Mayor Bloomberg is threatening to lay off as many as 10,000 city workers, and drastically cut the funds for education, sanitation and other vital services. These cuts would be a devastating blow to the New York City working class. They demand a massive fightback.
New York workers have the power to beat back these attacks. But for years the union bureaucrats that have run DC 37 and the rest of the city’s unions have allowed one Mayor after another -- Republican and Democrat -- to attack the working class with vicious budget cuts and give-back union contracts. They have misled workers into feeling powerless. Now, finally, union leaders have at least called a mass protest. It’s about time!
City workers do have the power. But the struggle will be a big one. The city is in a massive financial crisis and is determined to make the working class pay for it. Half-measures will not defeat Bloomberg’s attacks. Even though the bureaucratic union leaders have divided us into tons of different locals, DC 37 is 125,000 members strong. The city cannot function without its workers on the job. Workers will have to mobilize by striking if we are to defend our jobs and living conditions. A strike by DC 37 could inspire the workers of other unions to join in a general strike that shuts the city down. And it could rally to its side the millions of workers and poor outside the unions, who are also targeted by the budget cuts. After all, it is especially immigrants, Blacks, and Latinos who are facing rising racist attacks.
Such a mighty display of workers’ power would terrify the politicians and the Wall Street bosses they serve because it would threaten profit-making, which is the heart of the system. Faced with a united workers’ struggle, the politicians would therefore be powerless to use their Taylor Law that bans public sector strikes. They can be forced to abandon their threatened cuts.
We can’t allow today’s rally to be just window dressing for the union leadership as they otherwise continue on a path of sellout and betrayal. Rather today’s demonstration should be just the beginning of an inspired, united working class struggle in defense of our jobs and living conditions.
There is every sign that Executive Director Lillian Roberts and the rest of the DC 37 leadership are planning such a sellout. They’re not even talking about using the one power we have to defeat these attacks -- the power to strike. Worse, they’ve already allowed hundreds of union members at the Dept. of Education to be laid off, as well as 3000 workers in the Parks Dept. to suffer wage cuts and lose union representation.
And Roberts’s supposedly more militant opponents in the union offer no alternative either. DC 37 Treasurer Mark Rosenthal, for example, complains that in the case of the Parks Department Roberts didn’t cut a wage deal low enough, which could have maintained union representation for the new jobs. (see The Chief, April 4). There are other union leaders with reputations of being more militant, like Local 1930 President Ray Markey. But neither he nor any other prominent opponent of Roberts is promoting the idea of a strike.
Militant workers who see the need for strike action will have to make this demand upon their union leaders. In many cases, this fight can begin in Chapter and Local meetings. Motions in favor of striking and demanding that Roberts and the rest of the union leadership organize a strike should be put forward, mandating delegates to support a strike motion in the next Delegates Assembly. Where no such meetings exist, in many cases we will also have to fight to have such meetings called on an emergency basis. Mass meetings are necessary to organize any serious united fightback across the city.
The city is faced with a massive budget crisis. It is billions in the hole, and has been joined in debt by the state and federal governments. The budget crisis has in turn been brought about by the long decline of the world capitalist economy. As the bubble of prosperity burst, a good portion of the corporate and private sources for tax revenue has dried up.
Aggravating the deficit has been the fact that for the past twenty-five years or so, the bulk of the US capitalist class and their politicians have pushed tax reduction, especially on incomes. This has been part of their response to the long-standing fall in overall profits. By reducing taxes and thus government services and benefits for workers, the capitalists reduce the whole living standard of the working class.
The politicians also like to make city workers think that because they are working for the government, they’re not working to make profits for the capitalists. But the City and State have taken massive loans from Wall Street Banks which demand high interest rates in return -- as do those private investors who have purchased millions of dollars in City and State bonds. With profits on their other investments falling, the Banks and investors are even more determined to get their interest payments from the government, and they demand huge budget cuts to pay for it. Thus billions that the Mayor plans on cutting from the city budget are planned to go directly into the pockets of the capitalists. Thus we are all working to make profits even if we are working for a supposedly public service.
This situation promises to only get worse as the world economy continues to sink. The attempt to colonize Iraq will cost billions, as the U.S. military suppresses rebellions, pays off puppets to “rule” the country and tries to clean up enough of the wreckage to sufficiently exploit the country. And in the meantime, substantial sections of the capitalist class, led by Bush, are still forging ahead with tax cuts.
The starting point for a working-class response to the budget crisis is to understand that it is not our crisis -- it is the capitalists’ crisis. We shouldn’t pay to protect their profits. The unions should demand that the city repudiate its debts to Wall Street rather than squeeze us. That would remove the basis for the cuts. But the current leaders of the unions suggest nothing of the sort. Instead, they all accept that cuts have to be made. At best they suggest cutting government waste and, at their most ‘radical,’ raising taxes on the rich a little. The union bureaucrats aren’t even serious about their own proposals, and are already bickering over different ways to make more concessions. All their ways are sellouts.
Many of the bureaucrats actually prefer layoffs to wage and benefit concessions, and thus have sat on their hands waiting for the axe to fall. These include “militant” misleaders such as Arthur Cheliotes, President of Local 1180 of the Communication Workers of America. He moaned: “The mayor may want to put it in terms of what we are willing to do to ransom our colleagues so they keep their jobs ... I don’t like layoffs, but we can’t afford to ask our members to give up anything more.” These types understand that union members enraged by reduced wages and benefits can vote them out of office, while laid-off members can’t vote. It is a cynical defense of their own privileges, not the ranks’ interests. On the other hand the DC 37 leadership has offered up a concessions package which among other things included cuts in members’ health benefits.
About the only thing the union leaders agree on is that there will be cuts, in one form or another. And that they need to tramp up to Albany and beg state politicians for a commuter tax, a move which will raise revenue in no small part from many workers who need to travel into the city to work. Given the pathetic display of the union leaders on all of this, it should be no surprise that Bloomberg has blown off the concession suggestions by DC 37 as totally inadequate, and ratcheted up the cutback atmosphere.
The union bureaucrats act this way because they enjoy a privileged position in the system. Their easy jobs, high salaries and social power come from their role as negotiators between the politicians and bosses on the one hand, and the workers on the other (DC 37’s Lillian Roberts has actually gone back and forth between top union and State government positions). Because they rely on the capitalist system for these privileges they are committed to overseeing the cuts the bosses need.
But now that the economic crisis is getting so deep, the cuts the bosses are demanding are threatening the union bureaucrats power. They’re particularly scared that angry union members will throw them out of office. This fear has forced them to call today’s demonstration . But the bureaucrats greatest loyalty is to the capitalists, and they fear nothing more than the power of the working class. That’s why they will do all they can to avoid mobilizing workers’ power in a strike, and will do all they can to engineer more sellouts.
Many years of betrayals by the union bureaucracy have left most city workers feeling trapped and demoralized by the downward spiral. But underneath workers are incredibly angry and this anger can be turned into demands for action. In spite of the union bureaucrats, today’s rally shows that workers do have the potential power to beat back Bloomberg’s attacks. Just as pressure from the ranks has forced the union leaders to call this demonstration, workers can force the union leaders to carry out more necessary actions to build for a general strike. In the course of struggle, it is necessary to prepare to replace the current union leaders if they refuse to respond to the demands of the ranks for a fightback.
The union bureaucrats hold back our struggles because they support the capitalist system and want to avoid any mass struggle that would threaten it. In our view, the only leadership that can be relied on to not hold back the struggle in the interests of the system is one that is not tied to the system. Rather workers need a leadership which is committed to the interests of the working class and, in fact, has the goal of the system’s overthrow – a revolutionary socialist leadership. Through the course of mass struggles against the capitalist attacks, workers will learn that they have the power not just to beat back the attacks, but to build a revolutionary party to overthrow the capitalist system altogether.
Mass struggle, particularly strikes, can win a temporary respite from the attacks. But as capitalism plunges into ever deeper crises, the attacks will return and intensify if capitalism continues. That is why the only solution is for the working class to overthrow the capitalist system through revolution. The goal is to use the wealth and economic power seized from the capitalists to build a classless society of freedom and abundance for all: a socialist society. To lead today’s struggles, and prepare to lead the great struggles of the future, the League for the Revolutionary Party is dedicated to building the international revolutionary leadership the working class needs.
We are ready to join with all workers looking for a fighting way forward. We are interested in uniting with other workers to fight the budgets cuts and in winning over fellow workers to our revolutionary views. If you are interested in learning more, get in touch with us. There’s no time to waste!