Today, New Yorkers stand together against the budget cuts being proposed by Albany and City Hall. For some, the cuts mean reduced library hours. For others, tuition increases that will put their education in jeopardy or, as is the case for thousands of transit workers, the cuts mean the unemployment line. All of these negative acts damage New York City – make it into even more of a playground for the rich. But, there is another New York, a city of workers and students, a city where parents rely on public institutions like schools and libraries, a city where unions and community organizations struggle for democracy and justice. A city where our public universities should be free and open to all. This is the New York that we, as socialists, wish to create – one which rises to the values of solidarity, compassion and justice.
David Paterson and Michael Bloomberg are just the latest political care-takers of the elite in New York City. Their task is to maintain the profit levels of Wall Street and protect the wealth that has been accumulated by the richest 5% over the past 30 years. The result is that the city’s economy has developed an unhealthy tie to finance. Nearly 20% of New York State and 33% of New York City tax revenues come from Wall Street. This means that the fate of the 19 million people in our state has been linked to the wealth accumulated by 300,000 workers in the financial sector. But we are not all in it together.
As Wall Street profits sank during the economic recession, the budget cuts began. CUNY students faced tuition hikes and aid cuts. Transit workers faced job losses and pension reductions. Schools were closed, library hours decreased, bus lines eliminated, and subway service reduced. Free Metrocards were snatched from the hands of high school students! All this was justified as a necessary part of belt –tightening. Everyone, Gov. Paterson stated many times, would have to pitch in. While our belts were tightened, Wall Street was handing out fat bonus checks.
New York City is not broke. There are plenty of financial resources that are being hoarded by the elite. A simple property tax on stock and bond holdings would solve all of the fiscal deficits. A tax on stock transitions would do the same. Or, a more progressive personal income tax structure, that taxes those with the most income, could fund all of our necessary public services. Paterson and Bloomberg will never enact such proposals no matter how much lobbying or protesting is done. They will, instead, shield the rich and maintain our current regressive system.
Demands for change can only come from below – from those who have been negatively affected by the cuts. We can build a movement to open up our city and make it a place where democracy becomes a part of everyday life. We can use public funds to put the unemployed back to work, doing useful things that enhance our lives and reduce our dependence on the financial sector. We can transform our libraries and schools from dreary places of testing and surveillance into empowering public institutions. And we can maintain and extend our public transport system to help save our environment and create good jobs.
All forms of protest are needed to build this movement – including putting our bodies on the line in the name of democracy, to struggle against forces who wish to silence us and push us to the margins. Socialists will be part of the fight-back and we welcome all those willing to contribute to this vision of a better New York. Join the struggle! Take back our city!