Reprint March 29, 2011
By James Lane March 25, 2011
DAY OF RAGE Budget Cuts March 24, Thousands of labor unionists, students and community activists rallied at City Hall and marched chanting through New York City’s financial district yesterday, protesting threatened budget cuts that would cause schools to close, tuition to rise, cut social services drastically and bring thousands of layoffs to public sector workers.
Anti Wall Street chants rang off the canyon walls of the financial district as marchers brandished placards and banners with their messages. Prominent chants included “Today’s the day the rich must pay!” and “Money for jobs and education, not for wars and occupation!” Several placards read “Smash the Taylor Law,” referring to the New York State law forbidding public sector workers to strike. This law was used to repress the transport workers strike in the winter of 2005, which shut the city down for several days.
Larry Hales of the CUNY Mobilization Network, who co-chaired the rally, said marching to Wall Street “highlights the source of the problem. The banks and Wall Street investors have looted the public treasury while giving nothing back,” he commented. “All the budget cuts could be avoided simply by making the banks and investors pay their share of taxes. We are organizing to stop layoffs and budget cuts and to reclaim the public funds to use them for the workers, communities and students.”
Oliver Gray, Associate Director of AFSCME District Council 37, whose members made up the largest part of the rally, said public sector workers will not allow the Governor to blame them for the so-called deficit. “How are we to blame,” he asked, “when the Governor wants to cut the taxes of the richest people in New York, and gives back to Wall Street investors $15 billion a year in stock transfer taxes?”
Michelle Keller, Vice President of DC37 Local 375, said a large DC37 delegates assembly last Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to support members participation in the rally and march. “This movement is just beginning,” she said. “We won’t stop until we’ve forced the state and city to respect public sector workers and restore the cuts.”
Kevin Harrington, vice president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, reminded the mayor and governor that the city needs the 38,000 New York bus and subway workers more than it needs the politicians and bankers. “The city would grind to a halt quickly if these workers were to suddenly become sick and unable to work from the stress caused by cutbacks, layoffs and service changes,” he said. “But if the bankers and politicians disappeared not much would happen.”
Geoff Kurtz, of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) at Borough of Manhattan Community College echoed the TWU vice president’s theme, saying that even the students are workers and that their needs and those of the city workers are more crucial to New York’s future than whatever needs the bankers may have. PSC members at CUNY campuses across the city mobilized both their own members as well as students and other campus workers.
Sarah Pomar, of the Brooklyn College International Socialist Organization, said student organizing has only begun, and emphasized that this movement is mushrooming. “The interests of the students and the workers are the same,” she declared. “We’ll keep fighting until we win.”
Ramon Jimenez, a co founder of the South Bronx Community Congress and 2010 Freedom Party candidate for New York State Attorney General, thanked the mayor and governor for accomplishing something historic the unification of student groups with unions and community organizations to produce this new coalition.
New York City Council member Charles Barron, who was the 2010 Freedom Party candidate for Governor of New York, contradicted Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, who claim cuts are necessary because the state and city are “broke.” If the state is “broke,” he asked, why are taxes being cut for the richest 1 percent of the population, whose share of the state’s income has shot up to more than 35% from 10% since 1995. Their share of the city’s income is even higher, at 44%, he said.
Larry Holmes of the Bail Out the People Movement emphasized how New York’s share of the federal military budget is hurting people. “New Yorkers pay more than $60 billion for bombers and aircraft carriers used against Libya, and all the killing and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s illegal, and we need to stop it, and put that money to work here at home, for jobs, schools and services,” he declared.
A large organizers meeting for followup actions is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30, at the DC37 headquarters, 125 Barclay Street, in Room 2. Agenda points include taking the coalition to all New York City boroughs and neighborhoods, building for a national day of solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin on April 4, a national anti war and anti racist protest in New York on April 9, and plans for a large, united workers and immigrants rally on May 1, International Workers Day. April 4 is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.