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.

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Yorkers plan "no nuclear" events during UN meet

Actor Vinie Burrows urged New Yorkers to create a world with peace and justice and to bring an end to nuclear weapons.

The award-winning Broadway actor moderated a Granny Peace Brigade Forum with three veteran peace activists who spelled out in detail what needs to be done to get the United States to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Frida Berrigan, senior program associate at the Arms and Security Initiative, recalled that during the heyday of anti-nuclear protests, activists split into groups that just opposed nuclear weapons or just opposed nuclear power. The opponents of nuclear weapons argued that nuclear energy is part of the bargain for nuclear disarmament. In the meantime, the number of nuclear weapons states has increased from 5 to 9 because nuclear energy programs have been used as a covert way to develop nuclear weapons. Berrigan argued that nuclear energy and nuclear weapons must be fought against together to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Horace Campbell, professor of political science at Syracuse University, said for America to live in peace, we must have a society where people live in justice, not just in the absence of war. He argued for dismantling the military-industrial complex. He asked why is the U.S. raising questions about Iran nuclear policies, but not about Israel's nuclear capabilities. He called on peace activists to take up the exploitation of Africa and its peoples, particularly to oppose the U.S. military's Africa command and the poisoning of the land by corporate polluters.

Judith LeBlanc, coordinator of International Planning Committee for the Nuclear Abolition, Peace and Justice conference and march, reminded the audience that the right wing is gearing up to oppose nuclear disarmament so the peace movement must "organize, organize, organize." She said that President Obama has a vision of a nuclear weapons free world, but a vision isn't enough and his opponents are blocking it. Obama needs a movement to make the fight for nuclear disarmament. People must be there to support the Obama administration but also to challenge it to do more and to say to it that ending war and actually engaging in nuclear disarmament is the only way to economic growth and racial justice.

The forum showed an excerpt of John Pilger's documentary "Stealing a Nation." It showed the forced expulsion by the British government of the native population of the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia to allow the U.S. to establish a major military base there. The excerpt ended with an account of the attempts of the deportees to return to their island. Besides the expulsion issue, the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons there is in violation of the African Union's Treaty of Pelindaba, which has made all of Africa and its island nations into a nuclear weapons free zone. Diego Garcia is claimed by the African island nation of Mauritius, but it is still involved in a dispute over sovereignty with the United Kingdom.

The forum is part of the buildup to events in New York City that include an April 30-May 1 conference at Riverside Church and May 2 march coinciding with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the United Nations in May. The NPT requires non-nuclear weapons states to never possess nuclear weapons in return for the declared nuclear weapons states, five at the time the treaty went into effect, to start and eventually complete a process of nuclear disarmament. This treaty, which entered into force in 1970, has had review conferences every five years since to allow the participating countries to measure progress towards its goals.

There are many reasons that more of the public must be involved in the peace movement's work during and after the review conference to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are actually carried out, speakers said. A number of the non-nuclear weapons states that have ratified the treaty are considering withdrawing from it because now after 40 years since the treaty went into effect, the nuclear weapons states still show no serious signs of eliminating their stockpiles.

Many right-wing sources are attacking the treaty as worthless due to alleged nuclear activities of North Korea, Iran, and some other states. Even some leftists are critical of the treaty for its history of, in effect, allowing the nuclear weapons states to remain so while having kept almost all other countries out of the so-called "nuclear club," which now numbers nine.

The current atmosphere might best be summarized by a New York Times quote of Senator John Kerry at the Munich Security Conference in February: "The NPT risks unraveling unless we do something about the challenges."

For those who can get to New York City, there is limited seating for the April 30-May 1 conference at Riverside Church. Everyone is invited to the march on the day after the conference. People are also encouraged to become involved in the activities around the May NPT review conference. For those who cannot come to New York City, there is much that can be done locally. Go to for more information about all of these events.

Photo: Vinie Burrows speaks at a 2008 Granny Peace Brigade event. Eliza Griffiths

Texting 32BJ contract talks could read "we r on strk"

From the dawn of capitalism, working people have had to battle constantly for better wages, working conditions and quality of life. Usually the bosses own most of the communication tools to spin that battle in their favor.

But now, with the Internet and digital revolutions, workers have gained powerful new tools against their bosses. And one example comes from SEIU Local 32BJ, New York's building workers union, as they prepare for a potential strike. Some may call it Labor 2.0.

Union members are in a battle with the Realty Advisory Board to secure a fair contract. The Realty Advisory Board represents the private building owners. The cost of living in New York City has continued to rise, while workers' wages have been stagnant. But the RAB has balked at wage increases, as well as improved health and pension benefits.

On April 2, union members voted to give their negotiating committee the authority to call a strike-which would be the first since 1991-if an agreement isn't reached by April 20.

But this time-honored and tested tool of battle is being supplemented by modern technology. 32BJ members recently received an e-mail from their union's president, Mike Fishman, urging them to keep informed on late-breaking developments-by text message.

"As we head into the most critical days of bargaining," Fishman wrote, "make sure that we can contact you with urgent updates." The message went on to say that workers should text "32BJ" to 787753. After doing so, workers would begin to receive updates as they occur, directly on their phone.

Worker-to-worker contact is still important and texting can help. Fishman's note asked workers to "make sure everyone in your building is signed up for texts so you all have up-to-the minute information."

The slightly more traditional e-mail campaign is also in use. 32BJ, representing about 120,000 workers, including 30,000 in private city buildings, is asking its supporters to go to to sign a letter to the RAB demanding that the board negotiate in better faith.

By Dan Margolis
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