October 2018 Citywide Leadership Committee  Update

The Citywide Leadership Committee (CLC) meeting opened with an assessment of NYC’s political moment. In a complex landscape that includes high union density and many non-profit, activist and advocacy groups with an array of motivations and interests, the 2018 primary elections saw multiple upsets, including Julia Salazar’s State Senate primary victory over Martin Dilan.

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Unleashing Our Rage: Women v. Kavanaugh

by Emmy H.

Three times over the course of an October week that felt like a year, an emergency coalition of grassroots radical feminists turned out hundreds of women and allies to speak out against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

We walked out of our jobs, homes, and schools to take to the streets. We marched on the Yale Club, Grand Central, and Times Square, carrying banners and signs emblazoned with “Believe Survivors, Smash Capitalism,” “No Feminism Under Capitalism,” and the coalition’s official slogan, “No Justice, No Seat.”

Cameras from major news networks showed up. Endless digital ink was spilled about the meaning of all this in the “tricky politics” of the #metoo era, and the new “reckoning” with sexual assault. Breathless op-eds in elite publications said the hearing had “torn the mask” off elite abusiveness.

Kavanaugh’s testimony itself was Orwellian, a head-spinning master class in gaslighting and the persecution complex of the powerful. A rich white prep-school graduate, groomed his whole life for the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh exuded a sense of entitlement so thick I could all but cut it with a knife through the grainy video on my laptop screen.

And yet, by the time we marched on Saturday in the last of the week's mobilizations, he was no longer a nominee; he was Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Name the Oppressors

This didn’t come as a surprise. We said it all along: we had no illusion that the FBI would save us. We had no illusion that the Senate nor any senator, and certainly not the likes of Joe Manchin or Jeff Flake, would save us. Our power lies where it always has been: in building a grassroots movement to confront undemocratic and oppressive systems, such as the Supreme Court, and people like Brett Kavanaugh and those who protected and promoted him. And, of course, in presenting alternatives.   

The radical feminist coalition came together in that spirit of collective power. It was led exclusively by female and nonbinary organizers from groups including the International Women’s Strike, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative, Party for Socialism and Liberation, National Women’s Liberation, and NYC-DSA. (My own role in all three actions was primarily as a DSA Red Rabbit marshal.)

For participants new to the organized left, the week’s actions were radicalizing and energizing. Signs, chants, and speeches guided anger at Kavanaugh, the abusive individual, to anger at the institutionalized abusiveness of the Senate and the Court. We insisted that Ford’s own elite background and skin color not obscure the reality that women of color and women who are undocumented, poor or working class are most often abused. This is, after all, class war. It was heartening to see radical feminists from different organizational backgrounds and ideologies unite to confront it.

Yet the week was also excruciating for those of us forced by the news to relive past assaults and traumas. The pain of hearing friends tell their stories was sometimes worse; while there were stories we had heard before, others were unexpected and searing. In moments like these, Audre Lorde’s words ring true: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In the midst of so much trauma, I watched the women in DSA’s Socialist Feminist working group and Red Rabbits push themselves up to and beyond their limits, organizing and marshaling not one but three major protests, and I also witnessed beautiful solidarity and care happen amongst those same women. Both are necessary for this fight.

Don’t Mourn, Rage

Looking back over those actions and forward to the fight ahead, I can say that our radical demands were the only demands that can reasonably be made. We make them without apology or equivocation:

We demand a world without rape.

We demand an end to the impunity of entitled, violent men in power, which means an end to white supremacist patriarchal capitalism.

We demand restorative but unflinching justice.

The system that we fight against is built on silent complicity and thrives on despair. The only thing it cannot withstand is our organized, united rage.

September Steering Committee Update

The Steering Committee is focusing on two things right now:

#1 - Trainings

Led by Cea, our Working Group Coordinator, dozens of members were trained in September on campaign strategy and provided with spaces to workshop strategic plans with other NYC-DSA activists. Up next: spokepeople trainings for NYC-DSA to better get out our organization's message!

#2 - Engaging Members in Issue-Based Campaigns

In the wake of a huge primary win, NYC-DSA has a great opportunity to engage members and redirect our momentum into our non-electoral work. To that end, the Steering Committee has been doing outreach to new and inactive members to get more involved in the organization, and is working with the Electoral Working Group to continue the energy from the primary into the fights for universal rent control and Medicare for all.

What the Nixon/Williams Endorsement Set in Motion

By Rebecca C

Following the final vote by the CLC to endorse the candidacies of Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams on July 29, the strategy laid out by the CLC and distributed in this document was to focus field work  in SD 18, Julia Salazar’s district. The the main goal was to avoid diverting resources from ongoing operations while drawing attention to working groups’ campaigns. Secondary goals were to build coalitions with other progressive interest groups, and to raise the profile of NYC-DSA.

To this end, multiple joint canvasseswere held in August and early September. In Central Brooklyn, Uptown/Bronx, and Queens the joint canvassing with the Nixon campaign focused on housing, in South Brooklyn on the New York Health Act (NYHA), and in Lower Manhattan on both housing and NYHA. NYC-DSA Disability Caucus held a disability justice virtual town hall with Nixon on Aug. 21. Outside of Senate District 18 there were around 100 canvassing shifts which identified around 375 Cynthia Nixon supporters.

Most of the Central Brooklyn canvassing events focused on educating and persuading residents as opposed to vote-counting. Tom R of CBK noted that the issue of the housing crisis was particularly resonant in the Crown Heights canvasses, and that most of the canvassers’ interactions were with people who were not aware of the universal rent control campaign, nor of  DSA and Cynthia Nixon. Jumaane Williams enjoyed more name recognition. He came away with a positive view, regardless of the electoral outcome, saying “I'm generally enthusiastic about issue-based canvassing, because it feels less transactional; you're educating and engaging people more than anything else. My ultimate takeaway is that anytime we can go talk to our neighbors, it's worthwhile.”

Chi A and Noah W, SBK OC members and canvass coordinators, found that during NYHA/Nixon-Williams canvassing in Park Slope, while people were aware of DSA and even approached canvassers unsolicited to talk about DSA in general, “awareness of the [NYHA] bill is incredibly low and proves the need for our organizing work around this issue because few media outlets and relatively few NY political leaders are helping to get the word out.” Chi knew from past experience canvassing that healthcare is a major pain point for many people. “Everyone is frustrated with their health insurance and the rising costs, and when I informed the folks I canvassed that New York State plans to raise health insurance premiums yet again in 2019, they were angrily shocked. I do think that as was the case with other shortcomings in Cuomo’s platform and tenure as governor, Nixon’s campaign helped to raise awareness of the opportunity to achieve universal healthcare in New York and how Cuomo has dropped the ball here by empowering the IDC for so long.” Chi observed that even Cuomo’s supporters often seemed to express misgivings about him.

Another stated aim of the NYC-DSA strategy in getting involved with electoral campaigning was to encourage candidates to shift leftward and adopt socialist positions on important issues. Zelig S, Labor Branch representative to the SC, points out the profound effect of DSA’s involvement in shaping Nixon’s platform on labor issues: “At the time NYC-DSA endorsed Nixon, her campaign had almost no platform around issues of labor. As part of our Chapter’s endorsement, we recommended that the campaign meet with our Labor Branch to discuss the drafting of a Labor Platform. At the meeting, which was attended by members of the Labor Branch Organizing Committee, Nixon and her campaign enthusiastically committed to adopting every item of the proposed platform we put forward, including the right of public sector workers to strike. This turned out to be a critical issue which allowed the campaign to differentiate itself from Cuomo's cynical, and paper thin, support for left wing causes.”

Coming out of the race, NYC-DSA certainly has higher name-recognition among voters. What can be done with this in our struggle for an equitable New York remains to be seen.

Stepping Up Our Game in the State Primaries   

By Devin M

NYC-DSA drove Julia Salazar’s victory in NY State Senate District 18 and contributed meaningfully to the mobilizations for Cynthia Nixon’s and Jumaane Williams’ campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor. In all three, we drew on lessons learned in 2017.

Last year, NYC-DSA worked on two City Council campaigns: Khader El-Yateem’s run for Democratic nomination in Bay Ridge, and Jabari Brisport’s run on the Green Party ballot line in the general election in Crown Heights. DSA contributed around 1,000 positive IDs to each candidate, who each lost with around 30% of the vote in their respective races.

From Jabari’s campaign, we learned the limitations of running a third-party candidate in New York State, even when they campaign on a hot local issue, like the redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory. From Khader’s campaign, we learned the limitations of running a completely independent field operation: We weren’t a part of the campaign’s leadership or the group making strategy decisions.  Our strategy in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Congressional campaign was essentially a variation on our strategy in Khader’s campaign: DSA organized an independent field operation, but with members on the campaign staff, we had more influence.

Owning the Campaign in North Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Electoral Working Group was hungry for a race we could own. We wanted to recruit our own candidate to run in a district of our choosing, set the policy platform, and have complete autonomy over field operations. So we recruited Julia, and she hired two members of the Electoral Working Group, Tascha Van Auken and Michael Kinnucan, as campaign manager and deputy manager, respectively. Later, she also hired a non-member as a volunteer organizer. The rest of the working group’s Organizing Committee played a large role in all aspects of the campaign’s field operations: training field leads, setting the target universe, recruiting volunteers and collecting data.

Over the course of the campaign, DSA led a network of nearly 2,000 volunteers in SD 18, nearly half of them DSA members. Those volunteers  knocked on more than 120,000 doors, spoke with over 10,000 voters, and ID-ed close to 8,000 supporters. What’s more, we increased turnout by over 250% compared to the primary election in 2014.  That increase far exceeds the average increase for the city and state, as well as the turnout jumps in the similar State Senate districts that had contested elections in both 2018 and 2014.

 Democratic Primary Turnout 2018 vs 2014

Democratic Primary Turnout 2018 vs 2014

Leveraging Strengths for Statewide Campaign

With the Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams endorsements, we took a different approach. DSA contributed to their statewide campaigns by leveraging our existing organizing campaigns.  In Senate District 18, we distributed literature and identified voters for Cynthia and Jumaane, as we campaigned for Julia. City-wide, we modified ongoing campaigns for the New York Health Act and Universal Rent Control to generate positive IDs for both candidates. In total, NYC-DSA identified more than 1,000 supporters of Cynthia and Jumaane. Furthermore, Cynthia received more votes in North Brooklyn than in any other part of New York City.

NYC-DSA also had meaningful input on issues.  To gain our endorsement, Jumaane agreed to return all money he had received from corporations and real estate firms. After our endorsement, Cynthia agreed to adopt, more or less whole, the labor policy platform that NYC-DSA’s labor branch proposed. The latter injected a much needed voice into the regional discourse on the subject of organized labor, forcing many regressive forces, both within the labor community and City Hall, to show their true colors on this subject.

Making Connections

Both Julia’s campaign and the two statewide campaigns also gave us a great opportunity to work more closely with other organizations, most importantly  Make The Road, New York Communities for Change, and the Working Families Party. Make The Road and NY Communities for Change both canvassed for Julia and provided visibility at many priority poll sites on election day. The Working Families Party provided valuable communications advice, and paid for our usage of their auto-dialing tool. Until then, we did not have a way to phonebank voters effectively.

Lastly, at weekly campaign barbecues, DSA members mingled with members of the other groups and individuals who found Julia’s campaign over social media. We expect that socializing to pay off in continued collaboration and in new DSA members. As of Election Day, 42% of Salazar volunteers were dues-paying DSA members, and 51% had emails matching to our city-wide list, likely due to attending a DSA meeting at some point. We hope that this number will continue to increase as we bring more of these people into the Electoral Working Group and get them plugged into all of the other great work DSA is doing across the city.

In the coming weeks the Brooklyn Electoral Working Group will be putting together a more formal analysis of the Salazar campaign. We’ll also have a more in-depth look at performance trends when we get voter-level data later this year.

To learn more about these campaigns or the Brooklyn Electoral Working Group, come to the next WG meeting on Thursday October 4th at Mayday Space.

A History of Socialism in NY Senate District 18

By A W

Julia Salazar’s victory was the product of our work today, but it is only the latest chapter in a long history of struggle by socialists (and others) in District 18. From rank-and-file worker organizing to elected officials to tenant groups acting in partnership with unions, Salazar’s victory is the latest instance of socialist activism in this corner of Brooklyn.

Workplace organizing and the fight for a shorter work day, weekends, and safety protections on the job were prominent features of late-19th and early-20th century America , and North Brooklyn was no exception. Williamsburg, Bushwick, and East New York formed a dense corridor of industrial manufacturing, as illustrated in this 1922 map.

The Brewery Workers’ Union is one example of labor organizing in the area, with many of the biggest breweries in New York located in Williamsburg and Bushwick. In 1881, a preventable fire from cask varnish killed four workers and sparked calls for a city-wide union of brewery workers. The union grew quickly, and with support from the Central Committee of the Socialist Labor Party, among other groups, its members went on strike for a 12-hour workday on weekdays (which included Saturday), a 2-hour break for meals, a 2-hour workday on Sundays, and higher wages. The workers returned after five weeks of striking, having failed to win their demands in that moment but having demonstrated the strength of their organizing power. But, by the next summer, the breweries had instated 12-hour workdays, and by 1888 the unionized workers were demanding 10-hour days.

The current boundaries of District 18 were drawn in 2012, but they overlap the old districts that previously sent socialist representatives to Albany. The first was Abraham I. Shiplacoff, who became the second Socialist Party politician ever sent to the Assembly when he was elected in 1915. His Kings County 23rd Assembly District, which overlapped the southwest corner of today’s District 18, included a large community of recent German immigrants living in Brownsville.  Shiplacoff, an immigrant himself, fought for the rights of dairy workers to have a day off, and during the 1917 legislative session, introduced a bill to legalize the distribution of pamphlets describing methods of birth control. As the sole Socialist member of the Assembly, none of his bills passed. Despite Schiplacoff’s lack of success, the Socialist Party continued its rise, reaching in 1918  the height of its presence in Albany, with nine assembly members seated.

In 1919 the 23rd Assembly District was redrawn to cover parts of East New York that are now in the southeast corner of District 18. That year, the district again chose Socialist Party representation, electing Charles Solomon. At the very start of the session, however, the Republican leadership threw Solomon and four other members of the Socialist Party elected that year out, arguing that they were disloyal to the country because of their Socialist Party membership. All five were re-elected in the special elections called to replace them, but three were still not permitted to join the Assembly and so the other two resigned in protest. Solomon was re-elected in 1920, again on the Socialist Party line, and was finally allowed to take his seat.

In 1936 the American Labor Party split from the Socialist Party because the founders of the ALP did not want to work with the Communist Party or abandon electoral tactics. Between 1938 and 1948, the ALP represented parts of modern District 18 in Albany, with one Assemblyperson, one politician who served in both the Assembly and the Senate, and one Senator.

Along with its electoral work, the American Labor Party built strong connections to tenant organizers. Around 1940, there were residents of District 18 in the City-Wide Tenants Council, which was central in demanding federal price controls on rent. These tenants leagues, including a Williamsburg Tenants League that had been organizing since at least 1907, often used ALP offices as meeting spaces. In 1947, there was a rollback of the WWII-era federal rent controls, prompting massive outcry and tenant mobilization. The ALP and several unions, including the New York City Council of the CIO, supported the drive, which forced the governor to maintain some rent control at the state level. These controls evolved over the years into the dual layers of Rent Control and Rent Stabilization that we have today.

This is just a fraction of the rich history of socialism in North Brooklyn. It illustrates how socialists and others won protections not just by gaining representation in government, but by building networks of workers and tenants to hold all politicians accountable to serving their poor constituents. We in the DSA continue that struggle today, and Salazar’s election is another small step towards winning our demands for a New York that uses its wealth to allow all New Yorkers to have their needs met and dreams pursued.  

If you are interested in telling more of the story of Socialist New York, please send your ideas to the Red Letter.




Amendments to the Grievance Policy

By The Interim Grievance Committee

We all want a safer space within the NYC-DSA. With that goal in mind, the NYC-DSA Grievance Committee was formed under a resolution passed at the NYC-DSA CLC meeting in November of 2017, which established the Grievance Committee (GC) and a high level outline of or policies, procedures, and responsibilities. Since then, the GC has been hard at work crafting more detailed procedures to investigate grievances, allow transparency, and create trainings for Grievance Officers (GOs) and Peer Mediators. Our goal is to help create a safer space within NYC-DSA.

While the current process is a good foundation, it is evolving and needs refinements. With a few proposed amendments, which will be discussed and voted on at the upcoming CLC meeting, we’re seeking to streamline inconsistencies regarding GC numbers, geographic representation, and gender representation; bring the NYC-DSA grievance policy in line with the national organization’s requirements; and make minor changes to the harassment policy.

Clarify the minimum number of Grievance Committee members

The grievance policy as passed by our chapter last November had a few inconsistencies with regards to how many people should be on the GC, how many branches must be represented, etc. We’ve streamlined this to require a minimum of 12 GOs from three geographic branches and two boroughs. While we don’t think this is ideal and will be striving for representation from all boroughs and branches, we do accept this as a feasible minimum standard to operate under. We’re pretty sure 12 GOs is a low estimate for needed capacity.

We’re also seeking to remove the Steering Committee (SC) Liaison from being a member of the Grievance Committee. At the moment, the SC liaison is a SC member who is the primary contact with whom Grievance Officers communicate. This has worked out decently thus far, and has kept our communication streamlined. However, the way the policy is written suggests that the SC liaison would be an SC member actually on the Grievance Committee. While the SC should have oversight over the GC, having a SC member on the GC is neither appropriate nor feasible.  

It is the SC that  makes the final decisions on grievances, so it’s vital that the Grievance Committee act as an independent body from the SC to prevent conflicts of interest (or even appearances of conflict).  Additionally, the GC requires a lot of meetings and work (especially now, as we ramp up capacity, procedures, and training). The liaison would be hard pressed for time to participate on the GC on top of their SC responsibilities (GOs can not be on OCs for the same reason).

Clarify the gender requirement for Grievance Officer

As written, the current policy uses several terms to identify gender: sometimes it says “not-male identified,” other times “women / femme” which are not the the same, despite a lot of overlap. The spirit of this rule is that members can request a “non-male” GO, which would definitely include our non-binary comrades. The change we’ve made reflects this to consistently say “not male,” which we find to be both more specific and more inclusive. We also remove the word “identified” as it is unnecessary (anyone who identifies as a man is a man, and there’s no need to specify a distinction). We intentionally specified “not men” instead of “not cis-men” for the same reason: anyone who identifies as a man is a man. Trans men are men, just as trans women are women, and all gender requirements are equally applied regardless whether a person is cis or trans.

Lastly, we used this amendment to formally allow the GC to structure itself. We’re currently working on structures that will allow for greater capacity, flexibility for GOs, and work to prevent GO burnout. We are still in the process of developing those structures and we want the CLC to formally approve our ability to change our own internal structures.

That said, it is critical that the GC is transparent and that the SC has oversight over the GC, so the amendment specifies that the SC is informed of any GC structural changes and can veto them. Moreover the amendment stipulates that the structure, whatever form it takes, is publically accessible for membership.

Add term limits for Grievance Officers

In order to the national requirement of Grievance Officer term limits, we’ve set a limit of three years which can be renewed with a vote by the SC. The time commitment, requirements, and area of work the GC requires will make it hard enough to retain GOs. We don’t want to add a massive wave of turnover three years from now, if we can help it.

Harassment Policy Update

This update is to ensure the harassment policy is explicit about what is considered harassment, and the circumstances under which  a grievance could / should be filed. This change will also state what locations / spaces the harassment policy covers; i.e., all of them: cyberspace, in person, social media, email, and everything in between.

We want the policy to be very clear as to what sort of non-consensual touching is permitted: none. The original policy prohibited “non-consensual sexual touching,”and this needs additional language so that there are no mistakes: all non-consensual touch is a violation of the harassment policy.

This is important! Our bodies and our body autonomy are sacrosanct. Each of us has an absolute right to decide who may physically interact with our bodies; everything from a hug to an intimate encounter is only permissible with consent. Consent can be revoked at any time, for any reason, and there are a lot of forms of physical touch that are not covered under “sexual touching.” The proposed additional language is necessary if NYC DSA is to develop into a safer space.

Long Story Short

The NYC DSA Interim Grievance Committee is dedicated to helping to make this organization a safer space for organizing and have proposed the above changes to that end. This process is iterative, and we’ll likely be proposing more changes in future CLC meetings, but for now this is a good start on refining the process.

If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us at grievance@socialists.nyc

September Branch Updates

Following a massive mobilization on the part of our branches leading up to the Sept. 13 primary, branches are holding educational sessions for the many new members NYC-DSA has gained over the primary season - it’s a great time to get to know your local branch!

Bronx/Upper Manhattan

At the August branch meeting, B/UM members had a great discussion about branch strategy and how to measure the success of our campaigns.  Canvassing has continued this month to save the psychiatric ward at Allen Hospital in Inwood, collecting hundreds of postcards opposing New York-Presbyterian’s plan to close this crucial community mental health resource.  The B/UM branch provided garden stewardship at La Finca del Sur, an urban farmer cooperative in the Bronx. Members also canvassed in Harlem for universal rent control, in the Bronx for postal banking, and even trekked all the way to Brooklyn to canvass and get out the vote for Julia Salazar!

Labor Branch

The Labor Branch will be holding two training meetings in September that all are welcome to attend. The first, held on September 20th and entitled “Beating Apathy, Secrets of a Successful Organizer,” inspired by Labor Notes, gave  a basic overview of how to organize at work. They covered the "Bull's eye" model for mapping your workplace, how to have a one-on-one conversation and much more. In the coming year we will alternate between branch meetings and Labor Notes inspired trainings.

    The Labor Branch Organizing Committee would like to encourage all members of NYC-DSA who have any interest in organizing at work to attend Labor Notes Troublemakers School. New York troublemakers are planning a day of skill-building workshops, education, and strategy discussions to put some movement back in the labor movement.

This school will be a great opportunity for union members, stewards, and activists to share strategies and build the solidarity required in these tough times. A light breakfast, lunch, and a copy of the Labor Notes book, Secrets of a Successful Organizer, are included with registration.

Workshops will include: *Secrets of a Successful Organizer * Assertive Grievance Handling *Organizing After Janus* Saturday, 9/29 9am-4pm, The James Baldwin School, 321 W 18th St. NYC  REGISTER HERE

Central Brooklyn

Central Brooklyn kicked off new branch committees to support local initiatives and member development. Each committee met to define goals and will present during a portion of our upcoming branch meeting. CBK branch members also organized a Central Brooklyn canvass day for Julia Salazar.

Lower Manhattan

The Lower Manhattan branch had a very successful August meeting featuring members from the Labor Branch on the importance of Resolution 33. They encouraged DSA members to actively join the unionized workforce so as to help steer unions toward a socialist analysis of the relationship between labor and capital. They will be forming a local political education night school in the coming weeks and LoMan upcoming monthly meeting will focus specifically on healthcare as a citywide priority and the Medicare for All campaign.

South Brooklyn

South Brooklyn spent the first half of the month canvassing for Julia, Cynthia, and Jumaane, pairing these canvasses with promotion of the New York Health Act. In the second half of the month, they focused on their Atlantic Antic tabling initiative and their Health Justice Teach-In. The teach-in brought speakers from around NYC to South Brooklyn to discuss medical debt, the insurance industry, the NYHA, the fight for single payer in other countries, and how to strategize in regards to the opposition. The September meeting centered around the War on Drugs, with speakers from DSA Medics, El Grito, and Court Watch joining to speak about drug policy, policing, and harm reduction.

The Political Education Committee in SBK also offered programming this past month, holding its final day school session on Immigrant Justice in collaboration with the IJ Working Group and hosting a free screening of the film En El Septimo Dia (On the Seventh Day) (2018), a film set in Brooklyn about the life of undocumented workers.

Moving forward, SBK will be focusing on the establishment of committees for its members, in particular, a Healthcare Committee to guide its actions in support of the NYHA and national Medicare-for-All.

Queens

Queens DSA made housing and tenant organizing the centerpiece of its late August membership meeting. The Queens Housing Working Group regularly provides information on tenant rights and tenant organizing to the public in Ridgewood; it will table next on Saturday, October 13, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Ridgewood Veterans Memorial at the intersection of Cypress Avenue and Myrtle Avenue. The housing working group's next meeting will be Monday, October 15, from 7 to 9 pm, at 45-42 41st Street, Sunnyside, Apt 4G.

The Queens Electoral Working Group mobilized members to participate in Julia Salazar's successful campaign for State Senate in the Democratic Primary in North Brooklyn. Now, it is shifting its focus back to Queens, where it will mobilize members to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign for Congress in the general election.

North Brooklyn

North Brooklyn has been hard at work over the summer volunteering for comrade Julia Salazar’s campaign for state senate! That work paid off on September 13 when Salazar defeated long-time incumbent Martin Dilan. Thanks to all the DSA members who showed up to get out the vote for Julia in the final days of her campaign! North Brooklyn members are now hard at work on other campaigns to build socialism in their neighborhoods and to work with all the people newly interested in DSA after Salazar’s win. They also congratulate North Brooklyn member Justin Charles who had an Election Day victory of his own: Justin is now the county committee rep for his election district!

Rank and File: Nate F on AFSCME DC 37

Nate F. discusses the challenges facing AFSCME District Council 37, issues at his own worksite, and the potential benefits that the New York Health Act would bring for workers and our healthcare system.

What is your job?

I’m a social worker in the city’s public healthcare system, the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation. I work at Harlem Hospital, on an inpatient medical unit doing “discharge planning.” That means I make sure--as best I can--that clients have the support they need to continue their recovery once they leave the hospital.

What union are you a member of?

I’m a member of Local 768, one of 52 local unions that make up District Council 37 of AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). DC37 represents 125,000 members in 1,000 job titles They work in parks, hospitals, libraries, schools, road maintenance, and other city agencies.

How long have you been a member, and what’s your involvement with the union?

I’ve been a member from the day I was hired eight and a half years ago. I became a shop steward after three years on the job. I’ve focused on helping my coworkers organize to enforce our contract and to win improvements to our pay and staffing. I also try to connect coworkers to broader struggles we face as healthcare workers (like our horrible health insurance system) and social justice concerns affecting communities of color. Last year, I was elected to Local 768’s Executive Board and as a delegate to DC37’s leadership body, but my most important involvement is still at my worksite.

What are the major issues for your union right now?

In June, the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision overturned a 40-year precedent that allowed public-sector unions to charge dues to non-members who benefit from union bargaining. DC37 could face a financial challenge if a significant portion of our coworkers drop their membership.

What is/has been the attitude of your employer toward the union?

Citywide, Mayor de Blasio has agreed to union contracts in which wages roughly keep up with inflation. But the unions have had to “pay for these raises” with complex agreements that essentially reduce the amount of money the City pays for our health benefits. So far, these cost savings initiatives haven’t dramatically changed members’ experience when they use their health insurance. We may soon reach the limits of this approach.

But my worksite suffers from the chronic underfunding of our public hospitals, which gives managers an incentive to replicate the bad practices seen in the private and for-profit healthcare industry. Personnel costs are always the largest item in hospital  budgets, so managers try to save money by making us work harder. In my unit, like many others, staffing is so lean that nurses regularly have to care for too many patients at a time. And when I take a vacation, there's no one to fill in. That doubles the workload for my colleague.

Our work can save lives, so we try to get it all done, but honestly, it often just isn't possible. This situation forces us to make a million little decision every day to prioritize the care that is absolutely critical. Care that is needed, but less urgent, may not get done, which is frustrating both for patients and ourselves. Chronic stress leads to burnout, staff turnover, and a lower quality of care.

Neither law nor our union contracts limit the workload assigned to us, so we have to advocate for ourselves at the hospital. After six months of pressure, management has agreed to fill some vacant social work positions. If they manage to hire more workers before others leave, I'll be impressed.

How does the union advocate for members?

As I wrote above, our contracts have mostly maintained the status quo for our members’  pay and benefits. In 2016, we won a $15 minimum wage for all city employees, which transferred about $128 million a year to 50,000 of the lowest paid workers, such as school crossing guards.

DC37 has also been vocal on some social justice issues that affect the whole working class. In recent years, we have done internal education on immigration rights, supported quite a few of the large actions on this issue, and lobbied to remove ICE from the courts. We’ve also prioritized climate justice, using our position as a trustee of ouf pension system (NYCERS) to push for divestment from all fossil fuels and investment in wind-farm production.

Are there other issues you’d like to see the union start to address?

While our negotiations may produce contracts on par with most other unions, they don’t inspire our members to demand more from our employer or society. And while the union does a fair job enforcing contracts, we could do much more to advocate for relief from the daily pressures that we face at work, especially in our grossly-underfunded hospitals.

On the social justice front, we have been too silent on the issue of police brutality, and did not advocate for the Right to Know Act. We could have demonstrated more leadership. I believe it would have been popular with a majority of our membership.

Most urgently, DC37 has not endorsed the NY Health Act. Our leadership is concerned  that the bill, as written, does not address some concerns specific to our benefit plans. We are discussing these concerns with the bills’ primary sponsors. I am hopeful that these concerns will be addressed, and that we’ll eventually endorse the bill. Assuming that’s in the cards, the more important question is whether we will make the fight for single payer an organizational priority.

Winning a good single-payer law would be a game changer. It would allow us to make major advances in contract negotiations by lifting the weight of funding our healthcare benefits. It could also end the chronic funding crises in our public hospitals, allowing us to demonstrate that publically run, unionized hospitals can provide the best quality care in the country to all our patients, regardless of their class or immigration status.

Anything else?

As Jane McAlevey has said, organizing is about raising expectations. Of course, we need contracts that keep up with inflation, and we need to make sure our contracts are enforced. But faced with the “freeloader” problem created by Janus v. AFSCME, our union needs to fight aggressively for more ambitious goals, both related to shop floor issues and policy. In my experience, winning on shop floor issues helps members to expect more and demand more; It helps us and our coworkers develop confidence that we can win our more ambitious plans even beyond single payer!



September Working Group Updates

Electoral

The Brooklyn Electoral Working group is holding a meeting on Thursday, October 4th at 7:00pm. There will be a debriefing on Julia Salazar’s win in the Democratic Primary, and a discussion of potential future projects. This is a perfect opportunity for those interested in electoral politics to learn about the various committee work that goes into campaigns. Register here.   

Debt & Finance

The Debt & Finance Working group has been developing a variety of projects, including:  

  • Postal Banking Campaign. Together with the Racial Justice Working Group and the Postal Workers Union, they are collecting signatures for a petition to bring a postal banking pilot program to the Bronx. In the summer they hit their target of five thousand signatures, and are now coordinating to press the idea to the Bronx Borough President and the Postmaster General.

  • Public Banking Campaign. Together with the New Economy Project and the Climate Justice Working Group, they have been participating in strategy and research meetings to develop a plan to bring public banking to New York, and hope to grow this project into a broader DSA priority in the coming months.

  • Medical Debt Jubilee. They have been working with the Debt Collective to raise funds for a medical debt jubilee. The plan is to raise a fund of approximately $5,000, which will then be used to abolish approximately $100,000 of medical debt. The jubilee is also planned to spread awareness about DSA's broader New York Health Act campaign.

  • DSA Credit Union. They have established a sub-group to explore the idea of potentially establishing a DSA credit union. Currently, they are developing the idea and seeking legal advice, with the goal of presenting the idea to the broader DSA if it appears to be a feasible goal.

Immigrant Justice

The Immigrant Justice Working Group is currently focused on two campaigns: SanctuaryHood and ICE out of the Courts. SanctuaryHood is a community-oriented project currently active in Bushwick and Bay Ridge, with the goals of establishing sanctuary spaces in immigrant neighborhoods to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and building grassroots organizing through network-building, community education and resiliency. ICE out of the Courts is a campaign targeting NY State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in order to restrict ICE access into courtrooms. To get involved in SanctuaryHood canvasses or upcoming actions for ICE out of the Courts, email immigrant.justice@socialists.nyc or join us at our next working group meeting on Tuesday October 9th. Find the details here.

Climate Justice

The Climate Justice Working Group and Red Rabbits were part of the People's Climate March coalition that planned and organized a left contingent for the three-thousand person Rise March on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 in Battery Park. At the post-rally coalition meeting, it was revealed that NYC-DSA had the most sign-ups of any group in the rally. DSA members also played a prominent role the next morning in civil disobedience when ten individuals shut down the street outside the midtown office of Gov. Cuomo. Afterwards, Mayor de Blasio and Comptroller Stringer announced the reinvestment of $4 billion in green energy and clean water projects that had been removed from the city's investments in fossil fuels at the instigation of climate organizers.

The working group also contributed to the canvassing for Julia Salazar. During canvassing, they queried voters about their energy bills and explained how socialist politics can fight for changes to energy.

Climate Justice also brought a contingent out to an event held by Sunset Park’s UpRose in Union Square on Thursday, September 21 to mark one year since Hurricane Maria and condemn disaster capitalism, indifference, and displacement. NYC-DSA's Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Naomi Klein, and others spoke at the rally.

Alongside the Red Rabbits/Medics and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, the working group is currently planning to deal with the next climate emergency in NYC including developing maps of problematic areas and collaborating with existing community groups around a program for vulnerable neighborhoods.

Climate Justice is also developing programs and platforms around food justice and ecosocialist issues at the NYC, state, and federal levels in alliance with committed activists. As part of a commitment to a just and sustainable food environment, they are helping to support the nascent Central Brooklyn Food Cooperative and are participating in community gardening through the Bronx, Upper Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

Finally, they have joined in protests and petition deliveries to encourage the NYC to adopt legislation that would require buildings to retrofit boilers and end the use of dirty energy to power buildings. This includes fighting to transform the REV/VDER (Reforming the Energy Vision - Value of Distributed Energy Resources) energy rate-setting process at the NYS Public Service Commission to ensure that the development of renewable energy will be viable and affordable for users.

What's Next? Housing.

By Georgia K

There’s a pause after electoral campaigns culminate in victories for some candidates and disappointments for others. The media frenzy winds down. A lull sets in. But there’s certainly much more to do. And recent Democratic primary election victories have shifted the terrain in our favor, particularly on housing.

Pro-tenant candidates for State Senate defeated six of the eight members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), who had voted with Republicans to block pro-tenant legislation and other progressive initiatives. In addition, Julia Salazar defeated a real-estate industry backed incumbent, in the city’s most rapidly gentrifying district. If Democrats pick up at least one more Senate seat in the November general election, it may be possible to pass universal rent control legislation in the coming year.

NYC-DSA is working with tenant and community groups across the state and city to pass universal rent control and support other local initiatives. In the Bronx, DSA members are joining neighborhood groups to support tenants in housing court, a hostile system dominated by landlords. In Bushwick, tenant town halls with simultaneous translation provide a forum to support our neighbors. In Harlem, DSA tenant organizers are challenging an abusive landlord bankrolled by some of Cuomo’s biggest donors. In Ossining, a coalition that includes DSA and 12 other housing justice groups is fighting for rent stabilization of 1,400 apartments. On September 5th, the coalition won an important vote in favor of regulating apartments with six or more units built before 1974.

The housing crisis is radicalizing tenants. DSA can help provide a left analysis and amplify demands for housing justice. Volunteers are needed to help with translation, logistical planning, strategic research, quantitative research and graphic design. To find out more about how to get involved, contact your branch’s’ housing working group.

B/UM Housing: b-um.housing [a] socialists.nyc

Brooklyn Housing: bk.housing [a] socialists.nyc

What's Next? Healthcare.

By Jen J

Andrew Cuomo may not have been defeated, but he will face a radically different Senate in January. With the destruction of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), Cuomo can no longer blame the Senate for lack of progressive action in Albany. It is time we take our campaign on the offensive to demand that 2019 is the year we will pass the New York Health Act.

Even if the Senate flips to Democratic control in November, we will face new challenges to passing the NYHA. Right-wing lobby groups like the Business Council of New York State are pressuring politicians to oppose this desperately needed legislation. Conservative think tanks are blasting the tax increases of the NYHA, even as they agree that it would expand coverage while saving money.  

Right-wing money cannot beat the power of the organized masses: we need you to win this fight! We need your friends, neighbors, and coworkers to join us in the struggle for healthcare justice. In September and October, the Healthcare Committee is planning a series of education events and trainings to prepare ourselves for the fight ahead. Starting in November, we plan to confront capital with a series of direct actions against insurance companies during the open enrollment season. We need your help to fight back against powerful insurance companies and build a better healthcare system for all New Yorkers.

Upcoming Events:

Power to Heal: A Film & Panel on Racial Segregation in Healthcare

When: October 5, 2018, 7 pm to 10 pm

Where: Verso Books, 20 Jay St, Suite 1010, Brooklyn

In the Jim Crow South, healthcare was not exempt from segregation. Hospitals, doctors, medical equipment, even blood banks were segregated, resulting in unnecessary suffering and death. This documentary tells the story of how grassroots activists and the promise of federal funding were able to desegregate America’s hospitals in a matter of months. A panel discussion will follow after the film.

Anti-Insurance Direct Action Training

When: October 20, 2018, 10 am to 5 pm

Where: TBD

The insurance industry profits wildly off our current system and they know the New York Health Act is an existential threat to their power. Organizations like the Business Council of New York State have already started lobbying against the NYHA. But we can strike back! As they say: direct action gets the goods. Learn what it takes to organize a direct action and help us prepare for a series of actions during the Open Enrollment season. Food and care will be provided.

RSVP here