Many are calling what has taken place in New York’s budget battle “historic.” Should we declare it a victory? What’s ahead for working people in our state?
A powerful, sustained outpouring of protest from every quarter prevented the worst of Republican Gov. George Pataki’s budget cuts from becoming law. As a result of this movement, and the split in the Republicans over the local tax hikes that the cuts would have caused, the state legislature came up with a better proposal which increases taxes on the rich, and then Republicans joined Democrats in slam-dunking the governor’s veto. The fight by the people of New York City also blocked the “doomsday budget” of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Pataki’s partner in crimes-against-the-people.
And what a fight it’s been! Because the cuts were so outrageous, and would have hurt millions of people in a multitude of ways, reaction and protest was swift, broad, and militant. The major sections of New York’s labor movement and an amazingly wide range of organizations – community, religious, student, senior, service, women’s, tenants’ – organized and demonstrated. People weren’t deterred by Pataki’s demagogy about “job killing taxes,” or Bloomberg’s attempts to blame the unions.
As always, the cuts would have been disproportionately destructive for the African-American, Latino and other minority and immigrant communities. These communities contributed to the movement of huge numbers of people, great militancy and key leaders, including elected officials and trade unionists to the campaign.
The protest was as varied as it was big, ranging from huge demonstrations to hundreds of smaller actions. Branch libraries put out flyers and the zoos organized an e-mail campaign asking patrons to protest cuts.
A teachers’ union lawsuit, which charges New York City with racial discrimination for its plans to lay off hundreds of predominantly Black and Latin women school aides, can help lay the basis for a stronger and more united fightback.
So there is much to celebrate and build on, because it is precisely this kind of movement – of all who are hurt by pro-Wall Street, pro-landlord, anti-people, anti-union policies – that is necessary to win.
But it’s hard to declare victory when there is still so much bad news ahead for the people of New York. There will be big cuts in services, thousands of layoffs, and tremendous suffering.
School construction projects will be postponed. Tuition will rise out of reach for thousands of young people. Firehouses are slated to close. More layoffs will add to record high unemployment. Tens of thousands will join the millions of New Yorkers with inadequate or no medical coverage.
Working people will pay higher sales taxes, parking tickets and fees. The state rent board is contemplating the biggest hike in years. The streets will be dirtier and more dangerous; people will be sicker, poorer, less secure.
It is outrageous, no, it’s criminal, that such conditions exist in any state of our great and wealthy country.
The budget crisis is at once complicated and simple. Complicated, because there are many reasons for the economic problems faced by our state, including the overall economic slowdown and the effects of Sept. 11. But there are other aspects to it that are pretty simple.
One is the role of the Bush administration. Though obscured by the servile corporate media and by Pataki and Bloomberg, who distinguished themselves in letting Bush off the hook, the dollars New York needs could have easily been provided by the federal government.
But true to its “leave no millionaire behind” politics, the administration has offered what New Yorkers would call “chump change.” Meanwhile it pours billions of dollars down the Pentagon’s yaw and works tirelessly to provide hundreds of billions in additional tax cuts for the richest of the rich.
The other simple fact is that this crisis was created, at least in part, by Pataki’s granting of big tax breaks to his rich buddies. And can we really expect Billionaire Bloomberg to demand anything from Wall Street?
So is it a victory? The answer is “yes” and “no.” The struggle will go on, unity has to be strengthened, and we need bold solutions that reject placing the burden on working people. The cuts and layoffs should be reversed, the tax, fare and fee hikes, that disproportionately hurt working people, rolled back.
We must talk about the real impact of the “guns before butter” policies of the Bush administration; to explain, as Martin Luther King did, that “the bombs we drop [on Vietnam] are exploding in our communities.”
Last but not least: The politicians in City Hall, at the State House and in the White House who so flagrantly serve the biggest corporate interests and the super-rich have to be given notice. November 2004 is looming – and what happens that day will reverberate from Washington to Albany to New York City.
Elena Mora is chairperson of the New York State Communist Party. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org