Three City College of New York students and one campus worker were arrested for participating in a non-violent protest against military recruiters at a “career fair” on March 9. The vindictive College administration suspended the students from classes; the worker, Theater Department secretary Carol Lang, who has been at CCNY for thirty years, was suspended from her job without pay for almost a month.
Here are the basic facts (further details can be found at the website www.citydefensecampaign.org and in other articles on this case previously posted here on this website). At the March 9 protest, about fifteen demonstrators had chanted anti-war slogans in front of a National Guard recruiting table, private “rent-a-cops” and campus “peace officers” ushered them from the room and then physically attacked two protesters, Nick Bergreen and Justino Rodriguez. The two were arrested along with a third student, Hadas Thier, who was taking pictures. The level of repression was stepped up when the cops seized Carol Lang in her office on campus two days later. The arrestees were charged with assault -- a standard cop practice to cover their own brutality.
College President Gregory Williams quickly issued a statement claiming -- contrary to all non-cop observers -- that the four arrestees, not the police, were guilty of violence. His administration then took the unprecedented step of suspending all four and docking Lang’s pay without even the pretense of a hearing. The claim was that the four “posed a continuing danger on campus” -- an obvious fabrication.
The students are supporters of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) on campus. Lang is organizationally unaffiliated but has often worked with supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) in campus and union activities.
The “CCNY Four” were supported from the start by the City Defense Campaign, a coalition of students, workers and faculty members on campus. Resolutions of support came from the faculty union of the City University, of which CCNY is a branch, and from the CCNY Faculty Senate. The Campaign held public protest demonstrations and a teach-in on the issues of free speech, military recruitment and the war in Iraq. It also collected over a thousand signatures on campus and off demanding that all the charges be dropped. It also collected over a thousand dollars to help pay for defense expenses and compensate Lang for her lost wages.
As a result of the active defense effort, the criminal charges were dropped against all four, and the three students were reinstated. Clearly there was no evidence to try them, nor to support President Williams’s Alice-in-Wonderland process of sentence first, trial afterwards.
Lang’s disciplinary punishment continues. She finally got an administrative hearing over her suspension in June, held well off campus, at which she was dealt an additional five week’s suspension without pay, pending arbitration of her case on November 29th .
Carol Lang has also been outrageously discriminated against by her own union, Local 384 of AFSCME District Council 37 She was nominated for the presidency of her local but then removed from the ballot on the grounds that she had been off the payroll for several weeks and therefore was not ineligible to run. LRP supporters were among the DC 37 workers who spoke out at two union meetings in Carol’s defense.
An editorial in the New York City civil service newspaper The Chief called the decision a “disgrace” and observed:
By the logic of the Local 384 decision, every labor leader who ever went to jail for seeking better wages or working conditions, or protesting a war or the killing of Amadou Diallo, could have their positions challenged if being arrested violated a technical definition of good standing. (June 10.)
DC 37’s blatantly discriminatory ruling was upheld in July by AFSCME’s national Judicial Panel, in a process The Chief accurately labeled a “kangaroo court” whose chairman tailors his rulings to suit the AFSCME bureaucracy and “doesn’t concern himself with trade union issues or principles.” (August 26.)
To top it off, Lang was denied the $800 “signing bonus” awarded to all CUNY DC 37 workers in their long-delayed contract, on the grounds that she was off the payroll on March 31, the day the ratification of the contract was announced! This additional theft of rightfully earned wages was accepted by union officials, Lang was told by CCNY payroll workers. There will be a rally protesting the undemocratic treatment Lang and other workers by the union at DC37 headquarters, 125 Barclay St. (corner of Greenwich St.), at 5:00pm on Tues. September 27th .
Why is the union acting this way? A few years ago several top DC 37 officials were convicted on corruption charges, after the union had settled for a multi-year no-gain contract. (See “Hands Off DC 37!” in PR 58.) This year the union again agreed to a rotten contract, so any militant committed to fight for the workers’ interests or who even raises questions about union operations represents a danger to the bureaucrats in power.
The crackdown at CCNY takes place in the midst of a stepped-up climate of tension and repression in the United States. The working class has been under economic assault for decades. Dissent against the wars and occupations was stifled under the patriotic chest-beating that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
By this spring, however, opposition to the anti-working-class assault was mounting. The war against Iraq is increasingly unpopular, and recruitment has sagged well below Washington’s needs for policing the world. Re-enlistment is down, and “stop-loss” orders have forced thousands of soldiers into involuntarily extended tours of duty - a “back-door draft.” Protests by soldiers, their families and outraged opponents of the war are growing.
The City University authorities are tailing their ruling-class bosses by hardening their line against student, worker and faculty activists. CUNY is a working-class university, with a majority of Black, Latino, Asian and immigrant students. Cutbacks and rising costs at CUNY have become the norm over the years and have inspired numerous rounds of protests. So police presence on CUNY campuses has been expanded, and arrests of student demonstrators on trumped-up charges are becoming standard practice.
In a direct link to the military, CCNY gets over 10 million dollars in grants from the Pentagon, far more than all the other CUNY campuses together. No wonder the administrators worried when protesters forced military recruiters to abandon their efforts last fall. As an LRP supporter said in a speech at the Defense Campaign teach in:
The American ruling class has targeted places like City College, with its high percentage of working class black and Latinos, as prime places to recruit. As the economy continues to sputter, job opportunities in this country are dwindling, and they are especially bad for working class youth of color in the major industrial areas, where unemployment reaches over 50 percent. So military recruiters prey on CCNY students, trying to trick them into going over to Iraq to kill Iraqis, and possibly die -- all for a war that does not benefit us at all. It only benefits the few who are part of the U.S. ruling class.
There is growing nationwide resistance in high schools as well as colleges against military recruitment, especially the targeting of working-class and Black and Latino youth. In the fall term, anti-military recruitment actions will continue at CCNY. Protests against the harassment and punishment of Carol Lang will be reinvigorated. Her suspension from work and the docking of her pay will be appealed this fall. Those interested in joining the campaign can send email to email@example.com or to the firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 212-330-9017. Statements of support and contributions for the defense can be sent to the City Defense Fund, 809 W. 181st St. #182, New York, NY 10033.
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City College has long been a symbol of protest and resistance. And its various administrations have a long history of trying to suppress those protests.
CCNY was a hotbed of political radicalism in the 1930’s and ’40’s, the locus of the Black and Puerto Rican student upsurge that took over the campus to demand open admissions in 1969, and the center of the CUNY-wide student protests against tuition hikes in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. In 1990, when the college awarded an honorary degree to Colin Powell, who was then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and fresh from engineering George Bush I’s brutal and racist invasion of Panama, a campus protest persuaded Powell not to show up. (See our report in Proletarian Revolution No. 37.)
More recently, a teach-in about the upcoming Afghan war in 2001 triggered tabloid headlines claiming that “CCNY Attacks America,” a charge shamefully echoed by the university’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees. In 2004, student and staff protesters broke through the “Anybody but Bush” sentiment suffusing the left during the presidential campaign and exposed John Kerry as a supporter of Bush’s Iraq war when he made an early campaign stop at City College. In Spring 2005, campus security used police holding pens to restrict faculty and staff members demonstrating for a decent union contract.
The LRP is proud to have taken part in all the anti-imperialist, anti-racist and working-class actions at City College for the past twenty years. (See other articles on this website for details; you can find links to relevant articles in our subject index.) Mass class struggle is the only way to stop the attacks on our class here and around the world, and to show fellow workers that they have the power not only to resist, but to put an end to the profit-gouging rule of the capitalists and create a new society run by and for the working classes. The LRP is dedicated to building the revolutionary working-class party that can show the way forward in these struggles.
The treatment of Carol Lang by her union reminds us of a verse from an old labor song, “Drill Ye Tarriers Drill":
Last week a premature blast went off
And a mile in the air went big Jim Goff.
Next time payday came around
Jim Goff a dollar short was found.
When he asked “What for?” came this reply,
"You were docked for the time you were up in the sky.”