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.

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.