The following 3 statements, Students Under the Ax, Budgets Bankers & Bloodsuckers and Fight the New Round of Tuition Hikes! were distributed by CUNY [City University of New York] student activists supporting the International Bolshevik Tendency during the 1995-97 struggles.
Students Under the Ax
[The following statement was issued on March 1995]
As part of thr nation-wide war on poor and working people that has intensified following the Republican electoral sweep, Pataki and Giuliani have announced massive cuts in the New York state and city budgets for higher education. The CUNY state budget is slated for a reduction of 25.75%; TAP grants will be reduced by 10% for full-time undergraduates, and eliminated altogether for graduate and part-time students; the SEEK program for the most disadvantaged students will also be scrapped; course offerings will be greatly reduced; large numbers of faculty and other staff will lose their jobs; and, in a system that once prided itself on free education for working-class youth, yearly tuition will be increased to the tune of $1,000. The Giuliani administration is also planning deep cuts in the city education budget. These state and city cuts will have a devastating effect on education in the city, causing many, especially minority students, to drop out of school altogether.
Republican and Democratic politicians, along with the mass media, portray these slash and burn policies as a necessary and inevitable response to the region’s fiscal plight. In fact, they represent nothing more than a big-time hatchet job performed in the service of New York’s bankers, bond-holders and big corporations. The austerity measures represent an escalation of the attacks on social services that began in the 1970’s, and have been pursued by the Democratic state and city governments as well as the new Republican administrations. Their purpose is to ensure that governments remain “fiscally sound” from the standpoint of finance capital, i.e. that New York will be able to pay a healthy rate of interest on money lent it by the banks and rich bondholders. At the same time that Pataki and Giuliani preach austerity to the municipal unions, students and welfare mothers, they are introducing a host of “incentives” and tax breaks for businesses, in hopes that they will be attracted to the region by increased opportunities to amass even bigger profits. These cuts represent a huge transfer of wealth from poor and working people to the rich, carried out by their faithful servants in public office.
These policies can be seen as “natural” and “inevitable” only by those who accept the insane logic of the capitalist system, which decrees that the majority of people are entitled to remain alive only so long as the capitalist class can reap huge profits from their labor. But the capitalist exploiters represent only a tiny minority of the population. One way they are able to maintain their grip on power is by setting various social groups against one another: men against women, natives against immigrants, employed against the unemployed and welfare recipients, whites against blacks, They usually attempt to do this by attacking these groups one at a time. The most striking feature of the current Pataki/Giuliani offensive, however, is that they are attacking everyone at once. And it is precisely the wide scope of their attacks that also presents a unique opportunity to fight back.
Students cannot fight back alone. This was clearly demonstrated in 1991, when the student strikes and building takeovers mounted against the last CUNY tution increases went down to defeat. In January, Jose Elique, University Director of Security and Public Safety, wrote to Dr. Elsie Scott, Deputy Commissioner of Training for the NYPD, requesting crowd control training for 22 to 30 specially selected campus police prior to the Spring of 1995. The administration expects trouble… and is ready for it!
However, students don’t have to look very far to find allies. Many students on city campuses, as well as their relatives, belong to municipal, hospital and other unions that are also directly threatened by these cuts. And it is precisely these unions that have the power to bring the entire city to a halt. Only by linking up with the organized labor movement, by becoming part of a wider, worker-based struggle, can students stand any chance of stopping the mad slashers of Albany and Gracie Mansion.
But such a united fight-back faces many obstacles. One obstacle is the notion that something can be gained by lobbying legislators in Albany or Washington. This strategy helps perpetuate the illusion that the politicians are mainly responsible to the electorate, when in fact, their principle job consists in deceiving and manipulating the population in order to further the interests of the capitalist class, to whom they are really responsible. And, despite lesser differences between them, Republican and Democratic politicians ultimately serve the same masters. The last round of CUNY tuition increases were the handiwork not of Republicans, but of Mario Cuomo, a stalwart of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The very same politicians who will shake the hands of student and faculty lobbyists today will call out the police to crush student protests tomorrow.
Another obstacle is the bureaucracy that presides over the unions. These “labor statesmen” — with the inducement of hefty salaries and generous expense accounts — view the capitalist system with as much religious awe as their many friends in high public office. They are entirely dedicated to working within the logic of the existing social order, and regularly collaborate with the politicians and bankers to ram austerity down the throats of the workers they supposedly represent. They shun mass struggle in favor of reliance on Democratic Party politicians. More often than not, they see the possibility of common struggle with students and minorities as a threat to their comfortable niche in capitalist society.
To unite workers, students and minorities in common struggle, and to clear their path of misleaders and false strategies. political leadership is needed above all. The Bolshevik Tendency seeks to intervene in this struggle — as well as all other major social struggles — to build a genuine revolutionary leadership. We view victory in the fight against cutbacks not as an end in itself, but as part of a struggle for a socialist society, based not on profit but human need. Only in such a society will education be viewed as a necessity of individual development rather than, as it is today, a luxury for the few, or as a preparation for taking one’s place as a cog in some capitalist money-making machine.
Down with the Budget Cuts!
For Class Struggle to Defend Higher Education!
For Open Admissions!
For Free Tution and full Stipend for All Students!
Break with the Democrats and Republicans!
Build a Workers’ Party!
Pataki and Giuliani Bleed New York
Budgets, Bankers & Bloodsuckers
[The following statement was issued on March 1995, it was originally posted online athttp://www.bolshevik.org/Leaflets/Pataki.html]
Riding the wave of reaction from Washington, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have proposed state and city budgets aimed point blank at the poor and working people of New York. As is usually the case when American capitalist politicians point their fiscal guns, blacks and minorities are most directly in the line of fire. But these cuts are by no means limited to minorities and the poor. If enacted, they will gut everything from transportation to public parks, hospitals to housing, day care centers to AIDS hospices. Many thousands of New Yorkers now living on the margins will be plunged into an abyss of homelessness, hunger and disease. Only those who inhabit an insulated world of private wealth and privilege—of plush-carpeted corporate boardrooms, luxury high-rises, stretch limousines, expensive boutiques, tony health clubs and private security guards—will escape the effects of the scorched-earth measures now being proclaimed from Albany and Gracie Mansion.
An Injury to All
At the top of the Pataki/Giuliani hit list are welfare and Medicaid. In proposals reminiscent of the horrors of the nineteenth-century British workhouse, welfare recipients in New York State will be fingerprinted to prevent “cheating;” men deemed to be “able-bodied” will be cut off welfare after ninety days, during which time they will be forced onto public works projects. Many mothers receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children will likewise be compelled to work for the pittance they get, even though the cuts will result in fewer day care centers for their children. Twenty-one thousand people will immediately lose their rent subsidies and many of them will end up on the street.
Billions of dollars are to be slashed from Medicaid, which pays health costs for welfare recipients and the disabled. The Medicaid cuts will, in turn, create grave financial difficulties for the city’s already underfunded public hospitals. Hundreds of hospital beds will be eliminated, and Harlem Hospital, the sole provider of medical care for tens of thousands of the poorest people in the city, will probably be forced to close. In addition, Giuliani plans to privatize five or six public hospitals. Over 80,000 hospital workers are expected to lose their jobs. Yet these Medicaid “savings” in the state budget did not go far enough for New York City’s ax-wielding mayor; he urged Pataki to cut even deeper.
The budgets also target the disabled, the blind, the mentally ill, children and the aged: allocations for foster care are greatly reduced; school children will no longer get free subway rides to school; funding for child abuse prevention will be halved; aged and handicapped people on disability will be denied their cost-of-living adjustment and their home care will be severely restricted.
Education is another major target. Pataki proposes to freeze state aid to public schools at a time when the student population in New York City is growing by 20,000 a year. Summer school and extra-curricular enrichment programs will cease. The state and city university systems (SUNY and CUNY) are expected to lose a total of over 1,200 full-time faculty and more than 12,500 class sections, mostly in the arts and humanities. The SEEK program, which provides counseling and tutoring for disadvantaged university students, will be eliminated. Tuition at the senior colleges will jump from the current $2,450 to $3,450, an increase of 40 percent. Working-class, black and Hispanic students unable to come up with an extra $1,000 will be forced to drop out.
New York’s already dilapidated public transportation system is also slated for the chop: many express bus lines will be discontinued; all-night service will be suspended on some subway lines; cleaning and repairs will be scaled back; token booths will be reduced and at least one station will be closed. And, of course, fares will be hiked.
Giuliani is demanding $600 million in wage concessions and “productivity” from the city’s unions. In addition to the 12,000 jobs eliminated through last year’s severance package, he wants another 11,000 (supposedly through attrition). These job cuts and the anticipated layoffs in education and health care (the city’s largest employer), will massively increase demands on the very social services that are being gutted.
The only part of city government that escaped Giuliani’s budget ax is the New York Police Department, which is getting an increase of $2.4 million. Pataki, who pushed through the death penalty bill, plans to save money by cramming two prisoners into state penitentiary cells built for one. Batons, bullets, prison cells and lethal injections—these are the answers of Pataki and Giuliani to the upsurge of “anti-social behavior” that will be the inevitable by-product of their regime of “fiscal responsibility.”
Only by the Grace of Wall Street Shall Ye Live!
This ferocious assault on every vestige of civic decency in an already blighted city is conducted in the name of the almighty Budget Deficit—that rapacious deity who rages about the mists that envelop the top of the World Trade Towers, and must be placated from time to time with ever-greater sacrifices of human flesh. Politicians (when they are not invoking the Deity) often like to rationalize their attacks on poor and working people as necessary obedience to the automatic and insuperable laws of the marketplace. The general economic upturn in the rest of the country, we are told, has bypassed New York City, thereby creating a huge shortfall in expected tax receipts. Hence, the need to starve infants and grandmothers.
Yet New York has the greatest concentration of multi-billion-dollar corporations, banks and finance companies in the world. An analysis of census results conducted by the New York Times (25 December 1994) showed that in 1980 the median annual income of those in the richest fifth of the Manhattan population was a little more than 21 times that of the poorest fifth. By 1990, the gap had widened to 33 times. The Times concluded that the gap between rich and poor in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country in the world is larger than in Guatemala. Within the U.S. the only county that has a wider gap is the site of a former leper colony in Hawaii, whose population consists of former colony members and rich people attracted by the scenery.
For Pataki and Giuliani, and the rest of the ruling class politicians, taking more money from corporations or the rich is as inconceivable as defying the law of gravity. In fact, they are doing just the opposite. One billion of the projected $5 billion state budget gap Pataki is trying to fill by slashing social services is the result of the regressive tax “reform” he is also pushing. Pataki wants to maintain the existing tax rate for those in the bottom bracket, while lowering taxes on the top bracket by 25 percent!
With one hand, Giuliani snatches subway tokens from grade-school children, while with the other he delivers fistfuls of lucre to downtown landlords in the form of a $234 million abatement on commercial rent and real estate taxes—to help “revitalize” the Wall Street business district (New York Times, 16 December 1994). He plans to eliminate the 5 percent tax on hotel owners, and recently doled out $50 million in tax breaks to a single financial company, CS First Boston Corporation, to persuade them not to leave town (New York Times, 25 January). As Leona Helmsley, the billionaire real estate queen convicted of tax fraud, remarked several years ago, “only little people pay taxes.” But on what eternal tablet is it written that budgets can only be balanced on the backs of students and union members, children in foster care and mothers on welfare?
Yet these starvation budgets, if not ordained by heaven, are not simply the result of corruption, malice or stupidity. The bare-knuckled tactics of the mayor and governor express the same logic that drives the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to demand sacrifices of the masses from Moscow to Mexico City. Simply stated, this logic decrees that individuals, communities and nations have a right to exist only in so far as their activity contributes to the profits of the tiny handful of capitalists that owns and controls the resources, corporations and financial assets of the global economy.
This logic operated in a somewhat more disguised fashion during the cold-war competition with “Communism.” Then, the existence of a global non-capitalist rival compelled the Western regimes to provide some support for housing, health-care, the arts, education and the poor, in order to ensure social stability at home. Now, intensified inter-imperialist rivalries compel corporations to cut production costs through shrinking payrolls and investing in more advanced technology. Those firms that fail to keep pace go under.
To raise profit margins, the capitalists have intensified the pressure on workers lucky enough to have kept a job. Another method is to cut taxes and channel government expenditures on social services into direct and indirect corporate subsidies. Today the “welfare state” is a luxury that the ruling classes feel they neither need nor can afford (meager as its American version was). Profitability is fast becoming not merely the major criterion for public policy decisions, but the sole criterion. This could change if massive popular discontent threatens the security and legitimacy of the existing system of social privilege. FDR’s celebrated “New Deal” in the 1930s was a conscious attempt by the more sophisticated wing of the capitalists to defuse the potential for mass radicalization created by the Great Depression.
These days, when city or state governments need to find funding for social services, they must borrow from Wall Street, which evaluates them according to their ability to make the payments. If public debt is high, the banks and bond holders demand higher rates of interest, thus compounding the growth of government indebtedness. In extreme cases they may refuse to lend at all. The big money men are interested in the balance sheet of expenditures vs. revenues and typically seek assurances that governments will not spend too much on “non-remunerative” items, especially poor people, whose human needs cannot easily be turned into cash.
Historically one major way for governments to fund social programs is through taxes on businesses and individuals that businesses employ. But the increased mobility of capital inclines companies to “vote with their feet” if wages or taxes in a given locality are too high. This generates pressure to ensure that the local economy remains “competitive,” i.e., that taxes and wages are kept as low as possible. A “favorable investment climate” requires cutting all public expenditures that do not directly contribute to profit-making activity. Such “wasteful” allocations include not only those aimed at alleviating poverty, but also spending on parks, playgrounds, libraries, museums, education and the arts—everything, in short, that tends to make urban life tolerable for most of the population.
In the months before the city budget was announced, Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency which grades city governments on their “fiscal health” for the benefit of prospective lenders, threatened to lower New York’s credit rating. In addition, holders of long-term city bonds were talking about charging higher interest rates. Immediately after Giuliani unveiled his plans, however, the “financial community” gave him an approving pat on the head.
Alongside this city of seven million plus inhabitants, who breath air, drink water and eat food, there is another city, comprised not of flesh-and-blood human beings, but of stocks and bonds, T-bills and long-term securities, futures and derivatives, which breath profits, drink liquid assets, and eat interest premiums. The health and welfare of this second city is, moreover, in inverse proportion to that of the first. And it is this second city—the city of capital—that forms the real constituency of the mayor, the governor, and all other elected officials in this country, Republican and Democratic, from the municipal level to Congress and the president.
Republicans and Democrats: Twin Parties of Capital
The direct domination of finance capital is nothing new to New York. In 1975, when investment houses refused to buy city bonds because they were considered too risky, the city was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. After the federal government refused to bail the city out, this crisis led to the formation of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) under the aegis of the State of New York. This agency was replaced a few years later by an even more powerful outfit called the Emergency Financial Control Board (EFCB), an unelected corporate governing body, which kept a tight grip on municipal purse strings. Under this regime the portion of the city budget allocated to debt service increased dramatically as 60,000 city workers lost their jobs, while the wages of remaining city workers were frozen apart from an inadequate cost-of-living adjustment. The CUNY system, which had always prided itself on free higher education for those who could not afford private colleges, began to charge tuition. Giuliani’s budget is only a somewhat more radical application of the policies imposed upon this city by bankers, investment fund managers and bond holders for the past two decades, and pursued more or less continuously by the administrations of Beame, Koch and Dinkins—all Democrats.
The Republicans, it is true, are the more consistent and aggressive partisans of the mounting capitalist offensive. They seek to peddle the austerity measures of the ruling class by appealing to every prejudice and mean-spirited instinct of those who are relatively better off. With the aid of Rush Limbaugh and a host of lesser demagogues of the airwaves, they attempt to mobilize white males for the Republican Party by convincing them that their distress comes from having lost status in the 1960s and 70s to women and minorities. In a time of shrinking unions and falling wages, they offer what appears to many as the only realistic way to maintain present income levels: lowering taxes. This is why the Republicans’ outrageous tax give-aways to the rich must always be padded with some reductions for middle-income earners as well. But, most important, the Republicans, with the aid of a few well-understood code words (“crime,” “welfare,” “affirmative action,” etc.), exploit white racism—now as ever in this country the trump card of rulers seeking to divert public attention from their own acts of piracy.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are less open about selling austerity to the masses, since they rely more heavily on the votes of the urban constituencies (blacks, Hispanics, unionized workers, etc.) who are the targets of such measures. They tend to be more squeamish and temporizing about administering the prescribed poison in the doses required. But they end up doing essentially the same things as the Republicans because, like the Republicans, they represent the bankers and corporate shareholders, to whom they must go cup in hand for campaign contributions. Their job is to convince the victims of capitalism that it is necessary to accept the logic of the banker’s ledger. The deficit, and the need to balance it, have in their eyes the status of laws of nature. Their opposition to the Republican steamroller seldom goes beyond a few polite whimpers or snivelling appeals to “spread the pain” more evenly. The Democrats cannot and will not fight the Republicans because they worship at the same altar and feed at the same trough. This is why socialists have always bracketed them as the “twin parties” of big capital.
Union Misleaders: Labor Lieutenants of Capital
Those who think that “market forces” are simply too powerful to resist should take a closer look at what happened in France only last year. First, Air France workers struck and successfully beat back a government job-slashing scheme. This, in turn, inspired the students, hundreds of thousands of whom demonstrated against a government proposal to lower the minimum wage for youth. With the trade unions poised to enter the fray, the rightist government of Eduard Balladur was forced to back down. The lesson is clear: mass struggle can defeat capitalist austerity attacks. It happened in Paris, and it can happen here.
Yet the union bureaucrats have no appetite for launching any such struggle. These “labor statesmen” —with their fat salaries, padded expense accounts and Democratic Party connections—view the capitalists’ budget-cutting imperatives with religious reverence. They are jealous of their control and shun mass struggle while preaching reliance on the Democrats. They are, in the immortal phrase of the pioneer American socialist, Daniel DeLeon, the “labor lieutenants of capitalism.”
Nearly thirty years ago, in a notable departure from the labor bureaucracy’s usual spinelessness, Michael Quill, head of the Transit Workers Union, told a judge who had just ordered New York’s striking bus and subway workers back to their jobs to “drop dead in his black robes.” Quill was jailed for contempt of court—but the injunction was defeated and the strike was won.
Quill’s courageous stand contrasted sharply with the cowardly capitulation of the city’s labor bureaucrats to the MAC in 1975. Victor Gotbaum, then head of AFSCME, the largest union of municipal workers, amicably negotiated away 60,000 jobs while $3 billion of the union’s pension funds were invested in the MAC. Gotbaum became a personal friend of MAC chairman Felix Rohatyn, and Gotbaum’s son subsequently got a job at Rohatyn’s investment firm.
The present head of AFSCME, Stanley Hill, following the example of his predecessor, is trudging dutifully to Gracie Mansion to negotiate more givebacks. Hill’s reward was Giuliani’s endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo’s failed bid to be reelected governor. One close observer of city politics, Robert Fitch, reports:
“According to Queens Republican leader Fran Werner, it was no coincidence that the day after Giuliani announced for Cuomo, municipal labor announced they were giving Giuliani $200 million in the givebacks he’d been demanding.”
—New Politics, Winter 1995
Then there are other champions of labor, like the former Teamster chief, Barry Feinstein, who, before stepping down last year amid accusations that he had misused $500,000 of his members’ money, commented that, “The New York City labor movement will never endorse a campaign to tax the rich.” Sandra Feldman, head of the American Federation of Teachers, and an associate of the CIA-linked Social Democrats USA, remarked: “I don’t see Mayor Giuliani’s effort to wrestle down bureaucracy and bloated government as an attack on the labor movement” (ibid).
The more “left-wing” union bureaucrats are little better. Jan Pierce, head of the northeast region of the Communications Workers of America, a former supporter of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, “publicly urged unions to join with Giuliani in a campaign ‘to identify waste and redundancy’.” Dennis Rivera, leader of hospital workers’ Local 1199, used his authority as a “militant” to get CUNY students to call off their 1991 sit-ins against Mario Cuomo’s tuition hikes. Rivera is chairman of the state Democratic Party, and, despite occasional posturing, has one basic answer to the Pataki/Giuliani offensive: vote Democrat. This is no answer, working people need a party of their own.
For a City-Wide General Strike!
In February the thousands of students who rallied on the Capitol steps in Albany to protest the CUNY cuts upset the pro-Democratic leaders of the march by sitting down and blocking traffic. On March 1, 30,000 hospital workers from Local 1199 demonstrated against the cuts in front of the Empire State Building. CUNY students are calling for a city-wide rally on March 23, under the slogan, “Shut the City Down!” We support this call, but students on their own cannot shut the city down, no matter how militant their protests. It is the organized labor movement, and particularly hospital, transit and other municipal workers, who have the power to bring the city to a halt.
Despite the flight of manufacturing jobs from the city over the past quarter century, 35 percent of the workforce in New York is unionized, the highest percentage in any city in the U.S. The membership of the city unions is heavily black and Hispanic, and would form a natural bridge to the communities that will be hurt the most by the proposed attacks.
Never in recent history have the interests of students, minorities and workers so clearly converged. A general strike could rally all the victims of the budget cuts, from Harlem, to Bedford Stuyvesant, to the South Bronx. It could unite welfare workers and welfare recipients, hospital workers and patients, subway workers and riders, teachers and students. United in action behind the organized labor movement, they could hand Giuliani, Pataki, and Wall Street a stinging defeat.
Union militants around the city should put forward motions in their locals calling for a united strike against the cuts. But the planning cannot be left to the bureaucrats who have already declared their intention to do nothing. Strike committees should be elected in every local union with a mandate to organize for an effective, city-wide strike. In building toward a general strike militant unionists would naturally seek to coordinate their efforts with organizations representing students, welfare recipients, black and Hispanic communities and all the other potential victims of the bankers’ budget.
Capital and Labor: Nothing In Common
Pataki/Giuliani budgets represent more than the benighted ideas of a few Republican Neanderthals. They embody, in the most concentrated form, the logic of the capitalist system. This is a logic that works to the detriment of the majority of people who live under capitalism, and which the majority therefore have no interest in obeying. If bank debt is draining public coffers, why not impose a moratorium on interest payments, or cancel the debt altogether? If banks and corporations register their disapproval by going on strike against the majority of society—the only answer is expropriation.
Such measures would never be contemplated by the governments of the rich and privileged. They could only be undertaken by a government responsible to those who work as opposed to those who live off interest and profit. Such a government must be prepared to expropriate the capitalists and ensure that the productive capacity of society is employed to benefit the whole of the population. This would signify a social revolution; it would require the dismantling of the capitalists’ armed guardians and the formation of a new social power, one committed to defending the interests of the exploited.
In today’s political climate, when the forces of reaction seem to be so firmly in the saddle, this perspective may seem impractical or utopian. But the alternative is more of the same lethal substances now being prescribed by Pataki, Giuliani, Gingrich and their counterparts the world over. One must choose between the logic of capital—production for profit—and the logic of socialism—production for human need. In the epoch of capitalist decline there is no middle way.
Pataki Enforces Wall Street’s Will on CUNY
Fight the New Round of Tuition Hikes!
[The following statement was issued on February 1997]
Governor George Pataki’s war on CUNY continues. His January 14 budget aims at slashing over $300 million in state funds to public higher education. If this proposed budget goes through, students who come next fall will see their tuition raised by $400; added to the previous tuition hikes, it will make CUNY top out at $3,600 a year. Not only that, but Pataki also promises to cut $175 million in financial aid to poor students (TAP). For many students, CUNY is barely affordable as is and for many for many more completely out of their financial reach. Over half of the student body is forced to work, 27% of them full time, and 34% of students who dropped out in 1995 did so for financial reasons, not being able to afford the extra $750 Pataki added that year. How many more students will not be returning next year because they can’t afford it?
For generations of students coming from working class, black, Hispanic and immigrant backgrounds, CUNY was their only hope of getting a higher education. However within the last couple of decades, the capitalist rulers of this country have decided that education for the working class and the poor is a “luxury”, rather than a necessity in this period of corporate downsizing. Starting with the elimination of free education, CUNY has suffered cutback after cutback. The last few years have seen a severe increase in state reductions, with the tuition at senior colleges going up by 156%.
While Pataki has been cutting off funds to CUNY, he has at the same time been doling out tax-breaks to the rich. In 1995, Pataki wanted to lower taxes on the top economic bracket by 25% and a part of his new budget will include substantial tax-cuts on property, inheritance and business. And while we are seeing faculty being laid off and programs being eliminated, there always seems to be plenty of money to beef up security at CUNY. This school year CUNY security has seen it’s budget expanded by $9 million in government grants, and Hunter College has recently announced its plans to introduce attack dogs and firearms for the use of Security personnel! Security on CUNY campuses has been almost exclusively used to intimidate, harass and spy on student activists, as witnessed by the revelation of an “enemies list”, an information dossier of student activists maintained by the campus cops.
Students must act now to defeat the cuts. It is vital we organize mass, militant and united coalitions of students, faculty and staff against the attacks on CUNY. This will mean struggle, not just letter writing campaigns or impotent pleading with state representatives in Albany as groups like NYPIRG suggest we do. All past victories, whether the gaining of open admissions, or the beating back of tuition hikes in 1989, came through a militant fight, not sending postcards upstate or voting for the Democrats, who, being as beholden to the needs of capital as the Republicans, have also cut vital social services that benefit the working class and poor. Previous tuition increases have been put forward by Democratic administrations — remember Gov. Cuomo in 1991?
While fighting against the current round of cuts, the student movement must be able to go beyond this single issue and link this fight with the struggle for free and open access to the CUNY system for all. Only through a free and open university can we guarantee quality education for every student, regardless of class and race. Students won it before, and students must win it back again!
We cannot look at these attacks on higher education as isolated incidents; they are part and parcel of the current offensive of American (and world) capitalism against the gains made by the labor movement, racial minorities, and the poor over the last 30 years. Across the country we are seeing many examples of these assaults on working people. Both parties have vowed to end welfare as we know it. Many states have, or are in the process of, instituting “workfare”, a program that will force welfare recipients to slave for the state at sub-minimum wage. Union busting has become a popular pastime with corporations again, as evidenced by the struggles around the Staley workers in Illinois and last winters’ 32B-32J strike. The creed of capitalism in the 90’s is the infallibility of the free market and a be-damned attitude to those whose lives are deemed unprofitable. This means the student movement has important allies among working-people, both on and off campus, in particular those organized in the trade-unions, who are suffering from capitalist cutbacks. We must forge links with them — students cannot defeat Pataki’s budget cuts by themselves.
Last year in Paris, and more recently in Toronto, we saw the potential of such worker-student alliances. Trade-unionists, students and other sectors of the population shut down their cities in response to attacks on social services.
The corrupt and conservative leadership of New York’s major unions will never wage a real fight against the cuts because they are at the beck and call of the bosses and the bosses’ state. But the multi-racial rank-and-file membership of these unions are the best allies for a broad struggle against Albany’s slash and burn budget and Wall Street downsizing; we must join with them and move against the cuts.
As shown by past struggles around CUNY, reforms can be won, but as long as capitalism exists and its system of private property and profit, any reforms we do win will remain fragile and vulnerable to overturn. Trade-union militants and student activists need to orient around a perspective that goes beyond the limitations set by capitalism and its ideological agents within the labor and student movements. We need a revolutionary movement that aims at constructing a new society; a socialist society under the democratic control of workers and all the oppressed. Socialism isn’t a pipe dream or a utopian fantasy as various bourgeois academics claim, but is the best alternative to the horrors and irrationalities of modern capitalism. The Bolshevik Tendency is a revolutionary organization that is committed to fighting for such a society, and bringing this perspective to the struggles of the exploited and oppressed.
For Free and Open Admissions!
Build a Worker-Student Alliance to Defeat the Cuts!