Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

US: Mass demo in New York against budget cuts

On Thursday March 5, over ten blocks on Broadway, from City Hall to Canal Street, were filled with workers protesting against budget cuts, at what was called the “Rally for New York”. The demonstration of at least 50,000 was called by a coalition of trade unions and community organisations, led by the big public-sector unions.

By Jesse Lessinger, Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US)

Facing a budget deficit of $14 billion for the coming fiscal year – the biggest in state history – Governor Paterson is proposing massive cuts to state spending on health care, education and other services. And despite billions coming into New York state from the federal stimulus package, there will still be cuts and pressure on workers to make concessions.

New York City is being hit especially hard with the fallout from Wall Street. Almost 50,000 jobs were lost in 2008 and the 2009 projection is for job losses three times as high.

New York City also has a budget deficit of over $4 billion. Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg threatened to lay off 23,000 workers, 15,000 coming from the Department of Education. This was an exaggerated threat, used mainly as a scare tactic. The federal aid for education seems, at least for now, to have prevented this level of mass layoffs. Nonetheless, the tactic laid the groundwork for demanding concessions from the city workers’ unions.

‘Shared sacrifice’

The main leadership of the demonstration called the action primarily to support legislation called the “Fair Share Tax Reform”, which would increase taxes on the wealthy. However, this particular tax reform, while helping somewhat, would only reduce the magnitude of the painful cuts.

Socialists argue that workers are not responsible for this crisis and should not have to pay for it. Instead of talking about ‘shared sacrifice’ and other weak demands put forward by the union leaders, we say there should be no cuts and no layoffs and that the rich should pay for the crisis of their system.

This demonstration represented the first mass mobilisation in New York City against cuts in the context of the world economic crisis and was an important first step.

Over the last couple of years, activism and workers’ struggles in the city have been almost non-existent. The last major battle was the 2005 transit workers strike, which ended in defeat.

Unfortunately, the union leadership will mainly see this demo as an exercise in blowing off steam and will be in no hurry to mobilise their members in the near future.

Workers must seek to develop their own political voice. The unions backing a ‘no cuts’ slate in the local elections, independent of the two major parties, would have a tremendous impact in rallying thousands of workers behind a campaign to stop the cuts.

The unions should also broaden the struggle and take a bolder stance; first demanding that workers not pay for the crisis, but also condemning the bank bailouts and demanding a bailout for working people.

We must build campaigns against the cuts, layoffs, and foreclosures, for single-payer health care, for living wage jobs and massive public works programmes. These campaigns must be linked together in a general struggle to defend the interests of workers and youth.