Sunday, April 17, 2011

March 24 was big step forward

By Larry Hales
Published Apr 17, 2011 11:14 AM

In the early morning of March 31, the state Legislature of New York passed an austerity budget that cuts more than $1 billion from education. Cuts to state spending on Medicaid will lead to a loss of federal matching funds that will total $5 billion. Hundreds of millions more were cut from other vital social services.

While the Legislature, the governor’s office and both the Democratic and Republican parties of New York congratulated themselves on a nearly on-time budget — a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in years — hundreds of students, community members and labor activists occupied the state Capitol building March 31 in Albany.

More than 1,000 people from across the state had decided to protest both inside and outside the state Capitol as a final showdown against a severe budget that represents a vicious attack against working people in the state of New York.

The response of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, in a similar vein to that of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, was to use state troopers to deny protesters access to the legislative chambers during the voting process, though the chambers are usually and supposed to be open to the public.

The protesters kept up a spirited rally inside the Capitol — even taking over a major stairwell — a move led by students, many from the State University of New York at Albany. This action was reminiscent of the leading role students and young people played in the February occupation of the state Capitol in Madison, Wis.

Despite the outpouring and contrary to the actual needs of the people of New York, the budget, which did not renew taxes on the wealthy, was passed.

A week before the occupation in Albany, activists in a new alliance of students, community organizations and labor unions mobilized a rally and march of thousands that started at City Hall and proceeded farther downtown to target Wall Street. The march passed by the Federal Reserve and wound up for a final rally back at City Hall.

This march of 6,000 people — rank-and-file union members, people from the oppressed communities and overwhelmingly students — was the beginning of an important alliance crucial to fighting and beating back the austerity program being forced upon the working class of New York and the U.S.

The seeds for the new coalition were planted with student organizing that began late in the fall of 2009. At that time the CUNY [City University of New York] Mobilization Network formed against the cuts of tens of millions of dollars from the CUNY system and against tuition increases.

Inspired by the occupations and mass protests in California that sprung up against a 32 percent tuition increase within the California university system, along with cuts, layoffs and furloughs, the CUNY students saw the necessity of building a national action to defend public education and to fight back against the imposition of austerity.

March 4, declared as a statewide day of action to defend public education in California, was chosen on a national conference call, after the CUNY students reached out to activists in Connecticut, Ohio, California, Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states.

Building a militant broad movement

While the March 4 actions were a success both in New York and nationally, it was not nearly enough to turn back the cuts. Its strength, however, lay in it being not only the first nationally coordinated protest since the capitalist crisis began in 2007, but also that it entered into the consciousness of working people around the country, who had been used to soaking up propaganda from major media outlets on the necessity of “shared sacrifice.”

“Shared sacrifice” really means that the working class suffers an even greater burden based on the objective nature of the capitalist system. Profit is derived from the exploitation of working people. On top of that, trillions of tax dollars are used to wage war, finance occupation and pay for weapons of destruction that only benefit the superwealthy corporate heads and bankers. Tax money is openly used to bail out banks and financial institutions and allows these capitalists to subsidize the privatization of schools.

The anti-worker laws being passed in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere cast off the veil entirely and reveal the program of the politicians who do the bidding of the corporate heads and bankers — the ruling class. This program will undo years of gains from working-class struggle in a much more aggressive manner.

The seeds of this program originated 30 or so years ago. The program’s process, however, has sped up as the economic crisis of the capitalist system, or the “Great Recession” — as the media and politicians of both major parties call it — has been used as the excuse. “These are tough times and we all must share the burden,” is a common refrain. “There is a lack of revenue. There is no money,” they say. But there is $700 billion for the Pentagon to drop bombs on Libya; wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq; and to prop up brutal regimes around the world, like at least $50 billion given to Hosni Mubarak, the U.S. puppet recently deposed by a peoples’ uprising in Egypt.

On March 24 the broad alliance forged in New York pulled off the largest rally in New York City against the state cutbacks since 2009. This rally was the only one with a progressive program calling for free education, free health care, an end to the wars, taxing of the rich, a stock transfer tax — which is on the books but is not implemented by the state government — and other progressive demands.

The militant rally participants promised to be back and saved their harshest and most vociferous vitriol for the portion of the march that wound past the stock exchange. The state of New York is planning an even greater hit on the working class in New York for next year, already suggested by a so-called state deficit totaling more than $15 billion.

The activists of the coalition in New York, which has named itself New Yorkers Against the Budget Cuts: Students/Community/Labor United, are planning actions throughout the city with other organizations. They are joining with a march on Wall Street planned for May 12, as well as organizing for a showdown with billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was recently forced to fire Cathleen Black, the inexperienced schools chancellor who was plucked from Hearst Magazines.

What the ruling class has in store is more war against the working class and oppressed in the U.S. and the only way to meet the force of the ruling class onslaught is a greater force of multinational, working-class unity, of all sectors, armed with a working-class program to defend our interests and fight for something much better.

Hales is a leading organizer of the CUNY Mobilization Network and was a co-chair of the March 24 rally.

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