Category Archives: Contract

Profit System Hazardous to Workers’ Health; Protest Racist Attacks on Brooklyn Hospitals

BROOKLYN, January 11 — Hundreds of angry hospital workers and supporters rallied loudly in front of the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel here this week as racist financier Stephen Berger, a darling of Governor Cuomo, announced his plan to “save” health care in the borough of Brooklyn. Workers who had never been at such a protest (or at least not for a long time) chanted as bosses from Downstate Hospital, Wall Street moguls and Berger himself entered the hotel for a fancy breakfast.

Brooklyn is a borough of 2.5 million people.  One in five live below the poverty line and two in five are on Medicaid. An untold number are without any health insurance. In 1980, Brooklyn had 26 hospitals — now it has 15. There are now 41% fewer acute care beds, 2.3 beds per 1,000 residents, compared with Manhattan’s 4.7, the state’s 3.1 and the nation’s 2.6. Disparities in health by income and “race” are concentrated in certain New York City communities, including several in Brooklyn. In 2001, life expectancy in our poorest neighborhoods was eight years shorter than in its wealthiest; that is 4,000 extra premature deaths/year in the poorest communities.

Racism: The Worst Disease

The facts show the racist nature of the U.S. health care system. Brooklyn is 36% black and 20% Latino. Latino New Yorkers are twice as likely to have diabetes. Black New Yorkers are three times more likely to die of diabetes than white residents. Ninety-four percent of elevated blood levels in New York City are among African Americans, Latinos and Asians. If infant mortality rates were equalized, the lives of some 200 babies of these ethnic groups would be saved each year (NYC DOHMH “Health Disparities in NYC,” 2004).

The hospitals in Brooklyn who serve its poorest residents have been set up to fail by Medicaid cuts. Stephen Berger, a hedge fund mogul and part of the unelected government of New York has led a task force for Governor Cuomo to come up with a plan to “rescue” health care in Brooklyn. He proposes closing Downstate Hospital in central Brooklyn and Kingsborough Psychiatric Hospital.

Another of the proposals is to invite private investors into Brooklyn hospitals. We have already seen for-profit Medisys’ disastrous mismanagement of  Brookdale Medical Center. We’ve seen Continuum executives making between one and two million dollar salaries while millions of dollars at Long Island College Hospital’s real estate and other assets disappeared under their management. We can’t stand by and watch healthcare for profit drain other hospitals in the poor and black and Latino neighborhoods and, then abandon them for New York State to rescue (or not).

After the rally, workers asked, “Did we accomplish anything? Did anything change?” Our answer is that life is a constant struggle between the working class and the big businessmen who run the economy and the government. We were there in force as this New York ruling class announced its plan to close two public hospitals in the underserved borough of Brooklyn. We took strength from each other. But stopping their attacks is going to take more action. We need to unite patients, communities and workers, black, Latino and white, to oppose them at every stage of their plan, much like what was done during the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

Interestingly, the unions were absent from this action. The union that made a deal with the Berger hospital closures a few years ago, SEIU-1199, which represents many of the affected Brookdale and Interfaith Hospital workers, was nowhere to be seen. Also the unions from Kings County Hospital, which is across the street from Downstate, including the city union’s District Council 37, were conspicuously absent. Brooklyn patients and  jobs are in jeopardy. We need working-class unity, not territorialism!

The bottom line is that we live in a capitalist system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; a system where the only funds the demopublicans “can’t” cut are for oil wars and bailouts of banks “too big to fail.” We have to fight against these attacks on medical care. But living conditions for the working class, especially black and Latino workers, are so rotten under this system that we will never be healthy until we rid ourselves of the profiteers and run things according to the needs of our class. Contact revolutionary communist PLP to find out more.

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2011: Crisis-driven Bosses Attack, But Class Struggle Alive and Well

The events of 2011 served to remind us of two important aspects of capitalist society. First, the bosses of the world, caught in a sharpening struggle against their rivals and a spreading financial crisis, always have their knives out to assault the working class. Attacks intensified against our jobs, education, health, homes and families. The myths of democracy, fairness and opportunity for workers were exposed by a worldwide reality: we live under the bosses’ dictatorship. The past year made clear that regardless of national boundaries, no matter the “race” or gender of the boss, the ruling class will eagerly consign workers to hell on earth for the smallest gain in profit.

The ultimate expression of the boss’s callousness to sacrifice the lives of workers is imperialist war, of which there was no shortage in 2011. The U.S., still the main capitalist power in the world, continued its racist massacres in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in hopes of securing the Middle East’s oil and natural gas. Without the growth of a new worldwide communist movement, the prospects for 2012 and beyond are not much better.

While the U.S. remains the dominant power, other rivals, most prominently China, are gaining power — militarily, economically and politically. This challenge does not go unnoticed by the U.S. ruling class. The recent announcement by President Obama (the Nobel Peace Prize winner) that U.S. Marines will be stationed in northern Australia, alongside the recent diplomatic overtures to Myanmar, which borders China, signal a future where direct military conflict between the U.S. and China will be increasingly likely.

But the deadly maneuvering of the ruling class is only one side of the story of 2011. The second lesson, clearly visible from a quick look back through the pages of any of the bosses’ newspapers, is that workers are not meekly accepting these attacks. Class struggle is alive and well.  The list of places where large-scale rebellion rocked the bosses this past year is a long one: Algeria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, England, France, Greece, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, the U.S., and more.

To advance the cause of communist revolution, the international Progressive Labor Party has joined and led some of these militant struggles. In the pages of CHALLENGE, these battles and many other reports of class struggle were presented with a communist analysis.  If we are ever to defeat the murderous bosses and end their reign of terror, the working class must transform these narrow reform struggles into a fight for the working class to take state power — a fight for communist revolution.

The International PLP Advances

In New York City, the working class took on the racist Department of Education and its plan to impose Jim Crow-style segregation at the John Jay Campus high schools. In Israel/Palestine, a Summer Project participated in the fight against racist evictions and the housing shortage gripping workers there. In Haiti, we struggled to help rebuild a shattered society with communist principles of international solidarity and equality.

PL’s Summer Project in Haiti included a “Freedom School” for the discussion of communist principles. “Serve the working class” became more than a motto; it was put into practice when Party members created a clinic to serve the medical needs for Haitians in tent camps. The racist health care system was also a focus for comrades in the U.S. In New York we fought against the racist closing of Brookdale Hospital. Comrades and friends in Philadelphia fought to prevent the firing of a trusted hospital coworker. In Chicago, where hospital bosses tried to give patients a death sentence by transferring them to a decrepit facility, PL and others fought back.

Chicago was also the battleground for the heroic efforts of students and parents (primarily mothers), supported by the Party, to prevent the racist closing of the Whittier School library. Providing an example for the Occupy movement to follow, the parents (primarily mothers) and students at this majority Latino school, supported by the Party, seized the building and renamed it “La Casita.” For nearly a month, they held off the racist dogs of the Chicago Department of Education from carrying out their plan. Our comrades helped in many ways, from medical care to overnight guard duty. All the while they pointed out that whether we won or lost this particular battle, the bosses would still have state power. Our job is to fight not only “our” bosses, but bosses everywhere.

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, communists infused labor struggles in garment factories and universities with a vision of a society based on need rather than profit. In Mexico, where flooding threatened to destroy a community of 200,000 people, the Party explained that if our communist predecessors in the Soviet Union could move entire factories over the Ural mountains in three months during World War II, we could protect their city — if we had state power.

In these places and others around the world, CHALLENGE was ever-present. It consistently hammered home the point that it is only when we take on capitalism itself — when we transform battles against corrupt dictators, greedy bankers and fascist school boards into a world-wide communist movement — will we achieve workers’ liberation.

Arab Spring and Wall Street Occupy Working Class’s Imagination

Perhaps the most significant expressions of working-class fight-back were the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East, collectively dubbed the Arab Spring, and in the Occupy Wall Street movement, a worldwide rage at the inequality of wealth that is the hallmark of capitalism.

The Arab Spring began with a rebellion in Tunisia that followed the self-immolation of a desperate young worker. But the uprising was fueled by a 13% official unemployment rate (about 30% for youth), skyrocketing prices for food, and political corruption. Similarly, in Egypt, while the bourgeois media focused on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and the struggle for “democracy,” the real battles were over rampant unemployment and the price of food. Strikes at Egypt’s textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Cairo airport, the transportation sector, banks, ports and the Suez Canal are the primary source of revolutionary optimism.

Workers throughout the world cheered on scenes from Tunisia and Tahrir Square, which makes the outcome of these battles all the more painful. In Egypt, ruthless dictator Hosni Mubarak was first replaced by a ruthless military and now in addition by the even more ruthless Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists (see CHALLENGE, 10/19). In Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted and elections were held in October, but unemployment still crushes the youth there. This is the essence of reform struggles. However militant it may be, any struggle that fails to attack the entire capitalist system will simply replace one set of bosses with another. For workers, the promise of a new society has been met with the reality of continued joblessness and misery.

Nonetheless, the international working class proudly looked on as workers in Tahrir Square held up signs reading, “We are all Wisconsin,” a reference to the 100,000-strong protest against the attack on public sector workers in that state. Months before anyone occupied a park near Wall Street, thousands of workers occupied the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin.

Just as in Cairo, however, the brave workers of Wisconsin have been misled, this time into backing electoral politics and the Democratic Party. In the midst of this struggle, the Party brought forward the idea that both the fascist Governor Scott Walker and the supposedly “heroic” Democrats were all defenders of capitalism — and were all therefore enemies of the working class. This communist idea attracted many workers in Wisconsin and around the world.

In September, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began in New York City before spreading to more than 1,500 cities worldwide. OWS captured the attention of workers who were tired of seeing banks get trillions of dollars in bailouts while education, transportation, health care, wages and jobs are slashed. One chant especially reflected this anger: “Banks got bailed out; We got sold out!” Throughout 2011, the Party participated in many of these occupations, picket lines, schools, churches and job sites, armed with leaflets and CHALLENGE.

PLP continues to strive to replace the dead-end reform tactics of the old communist movement with the fight for revolutionary communism for billions of workers in the world.

May Day

This past year was the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune, the first time workers took control of the state. In this spirit, we celebrated May Day with marches, dinners and songs. From Colombia to El Salvador, in Los Angeles and New York, in Haiti and Palestine, we raised the red flag honoring our revolutionary ancestors. This year our May Day celebrations grew in size and better reflected the international character of the working class.

Turning Fascist Oppression into Communist Organizing

The working class continues to suffer from the racist exploitation and oppression that capitalism requires. In their increasingly desperate competition for dominance, the various national ruling classes outdo one another in making workers homeless, sick, maimed or killed in pursuit of profit. Frantic about “sovereign debt,” collapsing banks, currency disasters (notably the euro) and the industrial crisis of overproduction, the world’s bosses are peeling back their thin masks of “democracy” to reveal the bloody maw of a fascist monster. Meanwhile, the fight over Central Asian and Middle Eastern oil and natural gas appears to be careening toward broader military conflicts.

As we move into 2012, the battles against our capitalist enemies will continue to rage. The workers of the world will continue to fight back, in ways large and small. Everything we do as workers and communists counts: every march or picket line or discussion strengthened by  communist ideas, every time we help another worker and demonstrate how we can build a society without the parasitic bosses. By doing these things and more, the Party will help the working class move closer to ushering in a classless society that produces for need, not profit. Communist ideas are essential for this crucial advance. A mass, international, revolutionary party is necessary to lead the way. PL is that party. Now is the time to join!

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‘Our Union’s in bed with the Bosses…’ Brookdale Rank-and-File Must Unite and Lead the Struggle

BROOKLYN, N.Y., July 29 — “So what they’re talking about doing here is building a whole working-class movement, beyond our union,” stated one Brookdale worker to another at a home visit by PLP members. Despite torrential rain, we met to discuss the ongoing struggle at Brookdale Hospital, which foreshadows the even bigger racist cuts coming from the Obama-Tea Party circus, such as the $655 billion federal cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Brookdale Hospital and its 3,500 workers, in the majority black and Latino working-class Brownsville neighborhood have been stripped bare by the racist bosses of MediSys. The misleadership of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU  — see previous CHALLENGE, 8/3).

Workers expressed their disappointment that the fight hasn’t escalated further, regardless of the militant sit-downs and picketing. “When we go outside now to march, we tell everybody in our department, ‘hey! You all should take your lunch break and come march with us!’“

After the previous months of struggle and confrontation between the workers and bosses, these workers didn’t hide their frustration with the declining militancy, and exasperation at how the hospital bosses are getting away scot-free. “We were telling the union for months what was going on here.” Another worker declared, “but they kept telling us to wait until the legal people did something.” The 1199 leaders are out for their own interests; it’s time to call upon new leadership, ourselves.

The MediSys-owned Peninsula Hospital, located in the borough of Queens, announced last week it is closing. This news was received with surprise and anxiety at Brookdale. The union Local 1199 leadership, is not only uninterested in fighting back at Brookdale, but uninterested in fighting back at all! Peninsula Hospital is closing due to the same series of attacks MediSys has made on Brookdale. Union leadership does not have the workers’ interests; as workers we need to unite and fight for our class interests.

A PL’er asked, “Why didn’t the union, which was aware of Peninsula’s troubles for months, organize any solidarity events between Brookdale, Peninsula, and every union member in the city with it’s 250,000 members?”

“Because our union’s in bed with the bosses!” shot back a worker.

PLP isn’t building some union or electoral party, but a fighting, revolutionary communist working-class party.

CHALLENGE, unlike all other media, is the working class’s paper and shows capitalism as the root cause of our current problems. Brookdale workers are learning that PLP is with them shoulder-to-shoulder. A major aspect of our struggle with the Brookdale workers has been trying to keep a long-term outlook. Strike or no strike, “win” or “lose” this round, the bosses’ racist class war rages on against the working class; the struggle continues.

Distribution of CHALLENGE to Brookdale workers, struggling with the workers over the ideas in the paper, making new friends, and uniting our lives through our struggles are the orders of the day. Communist revolution is necessary, and can happen as growing CHALLENGE networks make PLP’s ideas mass ideas.

PLP Summer Project Backs: Strikers with ‘Mops and Stethoscopes’ Fighting U.S./Haitian Bosses

PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 21 — “Haiti has a hardscrabble beauty,” an art historian said about its eroding slopes, its city streets turned into a huge informal market, its people always on the move in the daily scramble for food. However, Haiti, at the bottom rung of racist capitalism, has the beauty of workers struggling with their backs against the wall.

Workers at the University Hospital (HUEH) led off a strike with a demonstration at the Ministry of Health, for unpaid wages, decent health services for patients and working conditions for workers. Our PLP Summer Project medical clinic team spotted the demonstration and learned more from the local nurses working with us. The strikers are in the Syndicat des Travailleurs de Santé (STS — Health Workers’ Union), an industrial union whose logo combines a stethoscope with a mop.

Today we brought 50 students from our Project’s freedom school, and health workers and translators from our medical clinic to the sweltering STS union hall. We were given some of the few seats, fans were brought up, and they looked at us expectantly.

Charles, the head of their negotiating committee, explained the problems at HUEH, whose administrator lives in Canada and, with his cronies, gets paid in U.S. dollars. They have, in essence, destroyed the hospital.

Since the earthquake, labs, medicines, even food for the patients are missing or are allowed to deteriorate. Workers must find food for the patients themselves. The bosses allow patients to pile in without the means of caring for them. And workers being paid? Maybe.

As Charles said, these terrible services for patients occur alongside terrible working conditions for their caretakers, plus the stress of being unable to provide needed care.

The STS president Milot, a doctor, wrung his hands as he described the pain workers felt, prevented by the bosses’ system from using their strength, skills and creativity to treat other workers who need them so badly. He and Charles thanked us for our solidarity across the seas, his hands clutching the precious handful of $20 bills we donated to the fund.

Someone started a chant in English, “Same Enemy, Same Fight! Workers of the World Unite!” Our STS hosts took it up as best they could. Some of us lost our voices there today.

A Physician’s Assistant from the Bronx described his public hospital’s conditions as failing to improve over his 30 years of service, actually declining steadily over the last five years. A Dominican teacher, also from the Bronx, called for unity of workers on both sides of the bosses’ colonial border dividing Haiti from the Dominican Republic. A student from Mexico working here in our clinic added greetings from workers in Mexico.

We did the best we could with English and Spanish translated into French so a friend from Haiti could put it all into Kreyòl. We said we’d start a campaign of letters of support from the U.S. and elsewhere, and picket the Haitian consulate. It was, well, beautiful — and then we bumped our way home over the hardscrabble streets.

What is beauty? This recalls the common question among PLP’ers: “What is winning?” Workers’ struggle in and of itself is, as the Irish poet Yeats wrote, “a terrible beauty,” and nothing is uglier than the blank, depressed defeat of the dark night of the soul. But all reform struggle fades, slowly if it wins, and with a sad and terrible speed if it loses.

What our class needs in Haiti is a communist revolution. It cannot come a moment too soon, clearly seen as you watch a hungry child devour the bananes braisées from our Sunday picnic on a public beach as if they were sacred.

The revolutionary beauty our class needs must come from the strikers with mops and stethoscopes and from the anger of hungry children. It must come from their worldwide communist party. The truth of PLP’s ideas and the strength of its international organizing are the only adequate response to the racist crime that is Haiti today.

Send letters of strike support to Syndicat des Travailleurs de Santé, Siège Social HUEH, Rue Monseigneur Guilloux, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

‘Don’t Buy Scab Food!’ California PL Mobilizes to Back Store Workers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, July 27 — In preparation for a probable strike of the 62,000 Southern California grocery workers, approximately 300 mostly black, Latino and women grocery workers and supporters, rallied and marched this week. The two paths open to workers were on display: On the one hand, the NAACP and the workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) push strategies of compromise and concession, proven to lead to wage-cuts and attacks on pensions. PLP, on the other hand, was there with the message that this and other strikes are training grounds, where workers learn that united, we can smash capitalism and its racist exploitation.

Due to capitalist competition, Ralph’s, Albertson’s, Von’s and other chains must continually strive to maximize their profits. The result is a race to the bottom for workers as their wages and benefits are attacked. Now, after suffering through UCFW-approved wage and pension give-backs, the workers are being asked to pick up an additional $7,000 a year in health care costs! For many of these workers this cut would be a third of their annual income. Meanwhile these three stores raked in $5 billion in profits last year!

In this period of economic crisis, expanding imperialist wars and racist unemployment a potential strike of over 60,000 workers is an opportunity for our Party to join the class-struggle, mobilize our friends on the job, campus and in our mass organizations to expose the inherent exploitation of capitalism and the bankrupt tactics of the sellout unions and build the revolutionary communist PLP.

Leading up to the march, about 30 members of a local church gathered at a nearby store where they demonstrated and then marched inside, handing out letters of support to the workers. This was after Party members pushed for a resolution  at a national convention of the Universalist Church (see page 5) to support the strike nationally, pledging to hold demonstrations and walk the picket lines. A contingent of PLP members and friends from the church joined the rally and march wearing stickers “Don’t Buy Scab Food,” which was a hit for many workers.

Several angry workers gave speeches at the rally, including one young black woman worker who boldly condemned the bosses’ attacks and called on the unity of ALL workers. However, under union “leadership” these workers can’t win. These hacks even have the gall to put on their website that they have selected grocery stores where they have weekly pickets and informational leafleting with the aim to apparently win over community support. However, on three separate occasions members and friends have gone to these locations to find no picket lines or anyone handing out information.

On the one hand, it shows the lack of seriousness by the union but on the other hand it gives us the opportunity to expose the essence of union leadership as the bosses’ lackeys. With the union missing, we can pass out our literature, mobilize our base and mass organizations and take on more leadership. We have made modest efforts thus far but can do much better. We must improve our distribution of CHALLENGE and connect the struggles from workers fighting back here to workers fighting back all over the world. This will contribute to the growth of the PLP and the eventual victory of the working class.

Women Hospital Workers Lead Fight vs. Boss-Union Hack Gang-up

BROOKLYN, NY July 18 — “Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!” That’s how a rally of two hundred Brookdale Hospital workers ended after a night of picketing, marching and chanting in front of their hospital. Almost every worker carried a copy of CHALLENGE with the story of their struggle on the front page. Militant workers from Downstate, Methodist, Woodhull, Long Island College and other hospitals and unions came out in solidarity, greeting their Brookdale sisters and brothers with warm hugs, handshakes, and plenty of conversation.

One worker said, “The entire hospital would walk out and strike if the union said so, but they keep telling us to wait…” These racist cutbacks are taking place in every city, designed to make workers and patients pay for the trillion-dollar imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, and for the bailouts of the bosses and bankers.

Just before the rally, a vice-president from Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) played emcee to a collection of city and state politicians in a town hall meeting. Their aim was to numb the workers into staging a silent “candlelight vigil,” unsurprising, considering that SEIU’s idea of “struggle” is a bus trip to beg Governor Cuomo and other politicians at the state capitol.

These politicians are part of the same city and state government that orchestrated the closures of eight city hospitals in the past five years. They said the same “fighting” words before shutting down St. Vincent’s and North General hospitals. Parts of Brookdale, a 3,500-worker hospital, have already shut down, robbing the mostly black, Latino, Caribbean and women workers and patients of their jobs and health care.

Speaking to a crowd of workers at the town hall, most with CHALLENGEs in their hands, New York City councilman Charles Barron pandered to their anger, but offered no leadership for the class struggle they need. Barron’s divisive black nationalist politics reinforce racist divisions between black and white workers. Workers don’t need division — they need class unity! Barron’s and 1199’s attempts to control the workers failed when the 1199 VP tried to prevent a white worker from another hospital to speak in solidarity with the Brookdale workers, prompting angry shouts from the crowd and chants of “Let him speak!” The VP backed down.

Brookdale is being bled to death by racist Medicaid and Medicare cuts on the one hand and a pack of thieving bosses from MediSys, the hospital’s parent company, on the other. MediSys Chief Financial Officer Doss steals $3 million-a-year in salary, and top MediSys executives (including CEO Flanz and Human Resources Director Sclair) also draw salaries from 22 dummy corporations that bill Brookdale for their “services.” Doss runs a collections agency that bills Brookdale for collecting unpaid medical debts! He draws another salary from Brookdale as a “consultant”!

At the same time, “Brookdale has no toilet paper,” one worker said. “We have to borrow it from other hospitals. Nurses are telling families to bring their own [adult] diapers. We’re borrowing medicine from Jamaica Hospital [a smaller hospital also owned by MediSys] and I’m always on the phone trying to borrow extra envelopes and paper to get my job done.”

Another woman related the racist and sexist abuse, where 80% of the workers are women. “The managers sexually harass the women…making open sexual advances. They suspend anyone who complains. They don’t fear anybody. They think they’re invincible. Recently, fifteen of us women went to one of their offices and put a stop to it. We haven’t heard from him again!” The women leading the struggle have shown incredible bravery and strength, continuing the fight against the bosses even while 1199 tries its best to cool the workers down.

We heard similar stories of fight-backs and job actions from every department, including a three-day sit-in at the hospital last month, after MediSys stopped paying into the 1199 SEIU National Benefits Fund. This “forced” the union to cancel the workers’ health insurance and replace it with a much worse plan with sky-high, unaffordable co-pays. Aside from stripping the workers of their health care, no one knows what steps, if any, the union has taken against the bosses to recoup their losses.

Either way, the union is worth over a billion dollars. It could have paid for the workers’ health insurance while fighting to get its money from MediSys. Instead, it meekly accepted the hospital bosses’ benefit cut. Had George Gresham and the union leadership really wanted to support the struggle, they had every “legal” reason to strike back in January, when MediSys first violated the labor contract. As one worker said, “The bosses treat us like garbage and the union leaders always give us reasons why we can’t fight, but we know we gotta fight!”

Beyond MediSys, we are confronting the whole racist profit system and a U.S. ruling class that is struggling to keep its world empire amid stiffening competition. Today they fight Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, but down the road looms China. With the help of the union misleaders, they are taking back everything that U.S. workers have gained in the past 80 years in order to meet their growing competition.

PLP is fighting for a base among the workers in order to challenge the bosses and union misleaders. The Brookdale workers are fighting on behalf of every worker affected by racist hospital closures. Every worker worldwide can support the Brookdale Hospital workers by raising their fight on the job and in their union, sending messages of support to CHALLENGE. Workers in the New York City area can sign up to sell CHALLENGEs at Brookdale.

While the bosses ultimately control whether or not Brookdale closes, through building CHALLENGE networks within Brookdale, we are injecting our ideas of fighting back with multi-racial working-class unity. Should Brookdale close, in whole or in part, these workers will bring these ideas with them into the looming struggles ahead, wherever they go. Our long-term success will be measured in how many workers understand that only when millions of workers join PLP and the fight for communism, can the international working class destroy capitalism and seize power.

The politicians and union misleaders had their say at the town hall meeting, but the mostly-female Brookdale workers will have their say when they strike against the bosses. We ask every one of these fighters to join us

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PLP Builds Class Consciousness Call for Strike to Battle D.C. Bosses, Union Hacks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The battle against the Metro transit bosses and sellout union leaders is heating up.  PLP members at Metro used a union-called town hall meeting for workers and riders “to get input” to expose the sellouts and have radical conversations with fellow workers about the need for communist revolution.

Party members testified that a strike at Metro would help all D.C. area workers, including Metro riders, resist today’s racist offensive against workers. Those statements from both Metro workers and riders got the loudest applause of the meeting, and helped build an attitude of rebellion that opens the door for building the PLP at Metro and throughout the community.

Although support for a strike to resolve our contract dispute is wide spread among riders and drivers, the union leadership is strongly opposed to any work action by members of ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 689.

Since strikes by transit workers in D.C. are illegal under the bosses’ laws, the union president is afraid to lead a strike.  She fears it would bankrupt the union and she would wind up in jail. Without a plan to win a strike, many workers are afraid of losing their jobs if it fails.

Many workers have illusions about what a strike can accomplish.  Some believe that if we strike, the bosses will be on their knees begging us to come back to work.  This is an unlikely scenario. They will try to hit us hard, and we must be prepared to hit back!

PLP’s job is to help people overcome their fears of a strike as well as give a realistic estimate of what it takes to advance our interests under current conditions.

Part of helping workers overcome their fear of striking is having a party organization which has the support of the workers and a plan to move forward.  Most of the groundwork for this has been done. Now it is time to consolidate this base into the Party by helping our brothers and sisters gain a clear vision of a lifetime struggle to destroy capitalism and replace it with OUR power, workers’ power.

A strike will not end the bosses’ domination of us, but a strike can give us good training in how to fight. Workers are terminated all the time without just cause at Metro.  There is no reason to expect Metro would not attempt to continue these policies during a strike.  The difference is that we will be fighting back in a mass way to advance our goals. Through sharper struggle against the bosses, we will be able to see the need to build a new kind of society where workers collectively run things  — communism — so that we can get off the treadmill of constant attacks from bosses.

For a strike to be successful, strengthen the union, and build greater class consciousness, the racist divisions that exist in our union must be overcome.  Black, Latino, Asian, and white workers standing side by side in a fight against the bosses will be a strong signal of our ability to win against the bosses in the long run.

Comrade Milt Rosen, 1926-2011 Founding Chairperson of PLP, Great 20th Century Revolutionary

In the fall of 1961, Milt Rosen convened a small collective that would soon leave the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) to form the Progressive Labor Movement. Four years later, Comrade Milt became the founding chair of the Progressive Labor Party. He served our organization and the working class in that capacity until 1995.

On July 13, Milt died of Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 85. He is survived by family, friends, and thousands of comrades — and by a revolutionary communist party deeply rooted in the international working class.

Since PL’s birth half a century ago, many left organizations have withered and died. Others have decayed into the living death of electoral politics or a fake Marxism which allies with “progressive” sections of the ruling class. PL is the exception because it never stopped evolving. Milt grasped the essence of dialectical materialism, the philosophy of communism: that the objective world is ever-changing, and that the Party must continue to learn from its own experience and those of the courageous but flawed workers’ movements that preceded it. He was staunchly principled, but never rigid.

Sparked by Milt early on, PL exposed both counter-revolutionary revisionism and “revolutionary” nationalism as death traps of worker-boss unity. It indicted the state capitalists of the Soviet Union as far back as 1966, and then broke with the ones ruling the People’s Republic of China. Those failed revolutions led PL to advance beyond Marx’s two-stage theory that socialism was a first step toward communism; history had shown that socialism inevitably led back to the exploitation of capitalism. And unlike any other group on the landscape, the Party emphasized the importance of the fight against racism as a basic communist principle, not a mere tactic. It understood that all struggles are essentially anti-racist struggles. Most important, it saw that capitalism cannot survive without racism dividing groups of workers, and that racism injures and exploits the entire working class.

PL stayed vital and relevant because Milt and other comrades refused to shrink from struggle or to compromise our communist politics to make expedient alliances. The Party stood apart from others parading as “left” groups; Milt called that separation “glorious.” He knew that our unity, first and last, must be with the working class.

Over decades of action and analysis, the Party was built by Milt and by people he directly influenced and developed. They steered PL to its early growth amid the opportunities of mass movements and the threats of government attacks. Then they kept us on course through the “dark night” of rising fascism. As Milt noted in “Jailbreak,” his down-to-earth booklet on dialectics, “We must be able to combine urgency with patience.”

The Progressive Labor Party is now growing on five continents. It continues to sharpen its practice and its political line to overthrow capitalism and build a communist future. That struggle endures today. It is PL’s living history, and Milt’s legacy to all of us.

Milt Meets Stalin

Milt’s first brush with the enormous power of communist ideas came as a 17-year-old soldier (he had lied about his age) in Italy in World War II. Each morning he would see a name in fresh red paint on the buildings’ walls: “STALIN.” The anti-fascist partisans, knowing they risked execution if caught, had come out at night with their paint cans to raise morale.

After the war in Italy ended, Milt, now a sergeant, was in charge of a motor pool. His unit was ordered to break strikes led by communist resistance fighters, the soldiers’ former allies. Milt led “search-and-avoid” missions, as they later became known in the Vietnam War. His troops would board the trucks and set off, but they never found a strike. Instead they’d get “lost” on the winding mountain roads.

In and Out of the CPUSA

After returning home to Brooklyn from the Army, Milt joined the Jewish War Veterans, the first of many mass movements he would enter. Influenced by his future wife, Harriet, he then joined the Communist Party of the United States.

In the 1950s, Milt went to Buffalo, New York, to organize fellow workers at a steel mill. He soon became a local union leader. Citing the mill’s status as a “war plant,” management said they had to fire Milt because he was a communist — otherwise, they said, they’d lose their government contracts. They gave each worker a letter stating they were sure Milt would “want” to be fired rather than cost everyone else their jobs. As the workers came off shift, they walked past a fire in a steel barrel and dropped their letters into the flames. As a result of their unity and struggle, Milt got “unfired.”

Milt rose to become the CP’s leader in Erie County, centered in Buffalo, a platform he used to advance the politics that ultimately created PL. In 1957, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) brought its witch hunt to Buffalo to destroy communist influence among industrial workers, Milt and Mort Scheer (later the vice-chairperson of PLP) led the charge against it. They turned HUAC’s hearings into a political battleground. Rather than hiding behind the Fifth Amendment, which the CP used to avoid “self-incrimination,” comrades in Milt’s collective proudly espoused their communist beliefs and attacked the committee’s fascist inquisitions. Meanwhile, Milt and Mort organized mass demonstrations outside the hearings and marshalled mass support. HUAC fled town, discredited. Milt was both teaching and learning a valuable lesson: that communists must fight back against fascism, no matter what the risks.

The industrial work in Buffalo became both PL’s foundation stone and Milt’s point of departure from the old Communist Party. By the late 1950s, in retreat from McCarthyism, the CPUSA had abandoned any effort to organize the working class for revolution. It hid its most advanced ideas from workers and plunged into the sewer of electoral politics, running its own candidates and supporting “lesser-evil” liberals for office. Socialism, the CPUSA leaders declared, could be achieved by reforming capitalism. On the international stage, they joined with fellow revisionists in the Soviet Union in calling for “peaceful coexistence” with the U.S. and its capitalist bloc — an impossible strategy, given the fight-to-the-death reality of imperialism.

By contrast, Milt (by then the CP’s industrial organizer for New York State) defied the old party’s directives and openly called for communism and the need for mass, violent revolution to achieve it. He and his comrades saw that the future of communism lay in negating the old movement — in preserving its progressive elements while discarding what had become outworn or harmful. In January 1962, they published the first issue of a monthly magazine called “Progressive Labor.” In July of that year, in a meeting at the Hotel Diplomat in New York City, they formally broke with the CPUSA and established a new Marxist-Leninist organization called the Progressive Labor Movement, or PLM.

Others split with the CPUSA around the same time, over essentially the same ideological disagreements. One new group, Hammer and Steel, had 500 members; PLM began with 12. Yet our movement grew while the others all dwindled away. Why were we different? PLM’s strategy, as originally put forward by Milt, was to turn away from the organization that had given it birth. Milt could see dialectically that the old CP had reached the end of its historical process.

While Hammer and Steel tried to pull the
CPUSA to the left, a hopeless and sectarian pursuit, PLM reached out to non-communist workers and students and led them in militant class struggles. The wisdom of that strategy soon became obvious.

The Hazard, Kentucky Miners

In one of its first mass activities, PLM stood behind 500 wildcatting, armed coal miners in Hazard, Kentucky, who were locked in an all-out war with the coal barons to win decent conditions and wages. Milt convinced one PLM member, a railroad worker and local union president, to take two weeks off to mobilize solidarity for this fight. Out of this was born the Trade Union Committee to Support the Hazard Miners. A relief campaign raised critical funds and sent truckloads of food and clothing to the strikers. When the miners’ rank-and-file leader came to New York City, PLM organized a mass meeting of a thousand people to hear him.

Milt saw the need to highlight the role of industrial workers as a crucial force for revolution. PLM made the Hazard strike a national cause. For the ruling class, it was an equation for big trouble: wildcatting strikers + armed violence against the bosses + communist ideas. Reformist forces moved into the Committee to seize its leadership and destroy it, but not before countless workers and students came to see the world with new consciousness.

As Mao said, “To be attacked by the enemy is a good thing.” Milt was not discouraged. He realized that we couldn’t control the content or ultimate direction of reform movements. Our power came from expressing our revolutionary ideas within these groups and winning workers to communism.

The Struggle Against Revisionism

In October 1963, before PLM’s National Coordinating Committee, Milt delivered a comprehensive report on the fight against fake Marxism, or revisionism. After months of discussion, the report was published in March 1964 as “Road to Revolution.” A devastating ideological assault upon the old communist movement, it begins:

“Two paths are open to the workers of any given country. One is the path of resolute class struggle; the other is the path of accommodation, collaboration. The first leads to state power for the workers, which will end exploitation. The other means rule by a small ruling class which continues oppression, wide-scale poverty, cultural and moral decay and war.”

PLM and the Anti-War Movement

As of early 1964, active opposition to the growing U.S. war in Vietnam was limited to a few pacifist groups. PLM chose to break through the existing limits and organize a militant, anti-imperialist movement to demand immediate U.S. withdrawal. In March of that year, Comrade Milt sat on a panel at Yale University with representatives of supposedly left organizations, most of them Trotskyite. The panelists were arguing heatedly about “democracy” in Cuba when Milt changed the subject in his characteristic style: “You guys are full of shit. We should be talking about building a movement against the war in Vietnam. Our organization, the Progressive Labor Movement, is doing just that.”

While Milt acknowledged the critical importance of theory, he always taught that practice was primary. That conference was a case in point. Before an audience of more than 500 students and faculty, he focused on the Vietnamese revolution and the efforts of U.S. imperialism to crush it — and what we could do to help the Vietnamese working class fight back.

Milt electrified the crowd. When he proposed a nationwide mobilization to protest U.S. aggression in Vietnam, the conference overwhelmingly voted its approval.

On May 2, 1964, under PLM’s leadership, the first major demonstrations against the Vietnam War were staged in cities around the country. In New York, one thousand people attended a rally at 110th St. and Central Park West, where they heard PLM speeches about the necessity of communist revolution. Breaking a police ban on demonstrations in midtown Manhattan, the marchers wound through Times Square to the United Nations for a second rally.

To sustain its fight against the Vietnam War along with students and other non-communists, PLM founded the May 2nd Movement and built chapters on a number of college campuses. As the war expanded, liberals and fake leftists grabbed the leadership of the broadening anti-war movement. Even so, our anti-imperialist politics and militant leadership led to a period of rapid growth for PLM on campuses nationwide. More young people were drawn to our organization when we broke the U.S. government’s travel ban on Cuba and brought 134 students there over the summers of 1963 and 1964.

CHALLENGE-DESAFIO

In June 1964, PLM began publishing CHALLENGE-DESAFIO. At a time when bilingual publications were unheard of, and despite our organization’s small size and limited funds, Milt fought for a paper in both English and Spanish. We had no choice, he said; we had to make communism available to the many New York workers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere who spoke mainly Spanish.

As our movement expanded into Chicago and Southern California, which had large numbers of workers from Mexico and Central and South America, an English/Spanish newspaper became even more important to organize workers for communism on a multiracial, internationalist basis. Years later, DESAFIO would also pave the way for our work in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Fighting Racism

From its very beginning, Milt led the struggle within PL to see racism as the ruling class’s primary tool to divide workers. He helped us understand how the capitalists’ racist ideology poisons every facet of workers’ lives, from unemployment to police terror to the eugenic pseudo-science pushed on college campuses. Given this analysis, it became clear that the key to communist revolution was to build a mass, multiracial, anti-racist movement. PL could not lead the working class without masses of black and Latino workers and youth as members and leaders.

“POLICE WAR ON HARLEM” was the front-page headline of the first issue of CHALLENGE, over a photo of a man who had been beaten by a cop’s billy club. The article described the growing anger that would lead to the Harlem Rebellion one month later, when the police shot 15-year-old James Powell in the back, killing him.

New York’s mayor placed Harlem under virtual martial law, and more than eighty “left” and civil rights groups agreed not to demonstrate.  Milt had a different idea. He proposed that PLM print thousands of posters: “Wanted for Murder, Gilligan the Cop.” They became the anti-racist flags of Harlem residents in their struggle against police brutality.

When PLM members stepped out of their Harlem clubhouse to start a march, they were immediately arrested. One leader was charged with “sedition” for “attempting to overthrow the State of New York,” and faced up to 20 years in prison. Others were rounded up in predawn raids and jailed for contempt of court after refusing to testify. Even the printers who produced the Gilligan posters were jailed! Nothing scares the capitalists more than multiracial unity under communist leadership, and they were quick to suspend their so-called “freedoms” to squash us. But the bosses’ legal terror backfired. As a result of its activity in Harlem, PLM gained respect among black workers throughout the country.

Throughout this inspiring period, Milt helped to give our members the confidence to “dare to struggle, dare to win.” He understood that the main threat to a communist movement was not ruling-class terror, but our own timidity.

From Movement to Party

In April 1965, two hundred comrades met in New York and took a bold step forward: the founding convention of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). The transformation from a movement to a party signified greater unity over our politics, greater trust and confidence in our members and the working class, and greater commitment to organizing for communist revolution.

Milt was chosen as the first chairperson of PL because he was unafraid of struggle. He’d led the internal fight that transformed the Buffalo CP into a red force, in sharp contrast to the CP’s national leadership and its accommodation to capitalism. PLM was born out of that internal struggle, as was Milt’s analysis in “Road to Revolution.” Milt himself had been steeled in class struggle, from his experiences in World War II to his vanguard communist work in Buffalo’s steel industry.

Work in Mass Organizations

Following the massive Washington anti-war rally in the spring of 1965, Milt saw that Students for A Democratic Society (SDS) had grown into the center of radical student politics. He proposed that the May 2nd Movement be dissolved and that our student members move into SDS, which had potential for far greater growth. Some PLM members felt comfortable in M2M, and fought against this change. Some even left our organization when their view did not prevail.

This internal struggle was an early battle over the need to work in mass organizations, which are invariably led by the ruling class. Despite their limits, these groups connect communists to large numbers of workers and students. They allow us to bring our revolutionary ideas to people even as we fight alongside them for reforms. From the beginning of our movement, Milt was a firm advocate for working in unions, community groups, churches, and academic organizations.

From 1966 to 1968, PL would do its largest-scale political organizing among students. We recruited hundreds of members by building the Worker Student Alliance, which became the majority caucus within SDS. Many of those students joined the Party, and Milt led the push to send large numbers into the factories, where our work continues today. We also organized students to waive their deferments, enter the draft, and join the military to build our movement there. With three U.S. imperialist wars now raging, that work is more important than ever. As Milt liked to say, “You’ve got to be in it to win it.”

Turning the Tables on HUAC

In the summer of 1966, the House Un-American Activities Committee launched an investigation of “subversive activities” in the movement against the Vietnam War. They subpoenaed the movement’s leaders, including five student members of PL. Comrade Milt and other Party leaders and members seized the opportunity to mobilize 800 people to pack the Washington, D.C. hearing room, disrupt the proceedings, and demonstrate outside Congress. Some were arrested, and at least one student joined PL while in jail.

Once again, our comrades openly advocated communism when questioned by the Committee. We “took the offensive and exposed the racist HUAC members for the Nazis that they are,” as Milt wrote. We turned the hearings into an attack on capitalism and on the liberal Johnson Administration, accusing it of mass murder in Vietnam and racist policies at home. Those hearings were a major step toward the abolition of HUAC.

“Build a Base in the Working Class”

At our 1968 Party convention, Milt gave a speech that was subsequently published as one of the Party’s most durably important statements. “Build a Base in the Working Class” advanced the necessity to develop close ties with industrial workers, on and off the job, and to immerse ourselves in their lives. In this way, a party could be built from tens to hundreds to thousands — eventually to a mass party of millions, capable of seizing state power from the rotten capitalist class. Milt’s vision was the polar opposite of the bosses’ vicious caricature of communists as isolated terrorists.

Milt’s analysis linked selfishness and individualism to revisionism, anti-communism, and lack of confidence in the masses. It advocated “serving the people” through a long-range outlook and a lifelong commitment to fighting for communism. It stressed the need for collectivity and for criticism and, especially, self-criticism.

“I believe that all the weaknesses displayed by party members are also exhibited by myself,” Milt said. “Even after 22 years of trying to help build a revolutionary movement, I believe that one of my main motives still is self-serving. That is, I do my work more to satisfy something within me than to serve the people. Nonetheless, I would say that the biggest reason that I have been able to do the little I still do…is that I really believe the working people will, eventually, defeat imperialism.”

With PL members worldwide doing communist work within mass organizations, it would be useful to study this speech in our Party clubs and study groups, and to spread its ideas to workers and students with whom we are involved in class struggles.

Road to Revolution IV

In 1982, after a year of discussion within PL and its base, Milt led the struggle to adopt “Road to Revolution IV” as the political line of the Party. RRIV analyzed the return to capitalism in the Soviet Union and China. It concluded that fighting for socialism as a preliminary stage before communism — a core principle of the international communist movement since Karl Marx — was fatally incorrect. This theory had led inexorably to a reversal of all the gains from the heroic struggles of millions of workers. RRIV, by contrast, called for winning the working class to fight directly for a communist society. This was a qualitative leap for PL and  for the international working class.

Great Revolutionary Leadership

Milt Rosen, through his leadership of the Progressive Labor Party, made ground breaking contributions to an international movement that began with the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Marx and Engels showed how capitalism exploits the working class — and how the capitalists will be destroyed by the workers they have brutalized. Lenin organized the communist party that led to the first seizure of power by the working class in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Stalin consolidated workers’ power in the Soviet Union, and led the proletariat to smash the Nazis in World War II. In 1949, Mao advanced the concept of a people’s war with a mass base to overthrow the U.S.-backed fascist regime in the Chinese revolution.

As another link in this historical chain, Milt was the first to expose the weaknesses of socialism as a halfway house back to capitalism. Where Lenin, Stalin and Mao had viewed nationalism as a stepping stone toward communism, Milt was the architect of a new concept: one international working class with one international communist party, leading workers directly to communism. Milt clarified the contradiction between reform and revolution, and how communists must function as revolutionaries within the reform movement. And it was Milt who led the fight against the “cult of the individual,” showing how it prevented workers from becoming communist leaders and thinkers.

‘No Chairperson for Life’

Milt believed that the only way our Party could grow was to constantly train new leaders, especially black, Latino, and women comrades. Milt believed that fighting both racism and sexism was an integral part of the class struggle, and he ensured that much of the Party leadership would be in the hands of women. One of the Party’s early militant struggles grew out of its organization of mothers on welfare, who united with welfare workers to demand services for their children. As the Party immersed itself in class struggles in the garment districts of New York and Los Angeles, in the grape fields of the San Joaquin Valley, and in the Stella D’oro cookie factory in the Bronx, we learned that unity between men and women workers was essential to building our movement.

In all previous communist parties, the chairmen (and virtually all were men) stayed on as party leaders until they died, were too sick to continue, or were thrown out. Milt suggested to our Central Committee that this was a dangerous practice. Staying on as chair forever implies indispensability, and no individual communist can be indispensable. Therefore, in 1995, Milt stepped aside as Party chairman. He remained active in other ways, in meetings and fund-raising. “Communists don’t believe in retirement,” he said. “We contribute as long as we can.”

A Communist Forever

After stepping down as Party chair and before becoming too ill to function, Milt continued to make vital contributions to PL and the international movement. Among his most significant lessons was the need to understand the character of our historical period. Shortly after the events of 9/11, he spoke of how he’d underestimated the impact of the old communist movement’s demise, and how far it has set back the class struggle. This failing, he pointed out, could lead to one of two devastating errors: false optimism   or despair over the formidable difficulties in building a mass communist party. Milt’s self-criticism reminded us that the old movement’s defeat may have left us in a “dark night,” but the working class has lived and fought through dark nights before.

While the end of the old movement was the worst setback we’ve ever suffered, it isn’t the end of history. It’s not the end of class struggle. Our Party exists all over the world, and small though it may be, it is growing. With words and by example, Milt taught the vital importance of a long-term outlook. More clearly than most, he knew there were no shortcuts to revolution. He embraced it as the commitment of a lifetime.

More than anything, he taught us never to give up

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Drivers, Riders Unite vs. Service Cuts, Fare Hikes

SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND BAY AREA, April 9 — “I really don’t have a problem raising the price of the youth pass.” These were the words of one of the AC Transit Board of Directors last month, as they discussed a range of plans to raise bus fares. How insulting! These are the bus passes that kids need to get to school!

The bus already costs $2 a ride, plus 25 cents for a 1-use transfer. On top of that, service was cut 15 percent in 2010, stranding many passengers and leading to longer waits and crowded buses. Where else but public transit can you get away with charging much more for less and worse service?

Several transit activists and transit workers attended the meeting and spoke out against the proposed fare increases: “You say there’s no money. Why don’t you go talk to Chevron?” said one speaker. Another commented, “It’s ironic that you talk about honoring Rosa Parks with a poster — if Rosa Parks were here, she would be disgusted by these proposals. It’s not about whether you sit in the front or back of the bus, but about whether there’s even a bus at all to catch!” These fare increases will have a racist and anti-working class effect as they hit our riders who are around 70% low income.

Unfortunately, there were very few in attendance (perhaps 15 passengers and nine transit workers). It will take much, much more pressure to slow down these major attacks on the ridership. Our union leadership says they are in favor of this type of activism, but they didn’t even put out a memo to the members, letting them know about this board meeting!

For those of us who did organize for the meeting, it was a positive start. Two drivers spoke at the union meeting, and passed out flyers at work for about five hours during the week. We also called around 15 drivers and texted about 50; this resulted in four drivers coming with us to the meeting.

Despite the fact that we just suffered a disastrous arbitration and currently pay back 6% of our check every week, many drivers are still hesitant to see themselves as activists. There was much more interest at the union meeting around the issue of whether to hold a special election for a new union president or to wait eight months for the scheduled election. Most drivers believe that the key is having a good leader (a “fighter,” someone “knowledgeable,” someone who “can’t be bought,” or all of the above). Also, most drivers are hanging on to the hope that things will get better once the economy starts to recover, and we can hold on to our standard of living.

But these attacks seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future. As CHALLENGE frequently reports, the U.S. corporate class is in worldwide competition. Their main solution is squeezing the working class here in the U.S., and waging war abroad to maintain their stranglehold on oil and other resources. Once more drivers take a serious look at this “world situation,” they might conclude that we need many, many more rank-and-file leaders.

We invite all transit workers to Progressive Labor Party’s May Day celebration this year, where we will celebrate international working-class unity, discuss the rebellions in the Middle East and the Wisconsin fight-back, and look toward a world free of capitalism, where public services would come first, not last.

For a Better Contract, for a Better World:Fight Capitalism and Join Progressive Labor Party!

Negotiating within the vise of capitalism

Once again our union is fighting for a contract that meets the needs of faculty and staff, and once again the other side – CUNY managers, City Hall and Albany – has a tremendous advantage in negotiations. This advantage derives not from management’s negotiating skills, but ultimately from the fact that NYC is dominated by a business elite (Wall Street financiers, real estate tycoons, and the CEOs of scores of Fortune 500 companies, whose headquarters dominate the skyline of lower Manhattan). This elite has successfully pushed its pro-business agenda for decades, which includes keeping business taxes and commercial real estate taxes at a minimum, spending hundreds of millions on tax exemptions and abatements for office and luxury buildings, reducing the cost of social programs (including CUNY), and lowering the real wages and benefits of municipal workers. The decline in the real salaries of CUNY professors and staff and the increased use of adjuncts (whose miserable salaries are shameful) are two manifestations of the business elite’s success in realizing its agenda.

The process of negotiations is rigged in the following manner for the purpose of keeping both labor costs and taxes on business as low as possible.

(1) Pattern bargaining: The Mayor and the Governor pick the weakest city and state union with which to sign a contracts that grants wage increases no higher than the rate of inflation. These contracts are then said to “determine the pattern” for every other union. In NYC, the union selected to “set the pattern” has been D.C. 37, a fragmented coalition of locals, whose top leadership is renowned for its corruption and willingness to make deals with City Hall that sacrifice the interests of its members.

(2) Paying for our own contract: This concept states that any salary improvements beyond the inflation rate must be paid with concessions. So the UFT was able to “win” higher salary increases but only by making terrible concessions, including a longer workday and year, extra workload and assignments for teachers, and the surrender of due process rights.

(3) Taylor Law: Although we’re repeatedly assured by politicians that we live in a “free society,” city and state workers are forbidden from exercising one of our basic rights, the ability to withdraw our labor in order to press our demands. Even advocating a strike is illegal under the Taylor Law, and any union that’s courageous enough to strike – as the TWU was in 2005 – faces penalties intended to bankrupt it. The only way that workers can bargain from a position of strength is by breaking down the artificial barriers between unions, ignoring the Taylor Law and waging a general strike.

Another feature of labor contracts under capitalism is across-the-board salary increases, which only widen the gap between the highest paid employees and the lowest paid. This divides our ranks, and we believe that solidarity demands that we support higher increases for the lowest paid, including adjuncts. It also demands that we fight for lower class size for our students and more full-time jobs.

Business groups like the Citizens Budget Commission, the City Club, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Rockefeller-led Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, and the Partnership for New York (founded in 1979 by billionaire David Rockefeller) have aggressively lobbied for their pro-business agenda, which includes reducing the redistributive function of government. So has the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank that was founded and funded in the late 1970’s by denizens of Wall Street, and which found an enthusiastic advocate for its policies in former Mayor and now presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

For years following the fiscal crisis of 1975, unelected committees like the Emergency Financial Control Board and the Municipal Assistance Corporation controlled NYC spending and borrowing, and were headed by bankers like Felix Rohatyn and corporate executives like David Margolis of Colt Industries, who forced through mass layoffs, wage freezes and reduced pension benefits. Moreover, every Mayor in recent decades (Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani) has won office by procuring millions in campaign contributions from the investment bankers, real estate developers and corporate executives who form NYC’s “permanent government,” and who expect their interests to be advanced by City Hall. Bloomberg, who claims to be independent of special interests, is actually a leading member of the business elite and fully committed to its agenda. The Mayor, whose Bloomberg LP is the largest financial news and data company in the world, is a billionaire who spent $74 million of his own money on his 2001 campaign. Finally, when necessary, big business can always use its ultimate weapon – the threat to leave NYC and throw thousands out of work.

strong>Capitalism Works – But Only for the Rich!

If we determine the success or failure of an economic system by the well being of the majority of the population, capitalism would have to be considered a colossal failure. From Nigeria to South Africa, from Mexico to Argentina, from Russia to China, all over the world, the majority of people have trouble making ends meet. Most work in low-wage, boring jobs that sap their health and their intelligence. Many have no work at all and no access to health care or decent schools. Tens of millions die each year of hunger or preventable diseases.

What about NYC, the wealthiest city in the world? Consider:

• Despite the ‘90’s being a period of economic growth, four-fifths of NYC families saw their real incomes (adjusted for inflation) drop from 1989 to 1999. The poorest fifth of these families saw their incomes drop by 13 %, while the next poorest fifth lost 16%, the middle fifth lost 12% of their income, and the fourth fifth lost 5%. The fact that the wealthiest fifth gained 18% in income, while the wealthiest 5% gained 31% over the decade, led the NY Times to observe, “the rich are getting richer and the poor are growing in number.” Increasing inequality is one of the essential features of capitalism. By 2005, the top 20% of Manhattan earners made fifty-two times what the bottom 20% earned.

• The wealthy financial and corporate sector of NYC’s economy depends upon a large low-wage service sector, staffed by mainly black, Latino and immigrant workers, a contrast of wealth that reveals the racist heart of capitalism. In 2001, 20% of the city’s workforce earned $8 an hour or less, and 80% of these low-wage workers were black or Latino.

• With the wealthy sending their children to private schools, NYC’s public education system – which feeds CUNY – is a disgraceful failure. Overwhelmingly segregated, overcrowded and under funded, with class size considerably larger than the state average, NYC schools provide a quality education to only a select few. Most students, by the city’s own statistics, either drop out before graduating or are unprepared for college level work. Black and Latino communities have the worst performing schools, often with the most inexperienced teachers, and most students in those schools score poorly on state reading and math tests. Only a shocking 1% of black students in NYC pass a single Advanced Placement exam.

This failure to educate is deliberate, and reproduces the social hierarchy of capitalism. Spending on education fell from 29% of city expenditures in the early 70’s to 24% in 2005. Since large numbers of students are destined for dead-end jobs in the low-wage service sector, there is little motivation on the part of political and business elites to improve the school system, despite much rhetoric to the contrary.

Capitalism Has Failed and Should be Left Behind

It should be obvious that capitalism is a failed social system. It provides immense wealth for a privileged few and heart-wrenching poverty and insecurity for billions. A sixth of humanity, over a billion people, live in slums, without many of the basic necessities of life. U.S. capitalism, a dominant power for most of the 20th century, now faces increased competition from rivals in the EU, Russia and China. As these regional rivals grow in economic and military power, U.S. imperialism has decided to use its superior military might to secure control over much of the world’s energy resources, a control that it hopes will give it an advantage in future conflicts. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have perished for this reason, and there is little doubt that more wars and more death and destruction are on the horizon. With more and more money diverted from social programs in order to pay for military expenditures, federal, state and city workers are being pressured to accept inferior “war contracts.”

Why continue to support a system that produces poverty, inequality, racism, environmental ruin, and endless imperialist war? We’re told that the failures of Soviet and Chinese socialism “prove” that there’s no alternative to capitalism, and many believe it. But people didn’t stop building bridges when the first ones they constructed fell down. People all over the world are looking for ways to get “beyond capital,” to build an egalitarian society worthy of humanity.

The capitalists have their organizations. The working class needs its own, one that fights for its class interests. The communist Progressive Labor Party is trying to be that organization. Professors can play an important role by letting their students know the truth about capitalism, by exposing the tracking and ideological functions of schools under bourgeois rule, and by recruiting a new generation of revolutionary communist fighters. Join us!

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