NEW YORK - Figuring out who to vote for in New York State this year is trickier than usual for those who want to advance labor rights, equality and democracy.
The state mirrors the national picture in many ways. Since the 2008 elections, the right has gone on a rampage, especially with the formation of the tea party, perhaps the most openly racist movement this country has seen in decades. It is at once sad and frightening, and, despite a relatively small base of support, it occupies much media coverage.
Against that, there have been significant victories under the new balance of forces that was ushered in with Obama's election, especially health care reform and the stimulus package of 2009 - but, economically and in most other ways, the country isn't out of the woods, and Obama and allied forces looking for a road forward are perpetually stymied. Every good initiative has run up against immediate obstruction by the minority Republican Party.
Here in New York, using the current economic crisis as a pretext, the corporations and developers are on a rampage to break unions and to decisively shift power away from working people towards Wall Street. Their first line of attack has been to cut services and, as we've seen in the budget fights and the attempt to privatize schools under the guise of creating more charters, to break the public sector unions.
The assault on public workers is an assault on all workers: the aim is to divide those who work in the public sector from those who work for private companies, in order to weaken the working class fightback overall.
While the big corporations have a home in both the New York Democratic and Republican parties, the Republicans are leading the most vicious assault. And while there are Democrats in our state leadership who've taken some terrible positions, the legislative Democrat caucus has been the group most responsive to the needs of working people.
Consequently, as bad as outgoing Democratic Gov. David Paterson has been, the main enemy for progressives is still the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, there's nothing to be excited about when it comes to the Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, the current state attorney general. He's been arguing for exactly the same business-friendly, reactionary economic policies as Paterson. Further, his shocking insensitivity to the African American, Latino, Asian American and Afro-Caribbean communities is deplorable. How can it be that there is not a single member of any of these communities on the statewide Democratic ticket?
The answer: insensitivity at best, racism at worst.
It's easy to understand the indignation felt by African Americans and other communities. Still, it's hard to see the formation of the new Freedom Party, co-chaired by City Council member Charles Barron, as a viable tactic in the fight against racism. History has shown that the only way to defeat racism and other social evils is for a united fight by the Black, white, Latino and Asian communities, male and female, old and young, unionized and unorganized. It doesn't seem like the bulk of these forces is ready to abandon Cuomo and the Democrats this year, despite the obvious shortcomings and chauvinism in his campaign.
Barron is right in charging that Cuomo is banking on the vote of the Black and other minority communities in New York State without planning to deliver on their needs and concerns. But the elections are not simply about the current Democratic ticket; more important is which block of social forces will gain supremacy this fall, those around the Democrats or those around the Republicans.
We have to ask how all working people, the racially and nationally oppressed, women and youth can build up the movement to push state Democrats to offer better choices. We've seen that, in communities across the state, this has been possible: look at the progressive, labor-oriented, Black, Latino and Asian city council members. There are many in and around the Democrats who are part of this fight: the labor movement, community organizations, women's rights organizations and others.
It's only this movement that can defeat the Republicans in November, and that can strengthen the anti-corporate, anti-racist currents within and around the state Democratic Party, many of whom are also working within the Working Families Party. Eventually, these currents will be able to, in some form or another, establish a labor-based people's party that can consistently challenge the big corporations.
This year, the Working Families Party, despite many concerns, may well offer Cuomo their ballot line. If he is able to win with a large number of WFP votes, a message will have been sent: we are voting for Cuomo because he's better than the Republican, but we support, and will fight for, pro-labor and pro-people policies.
Despite Cuomo's shortcomings, the November elections can be a huge step forward in defeating the anti-worker, racist extremists and in building a broader and more united movement for peace, equality, civil rights and democracy, both at the state and national levels.