly to realize that undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation and discrimination will be fearful to speak out for justice for all workers.

Many speakers and signs spoke out against the new Arizona law which many fear will end up profiling immigrants for police harassment. As the crowd chanted English and Spanish slogans, the most common one was “Obama Escucha, Estamos en la Lucha,” "Obama, Listen, We are in the Struggle."

The march went south from Foley Square, going west on Barkley Street. The crowd turned north on Church Street, and circling east on Worth Street to return to Foley Square.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What the NY Communist Party says now

Friends and comrades,

The report below was delivered to the New York State Communist Party's 29th Convention, which took place today. Its general direction was adopted. Edits for style, grammar and typographical errors need to be made, but we present the report to you here, in a rough, unedited version, so that you may see our general politics as soon as possible.

Report to the 29th Convention of the NY State Communist Party

Welcome, everyone.

This report will not go into too much detail on some of the most important issues—but for good reason. You’ll be hearing a number of extended remarks in the discussion—on labor and the jobs struggle, on housing, education, peace, on the fight against racism.

Co-equal to all this is the job of building the Communist Party. We see this task as so important that we’ve devoted a portion of the Convention to it, a more interactive portion. We’ve asked Danny Rubin, who’s studied Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism, whichever term you want to use for it, and has put decades into the study of the theory of the role of Party, to give a presentation on building the Party, the YCL and our press. Then the Convention will divide into workshops where people can throw out ideas and come to a greater and better understanding of how we can work to build the Party. These will be working meetings; the ideas developed, the best of them, will be put into practice. It’s up to everyone here to make sure that the Communist Party is stronger and better in New York.

Some points on the overall scene:

We’re in a period coming on the heels of a huge victory, the successful culmination in the fight for health care reform. I want to emphasize that I’m using the word “successful” without reservation or hesitation. I won’t go too much into the specifics; there’s a good PW article on that. But it does limit the profits of insurance companies. In less than a decade, more than 30 million new people will be insured.

That means tens of thousands of people each year will live longer, lives saved. What kind of progressive, not to mention Communist, could pooh-pooh this? Fighting against this bill, as some had urged, out of a dogmatic fidelity to the idea of single payer-or-nothing would have sentenced these people to death. We can’t be part of any such thing.

Reform, for the first time in decades, put Congress and the President on record as saying, “Yes, it is the job of the government to protect people and deliver them services.”

It’s not worth it to spend too much time arguing against reform’s left detractors; there is a much larger group of people against reform, attacking it from the right. In fact, the same dynamic can be seen on virtually all issues. We’ve seen two poles emerge in U.S. politics. On the one side, there is the progressive, democratic people’s movement. It includes the labor movement and the racially and nationally oppressed, young people and the women’s movement, the Obama administration as well as the GLBT community and others, including everyone from the peace movement to sections of the Democratic Party and even a section of monopoly capital itself. It goes without saying that, around this pole, going out in concentric circles of support, is the working class. But on the other side there is a scary, fascistic pole. It is the side that is dominated by the extreme sections of monopoly capital, the tea partiers, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and the Republican Party. This is the side of racist terror, the side that hates immigrants, that wants to escalate wars and terror around the world, and that is chasing immigrants out of the country.

We said that the working class is around the democratic pole, in concentric circles. Each circle that is closer to the center is more advanced. The same is true of the tea parties’ side, though with far less workers. It has to be said that there is some working class support there. But polls show that the tea party movement is mainly made up of middle strata people. The concentric circles on this side stretch out and meet and overlap with the circles from the other side. There are a huge number of working-class people somewhere in the middle who have contradictory ideas: big government is bad, but we should do something about health care; we’re union members and hate the bosses but why do we let in all these immigrants? Etc.

What to do about this? Obviously, we want to fight to get the best, most progressive, positions forward in our coalition. In practice, this means fighting for the dominance of labor and the other core forces, to set the stage at some point more than the monopoly forces, or the Democratic Party centrist forces in this coalition. At the same time, this can’t come at the expense of pushing that pole away from the working class people in the center. More people who are in the center have to be brought over to the side of the labor-led people’s coalition, that left pole, and we can do that.

We’re in a transitional period between a fight against the ultra right, just that most awful section of monopoly capital, and a period of an all out fight against monopoly capital. Currently, monopoly capital is sometimes an ally, sometimes not, based on any given issue. Even its most moderate section floats between the two poles. The question, then, is: how do we fully defeat the extremist ultra-right section of capital, and bring much of mass base over to the side of progress? How do we move to a new situation of working people and their allies versus all of monopoly capital? The answer given, and the answer with which I believe we would agree, is to fight to push forward the leading role of labor and its allies in the progressive camp and to, without yet pushing them away, marginalize the monopoly capital forces. That means helping to build the power of the AFL-CIO and the NAACP and NOW, NCLR and other Latino organizations, and the youth and student organizations, etc. At the same time, the alliance has to be maintained (even though this section of monopoly capital either doesn’t realize or openly resents being in alliance with such people’s forces), and strengthened, to ensure that the far right doesn’t pick up seats and power in the November elections.

The main issue going forward is going to be the question of jobs; we’ve already seen that this is the case. The biggest thing on the minds of the American people is the economy, and how it affects us. Can we win government intervention that will help to alleviate people’s economic suffering? If so, we can actually strengthen our coalition’s hand in November; if not, we can expect to see a setback, a defeat at the polls that would strengthen the hand of reaction.

I’m restraining myself from getting into the jobs’ fight; we have extended comments on that.

The stakes are high, and this election has to be seen as just as important as 2008. Will we move forward into an era of reforms, or will our efforts be stymied?

Concretely this means picking up Democratic seats in the House and Senate, with the best possible candidates. Here in New York, that means making sure that the NY senator maintains her seat. She represents what we can do in New York State right now, the balance of forces, and she has the backing of the key players, including labor and women’s organizations. As in all things, this isn’t about personalities, individual candidates, but about the victory or failure of the coalition/movement around them. We want to see a victory of this labor-led coalition around her.

We’ll also have to take a look at the House, and compare notes with our allies in labor and the broader movement: There are Democratic seats around the state that face challenges and need to be defended.

Also, there is the question of the governor: How do we make sure that some Republican doesn’t take the governor’s mansion? Or that the State Senate stays Democratic, or picks up some seats to make sure that no right wing coup d’etat can happen again. This will be State Senate that will be in power for the redistricting based on the census results, and the Democrats need to be in power to avoid Republican gerrymandering. These are going to be important parts of the elections, and, given that we are a small party, we have to decide what to prioritize, based on the actual situation as it develops.

We should talk about these elections here, and ask the incoming State Committee to make concrete decisions about what to do, and where.

We talked about the coalition necessary to win, and we saw the New York City version of such a coalition, very beautifully and fully on display, in the election campaign of John Liu. He had powerful opponents: he was one of four candidates vying for the seat, and Wall Street and the big developers supported anyone but Liu, and they had billions of dollars to spend. But he was able to win 40 percent of the vote in a four way race, and then, in the runoff, crush his opponent with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Why was Liu able to do this? The coalition: With the exception of a single union, Liu had the support of the entire city labor movement. He had the support of the African American community, the Latino communities, the Asian communities, the GLBT community, and many white liberals. This powerful, undivided coalition was able to crush the Wall Street candidates. We saw the same thing in the mayoral fight—almost. The coalition nearly came together around Bill Thompson, who was trying to defeat Mayor Bloomberg, who doesn’t just take the side of the bosses, but who is one of the bosses. Bloomberg, who you’ll hear much more about in the sub reports (if I were to really get into him, and how awful he’s been, I’d speak for twice as long!) He spent more money than any other candidate in the history of municipal elections, in any country, about $200 million, and had years of incumbency. Nonetheless, he was only able to beat Thompson by less than five points. And the coalition around Thompson included a divided labor movement. Of the biggest unions in the city, the most powerful, two or three sat out the elections or endorsed Bloomberg—out of fear of what he’d do to them if he won. If a single one of these unions had jumped in and mobilized, we would probably be in a city whose chief executive was Bill Thompson.

This coalition is the only way forward. In everything we do, every election, every fight on an issue, we have to keep in our thoughts the question of how we help this coalition come together and stay united, and how to further empower it. That is the way forward in every instance.

We should take pride that we were able to predict a number of things. We were saying “tax the rich” to fix the budget crisis all along. Now, we saw that the Working Families Party took up that idea, and pushed to tax up to 50 percent of Wall Street bonuses, and Paterson and Bloomberg are backpedaling, since they’ve likely been scared by the popular support for that demand.

We were, aside from Bill Thompson, perhaps the only people in New York City who actually thought that there was a chance for Bloomberg to be defeated, if the correct balance of forces were assembled. We were proven correct. The fact that we’re too small and weren’t able to put forward the case to enough of the key players in the movement hindered the city. If others had been persuaded to follow our line, the city would not have a fat cat billionaire mayor, the mayor who wants to take away kids educations, privatize the schools, etc. After the elections, we said that the time was right for some kind of progressive caucus in the City Council, already close to half the members of the council itself. No one said that, except us. We put the idea forward in the public forum. Did they take the idea and run with it? We don’t know, but we did accurately assess the situation. We can take this as proof that we’re on the right track, in touch with what’s going on, and, more importantly, that the Marxist outlook, the Communist outlook, is correct and works.

Turning to the Party organization, I’ve already mentioned our politics, our Marxist analysis, and how all that led us to the right conclusions. Our analysis has proven sound.

Within the past year, we’ve replaced an outdated New York City club structure with something new and better. What we had in place before was the relic of a different era. We had neighborhood clubs that had too few people for there to be any critical mass, an arts club that, while full of good people, couldn’t have any direction because it was multi-borough and most of the people who were artists—some historical figures in the Party—had passed. When we studied the situation, we saw that we needed to take a step back and regroup in order to move forward. We dissolved all these clubs and created a new Manhattan-wide club, chaired by Bill Davis, and assigned the members of all of the former neighborhood clubs, as well as people in Manhattan who had been clubless, into the new club. The AEM club’s members were sent into other clubs, where they can participate in local struggles. Manhattan held a club pride event, and it was pretty exciting. Meeting attendance is good, and they are connected to their communities. If it keeps going in this direction, we won’t have to wait that long to see new community clubs emerge out of it, clubs that will have strong roots in Harlem, in Washington Heights, in Inwood—just to name some places uptown.

We’ve established a Queens club, and Gabe Falsetta is helping to get it off the ground. It is small, but the first club in Queens in years. We’ve established an education workers club, out of the old, structurally non-workable trade unionists club. Mike and Bobby are leading that club’s work. We’re also on the verge of establishing a new Staten Island club; Gabe and I just met with the people who will become the founders of that club, by phone. Arts committee; TU committee

We’ve done other good things as well, but let’s look at some problems. Now, we only have a single person on staff, instead of the two people a few years ago, and three people before that. This is a result of objective conditions—the Party budget. The Party is, for the first time in decades, stable in its finances, and poised to do better (there will be a pre-Convention document on that), but that meant cutbacks in staff.

We have too small of a base of readers of the PW, something Danny is planning to address, and too few members, also something Danny is planning to address.

Because of all this, we haven’t been able to participate and influence the people we want to influence. We haven’t had nearly enough participation in the mass arenas of struggle, in the coalitions: Organizing for America, the labor movement, etc. We haven’t been able to have sufficient presence at big rallies, to either have Party contingents or hand out material.

We need better financial support. We’ve got only 26 sustainers in the district! How can this be? You all have a sustainer form in your folders. Can you either start a sustainer—taken out of your account each month automatically—or raise it?

I want everyone here to think about how you can help in this respect. The Party isn’t some amorphous, phantasmagorical organism that exists outside of our membership; it is its membership. We are the Party, and we all have to think of what we can do better.

I wanted to list all of these problems so that we could think about them, how to fix them. I’m not trying to be depressing or gloomy; there would be no point in listing these problems if they were not things we could overcome—and I think we will do so. As I said, we’ve increased our standing. We have politicians coming to us now looking for help in their campaigns, giving us openings in grassroots struggles and, more than five years ago, we’re known as a positive force in many arenas.

We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic; let’s work to ensure that the Party grows stronger—we’re finally moving forward past the anti-ultra right stage of struggle, but we’ve still got a long way to go between now and the construction of socialism!

Monday, April 19, 2010

City will debate cost of war vs. human needs

The biggest U.S. city may call for a cut in the Pentagon budget to fund domestic needs, if City Council member Letitia James has her way.

James announced she will introduce a council resolution this month asking the state's congressional delegation to seek cuts in the proposed military budget to provide funding to state and local governments to deal with massive budget deficits throughout the country.

New York City is presently facing a $4.9 billion deficit. To resolve the deficit, the mayor has proposed draconian cuts to essential city services and jobs. Meanwhile, the nation's military budget is at a record high.

The resolution calls for transferring military spending to support job creation, affordable housing, anti-hunger programs, environmental protection, education and other essential human needs.

Supporters include community groups and New York's Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D, who are seeking an additional $4 billion annually as part of the reauthorization of federal child nutrition programs, such as WIC and school meals. Presently, the Senate Agriculture Committee is proposing only a $450 million increase.

Since the City Council has no real sway over foreign policy, the resolution will be mainly symbolic. But James believes the resolution will pass with broad support, and encourage members of the community to take action. She is working with the council's newly formed progressive caucus and other members. Beyond that, she said, it is up to the people of New York City to reach their congressional representatives to get action from Washington.

Anti-hunger and peace groups joined James at a City Hall press conference and rally on April 15, Tax dDy, calling for military cuts to fund the budget deficits and human needs.

James was introduced by Mark Dunlea of the Hunger Action Network of New York State. She focusing her remarks on the needs of children, the elderly and the unemployed. She pointed out that though the official unemployment rate in the city is 10.2 percent, the real figure is three times that number.

Christy Robb of Hour Children, a Long Island City-based family service organization, spoke of the growing number of people going hungry and the lacking of resources to meet their needs. "There has been no talk about extra federal dollars for food this year and now we have Mayor Bloomberg talking about cutting the emergency food aid program and Governor Paterson talking about cutting the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program," she said.

Matt Weinstein of Brooklyn for Peace noted that the mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., Matthew T. Ryan, has put up at his City Hall a device displaying a running tally of the cost of current wars and occupations, highlighting the enormous burden the military budget is putting on Binghamton and other cities around the country. Mayor Bloomberg, Weinstein said, only concerns himself with keeping Wall Street in the money.

Video of the City Hall press conference (courtesy Matthew Weinstein):

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Building workers rally on ruling class turf

Thousands of energized New York City unionized apartment building workers and their supporters marched April 13 from Central Park to ritzy Park Avenue to a rally on their contract demands. With negotiations with the industry association representing most owners, the Realty Advisory Board (RAB), going nowhere, the union representing the workers, Local 32BJ SEIU, called for the event to garner support for their cause and ready the workers for a possible strike.

In the four years since the last contract, prices have increased by over 11% while wages have gone up only 8.5%. Now, in the negotiations, the RAB is calling for reductions in both wages and benefits.

Leaders of 32BJ SEIU, including its president Mike Fishman, as well as leaders of several other unions, pointed out that the members work hard not only to take care of their buildings but also to help the residents who live in them by maintaining safe, healthy environments. Now it is time for the workers to get something in return, a fair contract.

The New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and New York City Comptroller John Liu all spoke in support of the union, emphasizing that the many contributions the workers give to the quality of life in New York City and the importance of maintaining the ability of working people to continue to afford to live here require the need for a fair contract with increases in both wages and benefits. Later in the program, over one dozen members of the New York City Council appeared on the stage with the union leaders in a show of support.

The union represents 30,000 workers who provide services in 3,200 apartment buildings with over one million residents throughout New York City. Contract talks began on March 9. On April 1, union members authorized a strike if one is necessary. On Thursday, their bargaining team will go to round the clock negotiations with the RAB. The current contract expires at 12:01 am on April 21, and failure to agree to a new one by then could result in the workers walking picket lines. The union leaders emphasized that they and their members don't want to strike, but they will if they have to. And they will win.

By C. Edward Meyer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Three grim tales from the Big Apple

Three news items in my inbox today paint a grim picture about the prospects for working-class families in the Big Apple.

The first was something that might have appeared in The Onion.

Turns out that New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to charge rent at the city's homeless shelters. (That's right: they are homeless because they can't afford rent, and the city wants to charge them ... rent!)

This would include families with children, who make up 70-plus percent of the shelter population, which adds up to thousands of homeless kids.

The second article was about the fight to retain the student MetroCard program (for subway and bus rides).

This program provides more than half a million students with free or half-fare passes. If it is eliminated, a family of four could end up paying an extra $2,300 a year to send their kids to school.

Although the proposal to eliminate student MetroCards originally came from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Gov. David Paterson, at this point it's the Bloomberg administration that is refusing to pay the city's share of the cost - a share that it has not increased in 15 years.

According to the Working Families Party, "When asked if he would do his part to help students, the mayor's response was, 'It's the state's fault.'" WFP is running two online petition campaigns, one calling on the State Senate to prevent the city from charging rent at the shelters, and the other, aimed at the City Council, calling for funding the MetroCard program.

The third article that caught my eye concerned a report that 43 percent of Manhattan's elementary and middle schools face severe - and growing - space shortages. Just one example illustrates the seriousness of the problem: P.S. 199, which has three fifth grade classes and eight kindergarten classes.

Meanwhile, school construction is frozen, and both the city and state budgets contain cuts in funding for education.

Are there solutions to the budget crises? One idea that's been around forever - raising taxes on the rich - is coming up, in all kinds of quarters.

Last week, City Comptroller John Liu said that Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg were wrong to rule out tax increases on bonuses to employees of banks and financial companies that received federal bailout funds.

Ranked third or fourth richest city in the world, New York has a choice: will it tell its young generation that it cannot provide shelter, or classrooms, or even transportation to school? Or will it tell the high rollers, whose bonuses in 2009 reached $20.3 billion (a 17 percent increase over 2008), to pay a larger share?

By Elena Mora

Friday, April 9, 2010

N.Y. to slash literacy funding

Though illiteracy here and across the U.S. continues to be a growing social problem, efforts to combat it are under attack by the state legislature and the mayor's office, under the guise of reigning in runaway spending.

The state budget proposals now being debated slash $2 million from the city's adult literacy program-one third of its total budget. Already $612,000 had been cut from the budget, meaning that, altogether, a full quarter of all money allocated to improving the city's adult literacy rate has been or is proposed to be slashed.

Additionally, the budget proposes a cut of $1.5 million to GED testing sites.

The lack of basic literacy skills has a direct correlation to unemployment and poverty. According to the National Institute for Literacy, 43 percent of those with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty. This, in turn, often leads to a life of desperation and crime: 85 percent of juvenile offenders are functionally or marginally illiterate and 70 percent of all prisoners in state and federal jails are illiterate.

As of 2007, says the NIL, "42 million American adults can't read at all; 50 million are unable to read at a higher level that is expected of a fourth or fifth grader." In addition, that number was on the increase by 2.25 million people per year.

Government, advocates say, needs to step in. Cutting programs to combat illiteracy can only lead to more unemployment, poverty and crime, and will cause the children of illiterate adults to do worse in school.

According to City Council member Sara Gonzalez, who spoke at an April 6 rally on the steps of City Hall against the cuts, "Being able to speak English well and having a high school diploma are critical stepping stones towards self-sufficiency. In addition, parents are better able to assist their children with schoolwork" if they are able to read and write.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Higher Education, 22 percent of New Yorkers lack basic literacy skills. That number is higher in poorer communities. The number is 37 percent in Brooklyn and 41 percent in the Bronx.

As the budget fight continues, students, volunteer tutors and program administrators have vowed to continue to struggle.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Make corporations pay their fair share!

Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share! by NYFF from New York State AFL-CIO on Vimeo.

While Wall Street has largely recovered from the economic crisis and reaped record profits in the last year, Main Street continues to suffer from the fallout of the economic crisis. It seems like corporations are doing better than the rest of us.

Now, New York faces a massive budget deficit and Albany must make a choice. Close tax loopholes and ask Wall Street to pay their fair share or even more New Yorkers will lose their jobs.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rallying for public schools, it's a Bronx cheer for Bloomberg

By Elena Mora

Chanting, "Tell me what you really want! Tell me what you really need! More schools, more schools!," a large group of Bronx residents gathered on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse April 6 to demand immediate action be taken to fulfill the promise of new schools in the Kingsbridge neighborhood.

The rally/press conference, called by the North West Bronx Clergy Community Coalition, brought together students, community leaders and Bronx elected officials.

The need for the city to build schools with seats for 2,000 students on land currently occupied by the National Guard is part of an ongoing struggle around the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory, a huge building that has been empty since 1996. Kingsbridge, a solidly working-class neighborhood with a majority of Latino and African American residents, mirrors the Bronx's overall population.

In December, New York's City Council defeated the Bloomberg administration's plan to build a shopping mall in the armory, which had been vigorously opposed by a broad community and labor union coalition.

While the armory redevelopment is now back on the drawing board, the proposal for the schools is pressing.

City Councilman Fernando Cabrera called it "inspiring to see youth taking action" and said, "We need smaller classes, quality teachers and parental involvement. We can win this because we are united."

Other speakers applauded the role young people are playing. New Day Church Pastor Doug Cunningham noted the irony that, "it takes a group of kids to tell the adults that education is important!" School District 10 in the Bronx is at more than 100% capacity, he continued, "which means there are young people with no room to get an education. If we are going to be a democracy, we need educated youth."

Among several eloquent youth speakers was Manny de la Cruz, who spoke on behalf of Sisters and Brothers United, one of the organizations most active on the campaign for the new schools. SBU had chosen eggs to symbolize the fragile situation of the Bronx's young people (as well as the Easter season), and to illustrate their slogan: "Our schools are broken, let the future hatch its shell."

Flor Cabrera, a NWBCCC parent leader with two children in public school, described the difficulty she had finding a local middle school for her daughter. "Our schools lack fundamental resources," Cabrera said, calling it unacceptable that the city's Department of Education (DOE) only expects 36% of Bronx high school students to graduate in four years. "I want both my children to make it all the way through college. We demand that schools be built on West 195 Street."

State Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said many of the new schools that have been created by the DOE in recent years have only "multi-purpose rooms," serving as auditorium, gym and cafeteria. "When I was growing up we had all three. Our kids should have all three now."

Dinowitz called the community's proposal a "triple win," referring to the new opportunity to develop a good plan for the armory, with schools at the adjacent site, and moving the National Guard to an already approved location in another area of the Bronx.

State Assemblyman Jose Rivera pointed across the street at the new Yankee Stadium. "That park wasn't there a year ago. The stadium wasn't there a year ago. But the Kingsbridge Armory has been abandoned for more than 13 years, and all those years we've been trying to get the city to do something with it, and solve the problem of overcrowded schools," he said.

Desiree Pilgrim Hunter, a community activist and leader in NWBCCC and probable candidate for state Senate, blasted the city for the overcrowded schools and inadequate resources. "Students continue to have classes in converted closets, leaky trailers and hallways and stairways."

She called on the Bloomberg administration to "stop neglecting the children of the Bronx."

Photo: Elena Mora/PW