Democrat Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor of New York City in November with a whopping three-quarters of the popular vote. His landslide victory was the result of a campaign that promised working-class people – Blacks, Latinos and immigrants especially – that he recognizes the injustices they face and cares enough to do something about it.
De Blasio’s campaign focused on telling a “tale of two cities” – rich New Yorkers getting richer while working-class and poor people struggled. He also implicitly promised to end the NYPD’s widely hated racially profiling “stop-and-frisk” policy of detaining young people of color on the street and searching them without any evidence they had committed a crime.
Since taking over City Hall in January, however, de Blasio has gone out of his way to make clear that he is no threat to the capitalist ruling class and its racist, anti-working-class power structure. To the extent that he plans reforms, they will only blunt the sharpest injustices. His appointment as police chief of William Bratton, who first instituted stop-and-frisk in New York, has outraged many of his voters. De Blasio is proving to be a typical Democratic Party politician who makes promises at election time but in office ends up a loyal servant of capitalism. He is the latest reminder that working-class and oppressed people need to organize themselves to struggle for their own demands independently of the capitalists and their politicians.
For years now working-class and poor New Yorkers have watched as Wall Street executives and real estate barons flaunt their obscene wealth. Meanwhile, the people whose labor makes the city run have to deal with growing unemployment, devastating school and hospital closures and cutting of other social services, frozen wages and rising prices.
The entire working class, whites as well as people of color, face a social disaster. In the U.S. especially, the capitalist ruling class has always used racism to divide and conquer; once again Blacks, Latinos and immigrants are suffering disproportionately. Skyrocketing rents have forced working-class people of color to leave gentrifying inner-city neighborhoods; hundreds of thousands have abandoned life in the city entirely and moved to the South, reversing generations of Northern migration by Black people fleeing the South’s more intense racism. And young people in particular face a future of diminishing opportunity. Youth of color, always the subject of racist fear and persecution, have been targeted for ever more repressive police harassment.
Despite these mounting injustices, however, this city’s working-class and poor have not yet carried out a sizeable fightback. Primary responsibility for this lies with the union and community leaders, who could mobilize thousands of people but fear upsetting their relations with the ruling class that afford them positions of power and privilege. Even when Occupy Wall Street won widespread sympathy among working-class people who were happy to see the sources of their misery targeted, the union bureaucrats and local politicians offered minimal aid while they sought to derail the protests into Democratic Party electoralism.
Enter Bill de Blasio. All capitalist politicians in New York cuddle babies, eat hot dogs, pizza, and bagels and make a heap of promises that they won’t keep. But de Blasio came across as something more radical than what New York has seen in a long time. His campaign appeared to be really responsive to popular demands like ending stop-and-frisk, around which protests had blended with the Trayvon Martin movement last year to produce militant and large youthful demonstrations. He defeated more established politicians with a populist campaign pledging to unite rich and poor, but of course not to lead a working-class struggle against the real problem, capitalism. After twenty years of Republican rule under the openly racist Rudy Giuliani and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” sounded like a breath of fresh air.
De Blasio got a big boost from his widely broadcast TV ad featuring his Black teen-aged son touting his father as the only candidate “who will end a stop and frisk era that unfairly targets people of color.” The implied promise to end this racist policy was instrumental in gaining the candidate strong support among Black and Latino voters, a key to his come-from-behind victory in the September Democratic Party primary.
De Blasio’s first weeks in office have already shown that his “progressive” talk is fraudulent. As a Democratic politician, de Blasio is tied hand and foot to a party only somewhat less overtly capitalist than the Republicans. No wonder de Blasio met privately with ruling-class leaders and hailed Wall Street as “our hometown industry.” The New York Times reported that he was “determined to portray himself as progressive but reasonable and pragmatic about business”:
“Mr. de Blasio ... has been holding closed-door fund-raisers at a breakneck pace, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the same bankers and Wall Street lawyers whose excesses he has frequently bemoaned.”
One prominent economic issue is the pile-up of overdue municipal labor contracts. Hundreds of thousands of city employees, as well as the subway and bus workers bossed by the “independent” Metropolitan Transit Authority, have been hung out to dry by their union leaders while Bloomberg refused to negotiate new agreements. The unions could have organized a serious campaign of protests to defend jobs and improve wages, boost their members’ sense of power and organization, win the support of fellow working-class people and prepare for strike action. But the union bureaucrats don’t want to challenge their capitalist partners’ concern for the system’s profitability and stability. Instead they foster the illusion that if workers elect Democrats they will negotiate good contracts without a mass struggle.
The mostly Black and Latino municipal workers looked to de Blasio to grant wage hikes that would at least keep up with the cost of living and grant retroactive back pay. But de Blasio has already rejected this legitimate demand. In a candidates’ debate a week before the election, he suggested that service cuts and speed-up would be needed to pay for raises:
“There’s no way in the world to pay out the full amount – that’s estimated as much as $7 to $8 billion, and that’s impossible to find. ... If [the unions] want to talk about retroactive pay, that’s their right, but they have to show us the cost savings to go with it.”
This is the same stance taken by Bloomberg and all the other ruling-class politicians: workers must sacrifice just to break even with inflation. Cutbacks hurt not only the unionized workers but also the entire working class, which needs more public services, not fewer. In a city where Wall Street bankers are handed huge profits from government bailouts and award themselves gross bonuses, the injustice is blatant.
De Blasio’s police chief Bratton first served as commissioner in New York in the 1990’s under Giuliani. During that tenure he introduced stop-and-frisk to harass and oppress youth of color. This was the beginning of a reign of terror in which more than 30 innocent, unarmed people were gunned down in cold blood. Bratton has not changed his outlook. For most of the past decade he was police commissioner in Los Angeles, which had a higher stop-and-frisk rate than New York. There Bratton also defended a program of “mapping” Muslim communities and targeting them for anti-terrorism policing – until its blatantly racist and anti-Muslim character prompted such protest that the police had to abandon it.
Bratton hasn’t changed his attitude. Last year, when he was a consultant to the Oakland, California police, he commented:
“For any city to say they don’t do ‘stop-and-frisk’... I’m sorry, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Every police department in America does it. The challenge is to do it constitutionally within the law. The challenge is to do it compassionately; you’re dealing with human beings. And the challenge is to do it consistently so you cannot be accused that you’re only doing it in one neighborhood in the city or directed against one population of the city.”
The blatant racism of stop-and-frisk made it the subject of court litigation as well as street protests. In response to a case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a judge ruled in August that the program was an unconstitutional “policy of indirect racial profiling” and ordered Federal oversight. Although Bloomberg had launched a legal appeal against the decision, de Blasio announced that he was dropping the lawsuit and finalizing a deal to concede the court’s demands.
But de Blasio’s move smacks of an attempt to cut the city’s losses in an embarrassing lawsuit it was unlikely to win. His appointment of the loathsome Bratton indicates that any changes to police policy in the city will be superficial – the cops will continue to enforce the law and order of this capitalist society, and they will remain protected from prosecution for their brutalization of Blacks, Latinos and other people. There has already been a well-publicized incident in which Bratton’s cops bloodied an elderly Chinese man who was questioning his detention for “jaywalking” against traffic signals! This has not stopped local politicians and pro-Democratic Party community leaders from continuing to support de Blasio and even endorse his appointment of Bratton. The Progressive Caucus that now leads the New York City Council has kept silent, including two sometime left-talking members, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, who have faced protests against their continued support for de Blasio. Rev. Al Sharpton, who has made a name for himself by standing with victims of police brutality in the past, welcomed Bratton and de Blasio to a meeting at the headquarters of his National Action Network in Harlem and expressed his support for Bratton’s appointment:
“Bratton and I may have had our disagreements in the past, but we also have had shared interests in keeping our streets safe. It’s important to remember, that though we may be strange bedfellows, we cannot forget that at the end of the day we are all in the same bed.”
We couldn’t have said it better. Sharpton long ago succeeded in using his anti-police brutality activism as a stepping stone to fame and fortune as a Democratic Party power broker and minor media celebrity. He’s now part of the same capitalist ruling class whose atrocities against working-class Blacks and Latinos he once protested. When new police injustices under Bratton threaten to ignite the already highly combustible conditions of growing poverty and frustration, Sharpton and the rest of the Democratic Party “community leaders” will be there to try to prevent them from going too far or really challenging the ruling class’s power.
In mid-January, Bratton asserted that the stop-and-frisk “problem has been more or less solved,” because the number of incidents has been greatly reduced, from 649,000 in 2011 to 194,000 in 2013. If true, this reduction is due to the growing pressure against the racist practice. But even so, the figure of nearly two hundred thousand instances of police harassment is unacceptable. The winter protests against Bratton have been small, compared to the degree of hostility to stop-and-frisk in the city. Nevertheless it is necessary and right to keep up the protests and political discussion on the issue, so the stage will be better prepared when the next inevitable police atrocity sparks larger numbers to the streets.
Of course, even if mass protest forces de Blasio to replace Bratton, that won’t solve the problem of police violence and racism. That will only be achieved when the workers and oppressed overthrow the capitalist state of which the cops are the armed fist, and replace it with a new state that defends the interests of the working class and oppressed people. Today it is most urgent that an alternative political leadership begin to arise from among the system’s victims themselves, a revolutionary leadership that can connect today’s struggles to the only real solution to racist injustice – the overthrow of the capitalist system by working-class revolution.
De Blasio’s proposed remedies for New York’s rampant inequality are much the same as those advanced by Bloomberg: offering tax breaks to encourage private enterprise to invest in neglected neighborhoods in the city’s outer, more working-class, boroughs. The decisive requirement for private investment is profitability. De Blasio’s appointee as Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development is a Goldman Sachs executive, Alicia Glen, who has already worked closely with the Bloomberg administration. About one project she said: “Goldman Sachs views this transaction as a double bottom line investment where the firm expects a blended social and financial return.”
In the same profit-minded spirit, de Blasio supported the mammoth Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn centered on a new sports and concert stadium, which was rammed through by real estate mogul Bruce Ratner largely by bribing local officials with campaign contributions. In particular, Ratner and his finance and construction industry allies donated heavily to de Blasio, including organizing a 2011 birthday party/fundraiser. De Blasio justifies his cooperation with Ratner by pointing to his alleged commitment to building “affordable” housing. Yet Atlantic Yards meant uprooting entire residential neighborhoods, and the stadium is now up and running while the housing has not yet begun to be built.
De Blasio’s differences with Bloomberg over solving the lack of jobs and housing are only cosmetic; de Blasio claims he would rely on the city government’s vigilance in making the business sector live up to their “commitments” to the poor. In reality, a serious program of economic development and housing construction would center on massive public-works projects, providing jobs and housing regardless of whether they generate huge profits for capitalists. A workers’ state would start by expropriating the profit-gouging real estate industry and repudiating public debts to the banks and other financial predators. The fact that such necessary measures conflict with capitalist rules and laws only shows that the working class, including poor and oppressed people, needs to do away with the capitalist system completely.
Because of de Blasio’s populist campaign rhetoric, it was inevitable that he would be denounced by right-wing spokespersons as a divisive “class warrior” and the like. Indeed, the New York Post ran a front-page drawing on the eve of Election Day, pairing de Blasio’s face with the Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbol over a red background, with the headline “Back in the USSR.”
The basis for this entirely unwarranted red-baiting was de Blasio’s more radical past. When he was much younger he supported some anti-imperialist struggles. He visited Nicaragua as a supporter of the Sandinista regime, whose seizure of power at the time was a major defeat for U.S. imperialism. He also participated in groups in New York that were active in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle against the Zionist occupation. There is a striking disparity between de Blasio’s political ties a few decades ago and his posture today as a champion of imperialism and in particular an ally of right-wing Zionists.
No Democratic politician, even one whose job has nothing to do with foreign policy, can fail to endorse the U.S.’s imperialist role in the world. De Blasio, for example, supports the U.S.-sponsored imperialist sanctions on Iran. And in New York especially, it is impossible to advance in the Democratic Party without bowing to Zionism, the ideology that defends Israel’s settler colonialism. Speaking at a gala event of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful lobby group that defends Israel’s oppression and racism, de Blasio declared that “part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel.”
Despite his early radicalism, de Blasio has gone out of his way to court right-wing Zionist leaders like Brooklyn politician Dov Hikind and Israeli hawks like Israel’s extreme-racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. In 2012 he defended Israel’s missile assault on the population of the Gaza Strip. And upon the death of Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel who once stated that God punished the victims of Katrina because they have failed to study the Torah, de Blasio tweeted, “Millions of people around the world lost a leader today in Rabbi Chacham Ovadia Yosef. His wisdom, charity and sensitivity were legendary.”
In early January, after the death of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s former prime minister who among other crimes aided the slaughter of thousands of Palestinian civilians by fascists in Lebanon in 1982, de Blasio posted a note praising him as “dedicated ... toward a real and lasting peace.” When it comes to defending imperialism and Israel, “progressive” Democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with mass murderers.
Among workers and youth in New York and across the country, anger is growing at society’s mounting injustices of poverty and oppression, and the working-class is losing patience with politicians who promise reforms and deliver more of the same. Betrayals by politicians like de Blasio only confirm that in order to defend their interests, workers and poor people can only rely on themselves and their own capacity to organize and struggle. Mass action is desperately needed, and the basis for it is growing. The public and service workers in unions hold the key; they have the potential to take action that can win the active support of the rest of the working class. Especially in workplaces like the transit system and the hospitals, they have the power to shut the city down. And many of them are the parents of victims of stop-and-frisk and the mounting youth unemployment and thus have a direct interest in stopping police injustice.
One of the great political lies of our times is the claim by “progressives” and populists that social progress or major social reforms for the benefit of the masses can be won through unity with a major sector of the capitalists. In reality, the working class needs a party of its own that defends its class interests, which under capitalism are in chronic conflict with the profit system. That means a revolutionary party dedicated to ending economic exploitation and police repression. The goal must be replacing the capitalist state by a workers’ state on the road to socialism – a state run by workers, the poor and oppressed people for the benefit of all.
1. Occupy Wall Street: A Marxist Assessment, LRP statement March 2012
2. “Wooing ‘Hometown Industry,’ de Blasio Meets Wary Wall St.”; New York Times, Oct.12.
3. “For de Blasio, Contract Talks Offer Problem”; New York Times, Nov. 11.
4. Victims of police violence oppose new police commissioner, Amsterdam News, Jan.16
5. Former LAPD Chief Bratton’s Proposed Muslim Mapping Program
6. “Oakland Crime Fighting Consultant Defends ‘Stop-And-Frisk’”; San Francisco TV channel KCBS, January 14, 2003.
7. NY Daily News, Rev. Al Sharpton says with Bill Bratton as top cop, there’s reason for hope
8. New York Daily News, January 15.
9. For an in-depth analysis, see the LRP pamphlet by Evelyn Kaye, Fight Police Terror! No Support to Capitalism’s Racist Anti-Worker Police!
10. “Goldman Sachs Looks to Turn a Profit on a Program to Fight Recidivism”; The Nation, August 20, 2012.
11. Campaign contributions: Forest City bundles for Thompson, de Blasio, Squadron, even gets Republican subcontractor in Virginia to pony up, Atlantic Yards Report.
12. There are many articles about Israel’s oppressive and imperialist role on the LRP web site. See for example All Israel is “Occupied Territory”! For Arab Workers’ Revolution To Smash Israeli/U.S. Terror!.
13. New York Times, After Private Speech on Israel, de Blasio Is Pressed on Openness Pledge
14. Bill de Blasio Mourns Death of Very Racist Rabbi
15. See New York Transit Strike Shows Working-Class Power