At a hearing last week, the City College of New York demanded a second month’s suspension without pay of campus worker Carol Lang. She and three students make up the “City College Four,” who were arrested in March for participating in a protest against military recruiters on the CCNY campus.
College President Gregory Williams supported the arrests, saying he would not tolerate violence on campus. In fact, it was the protesters who were were violently attacked by campus cops. Two of the students were beaten before being arrested. Carol Lang, secretary in the Theater Department, was arrested at her desk two days after the protest. The Four were charged with misdemeanor counts of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. The three students – Nick Bergreen, Justino Rodriguez and Hadas Thier – were suspended from classes for a month. Carol Lang was suspended without a hearing for nearly four weeks without pay.
After a month’s absence, all four returned to the College when their suspensions were dropped and District Attorney motioned to dismiss the charges in 6 months through an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). Clearly there was no evidence to try the Four, nor to support President Williams’s arbitrary judgment of guilt first, trial later. Now the College wants to double Carol Lang’s suspension – even though the Four are innocent of all the charges against them!
Carol Lang has also been nominated for the presidency of her union, Local 384 of District Council 37, AFSCME. But her nomination was challenged and denied by her local – on the grounds that she was off the payroll for several weeks and therefore was not a member in good standing, even though she has been on the job for 30 years! Thus the union bureaucrats declare that anyone who gets arrested for protesting a war, or police brutality – or in fact any of the many people who got arrested in the process of building the labor movement – should not be allowed to run for union office. An editorial in this week’s civil service paper The Chief sums up the scene accurately: “Local 384 an Embarrassment.”
The CCNY Four have been supported from the start by the City Defense Campaign, a coalition of students, workers and faculty members on campus. Resolutions of support have come from the PSC, the City University faculty union, and from the CCNY Faculty Senate. The Campaign has 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.
Defense activities continue Monday, June 13 at 10am, when the City University disciplinary hearing for Carol Lang continues. Join the protest at CUNY’s central office at 535 East 80th Street, Manhattan. (No. 6 train to 77th Street, and/or M79 79th Street Crosstown bus to East End Ave.)
The attack on the CCNY Four is a small sample of what passes for “justice” in the capitalist world. The U.S. is engaged in imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and making aggressive threats against Syria, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. The U.S.-run prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are horrific examples of modern American “justice”: imprisonment without trial, accompanied by torture. At home, the working class is under economic assault, since the capitalists can keep their profits up only by squeezing more out of working people here and abroad.
The crackdown at CCNY took place at a time when opposition to the anti-working-class assault is mounting. The war against Iraq is increasingly unpopular, and recruitment is sagging well below Washington’s needs for policing the world. For years, the U.S. has maintained an army combining hard-core volunteers with working-class youth, especially those of color, recruited through economic necessity. Stretched thin in Iraq, the military has sent into battle Reservists and National Guard troops who never expected to fight abroad. 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. Resistance at high schools and colleges across the country has the Pentagon particularly worried.
The City University authorities, tailing their ruling-class bosses, have hardened their line against student, worker and faculty activists. CUNY is a working-class university, with a majority of Black, Latino, Asian and immigrant students. As part of the overall anti-worker and racist assault, cutbacks and rising costs at CUNY have become the norm over the years and have inspired numerous rounds of protests. Inevitably these attacks will accelerate, and protests will escalate. So police presence on CUNY campuses has been expanded, and arrests of student demonstrators on trumped-up charges is becoming standard practice. Miguel Malo of Hostos Community College still faces charges of assaulting security officers, three years after his arrest and beating in 2001 for holding a protest sign.
City College in particular is a symbol of protest and resistance. It 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.
More recently, a teach-in about the upcoming Afghan war in 2001 inspired tabloid headlines claiming that “CCNY Attacks America,” a charge shamefully echoed by the university’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees. A year ago, student and staff protesters exposed John Kerry as a supporter of Bush’s Iraq war when he made an early campaign stop at City College. This year, campus security used police holding pens to restrict faculty and staff members demonstrating for a decent union contract.
The League for the Revolutionary Party 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. 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.
June 11, 2005