Pink Diaper Baby: Not Quite a Red Diaper Baby but Close

By Mark Levy

What does it mean to be a Pink Diaper Baby? A bit more than just having parents who were on the Left but not members of the CP. Our parents were  independent and cantankerous. They had a lot of trouble following the Party Line and accepting the whole concept of democratic centralism. To give you a taste, I’ve outlined my family story below.

My parents met in the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948. My mom, Harriet Levy, came from a observant Jewish family. Her uncle, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, was a US Army chaplain who conducted the first Jewish service for survivors at the Buchenwald concentration camp on the day after its liberation in 1945.  Her brother, Rabbi Jack Schacter, marched with Dr. King in Selma. My mom was always fiercely independent and politically left. My dad, Bennett Levy, was a UE shop steward in a war factory. We were the “commie cousins” of our family. Although many of my parents’ friends were CP members and lived in the Coops in The Bronx, their feisty independence and outspoken attitudes led them to the American Labor Party. In the ALP they campaigned for Vito Marcantonio, a fiery ALP Assemblyman from East Harlem.

Many of my parent's CP friends were so devastated and felt so betrayed by the Khrushchev speech denouncing Stalin that they abandoned politics altogether. My parents were flexible or realpolitik enough to seek political action where they could find allies, even if they were more centrist than CP members could tolerate.  That's why they got involved with the UFT and the Bronx Democratic Party, which my parents’ friends shunned as reformist and not revolutionary.

My mom was an incredible, dedicated teacher in the Bronx. She was a Teacher’s Union (TU) stalwart until the left-wing TU lost to the centrist UFT in a pivotal certification election. She quickly saw which way the wind was blowing, jumped on board and was a long time UFT rep in her school. My dad, a small businessman, also got involved in UFT politics. He regularly and loudly attended UFT conventions, where he was just assumed to be a member.

One of my earliest memories was attending Hands Off Cuba demonstrations at the UN in the late 1950s.

My parents were essential in organizing a civil rights group in the Bronx, which my Dad named UNITED (United Neighbors for Integration Through Education and Democracy).  Out of UNITED and other progressive organizations, including the Bronx NAACP, founded by Harold Dicks, grew the radicalized Bronx Reform Democratic movement, which was part of the citywide liberal effort spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt and others, including young liberal Ed Koch, to oust the old-line Democratic bosses, like Bronx Democratic Charlie "Boss" Buckley.  I became an ardent Boy Scout when Dad and Harold also organized an integrated Boy Scout Troop. Dad bought red berets (a la Ché Guevara) that we wore instead of traditional boy scout caps. We were the first Boy Scouts in the US with those berets.

The Bronx was one of the most thoroughly Democratic counties in the entire country, ruled with an iron fist by Charles “Boss” Buckley, a ward heeler of the old school. But liberal and civil rights winds were blowing into the Bronx from the left in the 1960s. My Dad was one of the founders of the Concourse Claremont Independent Democratic Club and from this club emerged ambitious politicians in the Ed Koch mold. Some were elected to office, including Sy Posner to the NY Assembly and Harrison Jay Goldin, noted for riding around in the back of a Chevy convertible on a loudspeaker with his booming “Goldin Voice.” He did have an impressive voice and he reached NYC Comptroller via the NY State Senate but was pretty pro-Wall Street by then.

My dad was a more behind-the-scenes operator. He was designated a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention, only to be shuffled aside when Village Voice political cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s celebrity trumped my Dad’s Bronx roots. Dad’s  fervent support for Eugene McCarthy didn’t help in a delegation largely behind NY Senator Bobby Kennedy or the centrist Hubert Humphrey. McCarthy was the Bernie of his day, not openly socialist, but insurgent against the party establishment, supported by young Dems and much more left wing than Kennedy or Humphrey. One of my fondest memories was heckling Humphrey at a rally on Fordham Road in 1968 with chants of “Dump The Hump!

My mom focused on the local level and ran for Democratic State Committee, the second rung on the long ladder of politics. The State Committee’s sole role is to certify the party’s delegates. She and I traveled up to Albany for what seemed to be ramming through mostly Humphrey delegates. My mom, furious at this, snapped at me: “Quick, write me a speech!” She was something else! All 5 feet of her, with curly red hair and righteous anger. She demanded to speak and was shouted down. Percy Sutton, as elegant a gentleman as ever graced Albany’s sordid halls, intervened. In his smooth baritone, he said, “This woman is a State Committeewoman, and she has every right to speak!!”

We moved from the Bronx to the Upper West Side in 1969. My parents focused their energy and passion on the Mitchell Lama Co-op where they lived for over 40 years.  As Board and Committee Members they fought privatization, became involved in the West Side Campaign against Hunger and were always gathering family, friends and neighbors for parties in their apartment.

Dad’s gravestone reads, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”  Mom’s legacy lives on at Jefferson Towers, where my sister is leading the fight against privatization, for continued affordable housing in NYC.

It's Not What We're Here For (Calling Chuck)

By Jack D

A group of school children are on their way back from a field trip. The day has been a comforting escape from their increasingly tense homelife. Every night the kitchen table seems to have less and less food on their plates. But at least today the children can laugh and smile with their friends. Until a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb wiped their creative potential off the face of the earth.  

On August 9th of this past year, the Royal Saudi Air Force targeted a school bus and killed 51 Yemeni while wounding dozens more. Saudi Arabia could not do this alone. To wage their war against the most vulnerable people in the poorest country in the Middle East the Saudis require assistance from the most powerful empire in the world and their vast military-industrial complex. Lockheed Martin, one of the top defense contractors in the United States, produced the weapon that erased those children’s future. Just one and half months later Chuck Schumer proudly announced that he had secured $324.6 million for an Army radar system developed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

“This vital and significant federal investment enables the world-class workforce at Lockheed Martin to produce cutting-edge radar that protects our troops in the battlefield and also drives the Central New York economy. The inclusion of this funding in the just-passed bipartisan defense appropriations bill will give Lockheed’s Salina plant the resources to continue moving these high-tech counterfire radars down the assembly line,” said Senator Schumer. “I am proud of the role I played in securing this critical federal funding, and will always fight for investments that both keep good-paying jobs in Central New York and keep our military service members around the world safe.”

When someone kills children in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Chuck Schumer?

I’m afraid of all the ghosts we collectively create when we believe the upper-echelons of the American political class can be swayed by moral arguments. Whenever another murderous policy is on the precipice of being passed by Congress, calling politicians is promoted as the best possible response. If only we let them know about how the awful cost of human life, they’ll change their minds. Such a framework reinforces the false notion that politics is constructed around a marketplace of reasoned debate, where the best ideas win out, rather than the raw contestation for power that is its actually existing reality. As we cry out to our “leaders” for help, the machinery of their domination grinds out bodies all the same.

Organizing campaigns around influencing elected officials through constituent outreach reaffirms their role as ruler. Simultaneously prioritizing that action individualizes the relationship between the people and their elected representative. Rather than fighting alongside our comrades in the streets in enduring struggles that build bonds of social solidarity, we hang up the phone thinking that the job is done. It further indoctrinates potential political actors into believing that politicians act on behalf of ordinary people, not just the capitalist class They only act on our behalf when we collectively struggle so that they’re forced to bend the knee to all of us. Socialists should never make life easy for those who think they are our superiors. Calling an office might cause a slight nuisance, occupying it throws a wrench into the system.

One direct action unleashes an avalanche of organizing. A taste of collective struggle awakens previously atomized individuals into seeing the world and their fellow organizers in a whole different light. Disrupting the structures of entrenched power leads to building working class institutions of a wholly different character. Labor strikes not only help create unions, but further democratize them. Antiracist street occupations shutdown the local economy, while developing a network of activists who trust each other. Directly reaching out to politicians is not a tactic socialist should completely abandon, but it cannot act as the centerpiece of any of our campaigns if we want to build lasting power. They want us to beg for a better world. It further entrenches their role in a hierarchy of class domination. A phone call to a politicians office will never build an alternative society. We must organize a truly democratic society by and for ourselves, together.

The Reasons to Call Schumer (and any other pol)

By Leslie R

Cuomo is someone I dislike very much, but I have him on speed dial. I have learned the effectiveness of persistently calling his office over the years. I was very involved in the Ban Fracking campaign in NY State and believed from the very first day of the campaign that calling Cuomo or bird-dogging Cuomo (alone) would never persuade him to support a ban on fracking. But I did believe it was a piece of a big activist puzzle. And that, combined with other actions, calling Cuomo’s office might be effective.

Cuomo is as establishment as any politician and does things the way of the Mob, but after talking to his staffers and those who answer the phones when constituents call his office, I learned a lot. For starters, elected officials are working for us (we need to remember) and Cuomo’s staff is there to answer the phones, because that is what we are paying them to do.  His staffers did take notes and they did make it clear that Cuomo gets the messages, especially when there is a majority of callers organizing around an issue.

“A Tip for getting through to him (or any other politician): Don’t leave a message; insist on speaking to someone directly. There is always someone available if you are persistent.”

Are making phone calls absolutely necessary for effective activism and movement building? Definitely not. But it is a piece of the puzzle. Good actors in power is the ideal way to achieve progress, but a movement that pressures an elected official can achieve the results we desire and need, even if the elected officials are unpopular and widely disliked. A movement can persuade an elected official to make good decisions that will have a positive impact on a majority of the people. The anti-fracking movement was very effective and was a huge movement. Cuomo felt the pressure and decided to ban fracking in NY State.

On Chuck. I have also called Chuck Schumer’s office many times. He is far more elusive than Cuomo. Is calling Chuck Schumer an effective tactic? Calling an elected official’s office is part of building an organized opposition. Just like building the movement to ban fracking, building the opposition to Cuomo included making phone calls to his office. Cuomo is the enemy, as is Schumer. But that doesn’t mean we should be totally shutting them out to our demands and eliminating communication at any level.

Are we playing into the hands of the establishment and playing by their rules by using the most basic task that an activist should use? Making phone calls to elected offices is important  and shouldn’t be categorized as something left for the suburban housewife because she is angry about the war. Organizing a movement, let’s say around health care, means making a plan, a strategy and organizing actions. One of which is calling your representatives. It shouldn’t be underestimated how effective it can be. And it shouldn’t matter where one aligns themself politically or what organizations one belongs to. Movements are linked to legislation and governance. And who is making the legislation or governing is only somewhat important. Chuck Schumer and Cuomo happen to be our current officials. And as much as I dislike them, I have no problem picking up the phone and laying it out. And I don’t feel I have compromised myself.

I don’t see myself aligned with any party and I am definitely not aligned with Chuck and Cuomo, yet I still believe that Chuck and Cuomo owe me. They owe all of us. They owe us their attention, their time and respect. It’s their job and that’s what we are paying them to do. Regardless of what the hard realities are and have been in the past. The fact that they are bad at their jobs is a whole other problem altogether.

While we are all dreaming of a socialist leaning body of government one day soon, the establishment is not going away. If we want to move our ideas forward we need to tell our elected officials what we want. Yes, they are the enemy. But an organized opposition means building a movement. Building a movement includes a multitude of actions, and one of those actions should be calling your elected officials.  

What's Going on in Yemen?

By the Anti-War Working Group OC

The current conflict in Yemen dates back to 2015, when the Obama administration backed a Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s intervention to restore power to President Hadi. Hadi had been forced into exile by  the Houthis, a group that had fought intermittently with the prior Saleh government since Yemen’s unification in 1990. Since the start of Saudi Arabia’s intervention, their bombing campaign and blockade of the port city of Hodeidah has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with an unprecedented cholera outbreak and 14 million people (half the population of Yemen) at risk of starvation. This has all been carried out with the full diplomatic and logistical support of the US government and the complicit silence of American mainstream media.

Now, however, American support has been wavering. On December 13, 2018, the Senate voted 56–41 to pass S.J.Res.54, a bipartisan bill directing the Trump administration to withdraw military and logistical support from the war, although the bill does not address weapons sales to the regime. The passage of this resolution in the Senate marks the first time that the 1973 War Powers Act has been invoked to end an ongoing war. It represents, if not a total renunciation of US imperialist violence, a nascent interest in clawing back some of the war-making authority that Congress has long ceded to the Executive Branch. It also represents the first time that Congress has contested the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which established the foundation for the “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Until a new, Democrat-controlled House can pass a concurrent resolution in January, the victory of S.J.Res.54 is mostly symbolic. Nevertheless, it represents a real break in the imperialist foreign policy consensus that has reigned in Washington since the end of the Second World War. This consensus held even last March, when the same resolution failed to garner enough votes in committee to earn a full floor vote in the Senate. The brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, at the hands of the Saudi regime, is often cited as the cause of the shift in policy.

Cracks in mainstream political support for the Saudi-led coalition were already appearing. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had already refused to approve a $9 billion sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi kingdom, citing humanitarian concerns raised during the failed March vote. The UAE-led siege on Hodeidah in June, and the August 9th coalition airstrike on a school bus in Saada, which killed 11 adults and 40 children, both received significant coverage in the mainstream media. The latter marked the first time that MSNBC reported on the US role in the war in over a year. By October, the war in Yemen was struggling to stay under the radar and the imperialist foreign policy consensus had begun to fracture. Khashoggi’s murder accelerated this process and provided an opportunity for Congress to wash their hands of the war’s worst atrocities.

Socialists should deny them this opportunity. The war on Yemen was not an aberration in US foreign policy; it did not arise merely out of the cruel excesses of Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman. It is, instead, an egregious consequence of the contradictions underlying US militarism.

The US military functions as the hired gun of global capital. It is the single largest institutional contributor of greenhouse gases in the world, and the main tool for securing cheap access to further oil and natural gas resources. Yemen is critical in this respect. In 2016, about 5% of all the world’s oil production passed through Bab el Mandeb, the Red Sea’s southern strait, which Yemen borders to the east.

We should also oppose US militarism for its role in fueling the present migration crisis. Many refugees are fleeing parts of the world that the US government and military have helped to destabilize, forced now to navigate our increasingly militarized southern border and an near-impossible asylum process. Yemenis cannot apply for asylum under Trump’s travel ban, even as the US-backed coalition allies with the very terrorists it uses to justify Yemen’s place on the ban.

Socialism cannot win, at home or abroad, as long as the US empire exists. For that reason, it is the responsibility of socialists in the United States to widen the crack that the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has opened in the bipartisan consensus undergirding continuous military interventions abroad. It means rebuilding a large and vigorous anti-war movement in the United States to challenge imperialism and foreign interventions wherever and whenever they may arise. It also means understanding that socialism must be an internationalist movement.

The critical work of challenging US militarism and imperialism continues in January when the Democrat-controlled House takes office. We can already see the imperialist establishment, divided over Yemen only a few weeks ago, now reuniting  to oppose Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. It is essential that we pressure the House into passing the concurrent resolution to end US military aid for the war in Yemen. Then we must continue to challenge Congress to ensure that the Trump Administration and the Pentagon comply with terms of the resolution. Through that work, we can begin to build the national network of peace activists, socialists, and anti-imperialists that will challenge US militarism worldwide.


Rank and File: Chris H. on Local 30 and the Art of Negotiation

What is your occupation? (You don’t need to specify the company if you prefer not to.)

I am an Art Installer at MoMA PS1.  We install and de-install every show that goes on inside the museum. We have carpenters, art handlers and audio video technicians on the crew, so that we are capable of implementing a particular artist’s vision. One of the most challenging aspects of working with living artists, and also why most of us are attracted to it, is that you never know what the next project is going to be - artists are unpredictable.  

How long have you been a member? How would you characterize your involvement with the union?

We first unionized three years ago. I’ll admit that I was a little bit hesitant at first. I got along with PS1 management and felt well respected by the staff.  However, I discovered that this was not the case with many of my colleagues, and some people were being paid much less for doing the same work. The organizers for Local 30 and our business representative met with all of us over the course of a few months and made a very strong case that bringing in the union was the right thing to do.

My initial engagement with the union was minimal, until I was asked to be the new shop steward. At first, I felt a little bit adrift and unsure about my responsibilities. People would come to me with complaints and I didn’t really know what my role was. Management was also expecting me to educate everyone on the contract and all of the rules we were supposed to abide by but gave me no time during working hours to do this. There were also instances were they expected me to discipline workers for what they saw as infractions. I attended shop steward training at the Local 30 Union Hall which was very helpful. It was pretty amazing how similar my experience was working at a museum with other members who worked at power plants and boiler rooms throughout the city.

What do you feel are the major issues your union is focused on right now?

We are currently in negotiations for our second contract. The Art Installers of MoMA PS1 share the same union with the Installers across the river at MoMA 53rd st. We do the same work yet are paid up to 50% less and have no benefits. This has made the negotiations particularly difficult because a simple percentage increase to wages is not sufficient. We need a significant bump to the starting wage in order to bring us closer to the wages paid to other workers in our field.  

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

Not great… The management of MoMA PS1 has expressed hostility towards the union and its members. They feel that it restricts their ability to hire and fire people and get outside contractors to come in and do work.

Discuss the ways your union has advocated for the interests of its members.

Local 30 has shown immense solidarity with its new members in the art handling field. We had a rally outside of PS1 in order to express to management our discontent with the way the contract negotiations were going and many Operating Engineers showed up with a giant inflatable rat and bullhorn to protest with us. I’ve been in constant communication with our business representative and he has always made himself available. There is a genuine push and outreach to organize more labor in this field. They offered us the Union Hall to hold an art show this fall which should be pretty fun, and are trying to get more of our members out to the monthly meetings.

Are there issues you feel your union should organize around that are not currently being addressed?

I understand that we need to take one step at a time. We are putting everything into getting a fair contract with MoMA. I think some of the larger underlying issues that need to be addressed are how to get portable health insurance for freelancers that work for multiple institutions. I’d also like unions to start addressing the underlying problem of affordable housing in NYC. Local 30 does have a credit union that members can join in order to get low interest loans but I’d love to see some sort of unionized affordable housing project so that this city can continue to be a place for working families.

Please elaborate on any points not covered by this questionnaire that you would like to address:

I think that unions in general need to address some of the racial, ethic and gender discrimination that they have historically taken part in. Local 30 originated in 1896 and only recently hired its first African American business representative. They are genuinely attempting to organize and protect more working women and minorities which is good but long overdue. These prejudices were historically used to undermine and weaken the position of unionized labor and we can’t let that happen again. The argument for getting the same pay for the same work regardless of age, gender, religion, height, nepotism, immigration or part-time working status is incredibly potent and one of the only ways out of our current political morass.        


Working Groups' 2018 Wrap-up

Anti-War

In 2018, the Anti-War Working Group focused on spreading awareness of the situations in Yemen and Gaza. In the summer, they partnered with Jewish Voice for Peace to demand that Senator Chuck Schumer condemn Israel’s actions and violence in Gaza.

Debt & Finance

The Debt & Finance Working Group’s 2018 projects this year included a campaign to develop a postal banking pilot program in the Bronx, and a medical debt jubilee to pay off medical bills and spread awareness of the New York Health Act. The group worked with the New Economy Project and the Ecosocialist Working Group to research strategies for bringing public banking to New York; a subgroup is exploring the idea of a DSA credit union.

Ecosocialist

The Ecosocialist Working Group continued to work with the NY Renews Coalition to reintroduce the Climate and Community Protection Act, which calls for a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the Climate and Community Investment Act, which calls for a polluter fee that would generate revenue to invest in sustainable energy projects and the local economy. We're fighting for a Green New Deal for NYC, which would transform heating and energy use in large commercial and residential buildings without harm to others. We're also studying the NY Off Act and working on the local and the national level to develop resources and a legislative program for a Just Transition led by excluded communities and a Green New Deal.

The group participated in the A23 Albany protests, the UpRose Hurricane Sandy anniversary event, and the Rise up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice mobilization. The morning after the Rise Up mobilization, working group members were among the ten individuals who shut down the street outside Gov. Cuomo’s midtown office.

The group also helped draft Julia Salazar’s climate platform, helped fund a Food Co-Op in Crown Heights and fight for Farmworker Justice. In building a citywide mutual aid and disaster relief program, we’re mapping the city, creating a member skills inventory, and developing a series of alliances and a strategy for deploying in the neighborhoods. We're working alongside the D&F WG to push for divestment from fossil fuels and public banking in NYC and NYS.

In 2019, we'll be continuing our state legislative program, mutual aid/disaster relief, public banking, divestment, and food justice campaigns. Well be reviewing what worked and developing new campaigns around issues such as the Extinction Rebellion, Waste, #NationalizeGrid and Energy Democracy, and Public Banking.

Electoral

The electoral working groups of the geographic branches had an eventful year, helping bring Democratic Socialism into the national spotlight and making NYC-DSA a “force” in electoral politics.

In the spring, DSA endorsed and canvassed for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won an upset victory in a Democratic Congressional primary on June 26 against 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley, the head of the Queens County Democratic Organization. The widespread national attention for the win gave a boost to another DSA endorsed candidate, Julia Salazar, who went on to defeat incumbent Martin Dilan in the Democratic primary for State Senate on September 14th.

NYC-DSA also endorsed Cynthia Nixon for Governor and Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor in the Democratic primary in September. Neither won, but the high visibility of these statewide campaigns pushed Governor Cuomo to adopt more progressive positions and helped six progressive challengers to defeat incumbents associated with the Independent Democratic Conference.  

Housing

NYC-DSA Housing Working Groups across the city have been educating tenants on their rights, supporting tenant unions, and mobilizing in favor of universal rent control as part of the Upstate/Downstate Coalition.

The Bronx/Upper Manhattan Housing Working Group organized shifts for Right to Counsel’s Court Watch program in the Bronx, attended tenants’ marches and phonebanked on behalf of tenants rights. They partnered with Northern Manhattan is Not 4 Sale (NMN4S) in its fight against the Inwood rezoning plan.

The Lower Manhattan Housing Working Group Organized supported the tenants at 85 Bowery in their ultimately successful fight to return to their homes after badly needed repairs were completed.

The Queens Housing Working Group tabled on tenant rights, before jumping into the battle to stop Amazon from locating a second headquarters complex in Long Island City.

Immigrant Justice

Working in collaboration with non-profit and faith-based organizations, the Immigrant Justice Working Group prioritized three campaigns in 2018: SanctuaryHood, ICE Out of the Courts, and solidarity with the migrant exodus.

The working group canvassed Bushwick and Bay Ridge, in support of sanctuary spaces in Bushwick and Bay Ridge that would protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. It gathered about 4,000 signatures on petitions asking NY State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to stop ICE enforcement actions in our courts; delivered them to DiFiore’s office, and then rallied in Foley Square with partner organizations.

Members traveled to the border to provide support to the migrant exodus, the latest iteration of mass, coordinated movement from Central America to the US, across Mexico. The group also worked locally with coalition partners to highlight the historical causes of migration and the cruelty of immigration policy today; co-sponsored the “No Hate: Refugee Caravan Solidarity” rally at Union Square on November 3; and cosponsored a fundraiser for the migrant exodus organized by the NYC-DSA Sing in Solidarity choir.

Labor & Strike Solidarity

The Labor & Strike Solidarity Working Group began the year helping organize the International Women’s Strike, which drew hundreds to Washington Square to march and rally for inclusive, working class feminism, as well as the May Day/International Workers’ Day rally.

It also hosted workplace organizing trainings and film screenings, an information session on organizing sex workers and the struggles sex workers face after SESTA-FOSTA, and discussions on the city-wide DSA resolution encouraging members to get rank-and-file union jobs. The group also supported strikes and campaigns organized by workers at Wendy’s, Tom Cat Bakery, and the Laundry Worker’s Center.

Racial Justice

The Racial Justice Working Group campaigns gathered petitions for Postal Banking (low- to no-cost check cashing and ATM services at post offices) to combat predatory lending services. It joined the Court Watching programs in Queens and the Bronx, which expose inequities in arraignments and sentencing. It also fought fought for an amendment to the New York City Charter that would create an Elected Civilian Review Board with the power to enforce disciplinary measures against the NYPD and appoint special prosecutors when necessary.

Most recently, the group joined efforts to get the City Charter Commission to amend the School Disciplinary Code to end school suspensions and shut down the school to prison pipeline. All four campaigns will continue in 2019.

Religious Socialists

The Religious Socialists Working Group began the year contributing to the Poor People’s Campaign. Several working group members were arrested during a Poor People’s Campaign protest in Albany in June. The group also worked with the New Sanctuary Movement for immigrant rights, and held support sessions after the Tree of Life Synagogue attacks and the recent IPCC report.

In 2019, the working group will focus on developing a public educational campaign around liberation theologies.

Tech Action

Tech Action launched its own website, with design help from the Media Working Group, and collaborated with the Media group to develop a training session on workplace organizing for tech and media workers. The working group also canvassed for Julia Salazar’s Senate Senate campaign and helped develop the campaign’s tech platform, which received national attention.

Most recently, Tech Action joined protests against the proposed Amazon headquarters in Long Island City. It hosted an information session on Amazon’s terrible labor practices, union-busting, and hostility towards public authority, and it co-sponsored a rally during a City Council hearing on the City and State deal with Amazon. The Tech Action group also created an online pledge for tech workers who will refuse to work for Amazon if they build in Long Island City. Click here to sign!

The MTA as a Worker

Jack C. (JC), Interviewer: What do you do in the MTA? How long have you been there?

AM: I am a Signal Maintainer for New York City Transit (NYCT), which is the division of the MTA that handles the subways and most of the busses. Largely, this means performing maintenance and troubleshooting activities on wayside equipment—railroad switches, signal heads, and stop machines (those little yellow levers that go up and down to activate the emergency brakes when a train goes somewhere it shouldn't), or working on some of the specialized equipment that controls or powers these things.

JC: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?

AM: My favorite part of the job is really, well, the job. Even when it's dirty and gross and cold and hard work, it's really interesting work. There's a ton of variability because you have this complex system of electrical, mechanical, and pneumatic devices that all rely on each other, with layered-on updates from three different generations of technology (four now) and there are just SO MANY ways it can break. And figuring out what's happening and how to repair it—it's really amazing.

Least favorite is mostly the management. The managers themselves are mostly fine, but the MTA is so badly mismanaged and understaffed that we have problems that shouldn't exist. The web of rules and regulations means that I could be standing on a platform and see a failure occur that I know exactly how to fix, and at the barest minimum it's going to be 30 minutes before I can even get on the trackway to begin addressing it.

JC: Everyone complains about the subways: delays, service changes, and lack of maintenance. What's the story from the worker side? I imagine you're all as overworked and underpaid as any private-sector worker.

AM: We've been understaffed by about 200 signal maintainers for a very long time. Overtime is the norm, and unplanned mandatory overtime is more or less the standard response to equipment failure. There is a constant push to keep maintenance numbers up that doesn't do a very good job of considering what is actually possible. Last year the MTA put out this six point plan to improve service. One of the bullet points touts "a new, intense preventive maintenance program that targets components most prone to fail." What this meant internally was that they cut the testing interval from 30 to 15 days on a lot of equipment—effectively doubling the workload. There’s a lot of pressure on supervisors and workers to do something that isn't really possible.

It's really frustrating—we are spread extremely thin and we have to deal with management priorities that don't always reflect best practice, and with supporting large expensive contracts that will have a dubious impact on service reliability. And all this stuff prevents us from getting to do our jobs. We are a skilled workforce that very much wants to do a good job, and the administrative obstacles to that are really bad for morale.

JC: What are the top three things that could be done to have the greatest positive impact on the subways (and the MTA in general)? Whose purview are these efforts under?

AM: 1) Resolve the debt crisis. The MTA has been under-budgeted for ages and forced to float bonds to pay for its costs, and debt maintenance is now an enormous part of the MTA's yearly budget: $2.57 billion in the 2018  budget—about 16%. And with budget shortfalls anticipated even with fare hikes, this number is only going to rise.

2) A complete change in the way that MTA management interacts with private contractors. There are rules limiting the award of consecutive contracts to a single company if other qualified companies are available, which is ostensibly a good anti-corruption measure. But we have sometimes had situations where there are only two qualified contractors for a kind of work. In particular, part of Signal Modernization is moving from old electromechanical relay controlled interlockings (picture entire rooms full of electromagnetic switches clacking up and down, pretending to be a computer) to solid state relay-controlled interlockings (that room now fits in one or two server cabinets).

The first interlocking to be modernized this way was Bergen Street. The work was done by a company called Thales. Their installation on NYC transit never really worked right. Until very recently, the only other qualified Solid State Interlocking contractor transit could use was Siemens. So Thales kept getting more contracts, and installed more equipment that really doesn't work well, and they're going to continue to get enormous contracts, because we can't legally just hire Siemens every time.

Contract oversight is kind of a joke. In just about every department it is a common and accepted career path for individuals to go up as high as they can in MTA management, take their pension with lifelong health benefits at 55, and then go work for the same contractors they oversaw and worked with, for very large salaries. I know at least one manager that retired on a Friday and on Monday semi-illegally brought his new employers into the facility he used to manage to take photos and study installations, already on their payroll. It's basically known to many of these managers that as long as they help everything go smoothly for the contractors, they have a very lucrative job waiting for them in their retirement. No one wants to deal with it and as the MTA relies more and more on contractors (which I think is also bad, just in general) it's only going to become a more significant problem.

3) There needs to be a complete overhaul of the track safety rules. I'm all for track safety—I don't want to get hurt out there and I don't want anyone else to either. But safety rules need to have a clear safety-related benefit, they need to be easy to implement, and they need to be made in consideration of the work that has to be performed. Track Safety and in particular Track Flagging rules are none of those things—they are a complicated patchwork of rules that attempt to cover every possible corner case and track layout and work area. They lead to situations where you need four or five times as many people looking out for trains as actually doing the work. And they contain silly but labor-intensive activities that no one actually believes offer any safety benefit.

Even with all these rules accidents still occur. It's a dangerous job by its nature. But the rules are strangling the work, in part because they're not really a coherent safety program. Every time something bad happens, they just add a rule to address that specific situation, and that's how we have this ludicrous mess of a rulebook. I think you need to basically start fresh, with a comprehensive safety program that gives us the ability to do our jobs with safety rules that actually make sense for the activities they're meant to protect.

JC: Okay, let's talk Amazon. The City and State just gave massive tax breaks to the world's richest man and company to open another headquarters here in Queens. One argument about Amazon coming to NYC has been that this influx of capital could or should be used to help fully fund the MTA. How do workers feel about this?

AM: I don't think too many people care about it from that perspective. You can get people a bit riled up about billions of dollars in incentives but, there's definitely a sense of helplessness around it. Like, yes we all know the 7 is extremely overcrowded already and that even with CBTC there aren't going to be significant expansions of capacity. And sticking another 100,000 people in LIC is a terrible idea, especially if (when) the L shutdown drags on the G train, which will also be utterly slammed. But it feels far away and like: “well, they're bringing jobs,” and “job creators” is a hell of a way to convince everyone to talk about capitalists.

JC: Are you in a union? What's your experience been with union leadership? Other members?

AM: I am in TWU Local 100. The leadership is mostly all right, though I find them frustrating sometimes. I don't have any doubt that they want to do well by their membership. Stand United—the political slate/party/whatever you wanna call it that currently controls pretty much every part of the union (hooray for slate voting) very much thinks that the best way to do well by the membership is to cultivate good relationships with management and the governor, so you get these really embarrassing fawning press releases about Cuomo or whatever and it's obnoxious. The contracts they've secured for us have never been amazing but they've been all right, and they just won the recent election by about a 2:1 margin over the nearest competition.

Members run the gamut—we're a gigantic union in a more or less union shop. I mean, okay Janus killed that, we aren't a closed shop, (ie, a shop where only union members are hired and a worker must remain a union member while employed) but opt-outs so far are nearly nonexistent. Mostly, even the people who complain about the union and say how much they hate it don't actually want to leave, whether because of inertia, or because of how central the union is to navigating the MTA's arcane bureaucracy surrounding not only disciplinary measures, but also retirement benefits, training, and anything else. The membership tends to be a bit older and more conservative than I would like,in part because of hiring freezes and such.

I don't constantly spout politics at work but I do it plenty, and if I go explicitly socialist at people I tend to get some push-back; but if I stick to criticizing the way money and power are distributed in society, mostly people are on board. Signals in particular is an extremely male-dominated department, and sometimes people have pretty gross opinions on sexuality, gender, and especially on transgender people. I've at least gotten most people to stop making jokes every time a medical form asks for “male” or “female,” at least in my little section, so, small (depressing) victories?

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And in today’s late-capitalist hell, “mostly liking the job” is the most that many of us can hope for. No job is perfect, and neither is the MTA, but next time you see a train delay, think of hard-working comrades like Andrew tirelessly toiling on your behalf to get that train back up and running.

2018 for Branches

Bronx/Upper Manhattan

The Bronx/Upper Manhattan branch has been involved in campaigns around a number of vital neighborhood issues.  They have been working all year on the campaign to pressure New York Presbyterian not to close Allan Psychiatric Hospital, a crucial mental health ward. The branch has also been pushing back against the Inwood Rezoning Plan along with neighborhood organizations. Branch members participated in canvassing campaigns for postal banking in the Bronx and for an Elected Civilian Review Board to increase police accountability. They helped support local green spaces such as La Finca del Sur, an urban farmer cooperative in the Bronx, and Maggie's Magic Garden, a community garden in East Harlem. Members have canvassed and marched for Housing Justice and Universal Rent Control, as well as the effort to bar ICE from NYC’s courts.

The B/UM Political Education Working Group organized a forum for attendees to learn about and discuss various socialist tendencies, and the group also collaborated with the Socialist Feminist Working Group on a reading group dedicated to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.  Both the forum and the reading group were well-attended and brought new members into the organization.

And of course members canvassed and got out the vote for their representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the primary and general elections!

North Brooklyn

NBK’s year included canvassing for universal rent control as part of their branch campaign and they mobilized members for the March for Universal Rent Control. NBK and the Housing Working Group co-hosted a Tenants’ Town Hall that included a rent laws workshop and organizing training. NBK’s Tenant Organizing Committee supported residents of 431 Bleecker St. in their Oct. 17th Rally Against Grand Management. North Brooklyn members joined with the statewide Housing Justice 4 All coalition to march on the offices of the Rent Stabilization Association in November.

NBK also held a Healthcare Community Fair, with workshops on consent-based sex ed, narcan, and first aid, as well as a panel with Tim Faust, Emma Caterine, and (now) State Senator-Elect Julia Salazar. Additionally, NBK-DSA members, in collaboration with the Service Industry and Labor & Strike Solidarity working groups, assisted workers at House of Kava in organizing a union in the face of abuse and wage theft by ownership. NBK member Justin Charles won the county committee rep seat for his election district and Julia Salazar won her race for State Senate District 18.

Members of NBK hosted a memorial for Heather Heyer in August to honor her life, educate themselves about the anti-fascist movement, and renew their commitment to fighting white supremacy. NBK marched with the rest of the NYC chapter during the anti-Kavanaugh protests in the first week of October. Also in October, NBK’s Political Education Committee launched a bi-weekly Night School to give members a chance to explore socialist theories, grow as organizers, and gain deeper historical background and context.

NBK also launched a new members' welcoming committee, the Rosebuds, who hosted their first New Members' social in July, and another in November, just after the midterm elections.

After the announcement that Amazon HQ2 would be coming to Long Island City, North Brooklyn members began to mobilize to support the Housing WG and Queens DSA in efforts to organize workers and tenants against the Amazon deal. NBK members participated in a canvass in Sunnyside ahead of the community forum put together by DSA and other Queens organizations.

In December, NBK members helped organize a Climate Justice Townhall at El Puente in South Williamsburg with environmental justice coalition partners NY Renews, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, UPROSE, the Brooklyn Movement Center, Indivisible, and others. Over 100 attendees turned out, including State Senator-Elect Julia Salazar and State Assembly Member Brian Kavanaugh.

The North Brooklyn branch ended its year with a Socialist Snowflakes celebration where they learned about anti-Amazon organizing in Queens, DSA’s efforts to support the migrant caravan at the border, and the “snowflake model” of team leadership.

In 2019, they will be reviewing their branch provisional bylaws to democratically determine the structure and organization of their branch. They also have plans for an organizing training with the Center for Popular Democracy, a presentation from the Debt & Finance WG on public banking, and more!  

Central Brooklyn

In order to support the influx of new members and broaden what the branch has to offer, this year Central Brooklyn created new committees to allow members to contribute to branch organization.

Coordinating with the Housing Working group, the base building committee has been doing regular canvassing in their neighborhoods for Universal Rent Control and other tenants’ issues. The events & social committee played a major role in planning the recent branch fundraiser - The Red Scare Halloween party - which raised over $4,000. The operating committee built and maintains Central Brooklyn's website, cbkdsa.org, and has been building out resources to support local organizers. The membership & mobilization committee recently hosted a new member social and has been organizing new member orientations at branch meetings.

In the coming year, they will continue to expand committee work to make the branch a true home of socialism in Central Brooklyn.

South Brooklyn

SBK focused on political education, and their healthcare branch campaign, in 2018.

Their Political Education Committee hosted a series of Day Schools, on single payer and immigrant justice, for which they partnered with the Socialist Feminists WG and IJWG. They also facilitated reading groups for ABCs of Socialism and Socialism 101, and created a Solidarity Summer Film Series in which they showed films on Puerto Rican activism, local union organizing, and other leftist topics.

Their healthcare committee focused, earlier in the year, on the M4A/NYHA Campaign, tabling in Coney Island in support of single payer and canvassing in collaboration with the Salazar campaign. SBK ran weekly canvasses on Mondays and Wednesdays in Park Slope, talking to folks about the Nixon/Williams campaign as well as the New York Health Act. They hosted a Power-Mapping event in the spring, and a NYHA Teach-in in the fall.

SBK also co-sponsored and helped organize a series of three, rapid-response protests against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh; a direct action in support of the release of pizza delivery-man Pablo Villavicencio, who was detained and arrested at Fort Hamilton; a protest in conjunction with Bay Ridge activists against State Senator Marty Golden and his connection to the Proud Boys; and a series of protests in Manhattan against ICE.

At their monthly branch meetings, they’ve hosted a broad range of speakers from across NYC-DSA, to speak on topics such as the history of Pride, the drug war, and postal banking.

Labor

Following the passage of Resolution 33 at the 2018 Convention, which resolved that NYC-DSA will actively recruit members to get Rank and File jobs, the Labor Branch has been focusing on this mission. They have held a number of Labor Notes inspired trainings and Troublemakers’ School meetings, as well as informative panels for those interested in furthering DSA’s causes through union organizing and membership.

They also met with the Nixon campaign to help influence her to adopt a strong Democratic Socialist labor platform, and worked to connect the campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar with the labor movement. They were instrumental to the inclusion of language opposing the Taylor Law in Nixon's labor platform, which brought the issue of the right-to-strike for public employees into the spotlight. Labor also held canvasses for Julia Salazar, and helped get out the vote.

The next Labor Branch meeting will be on January 10, from 7-9 pm, location TBD.

Lower Manhattan

The LoMan branch campaign for 2018 was housing. They hosted talks on housing and planning in the 21st-century Lower East Side, as well as presentations on state rent laws and rent regulation history.

They organized for the Ocasio-Cortez campaign and conducted an endorsement process for Nixon and Williams that brought out a large number of members who hadn't yet been active within the DSA. This was in addition to NYHA canvassing, universal rent control canvassing, and mobilizing members to either canvass or phone-bank for the Nixon, Williams, and Salazar campaigns.

In August, the branch participated in the M4A weekend of action.

Shortly thereafter, they rolled out a political education night school, focused on the key ideas that they think every socialist should integrate into their analyses and actions.

In collaboration with the Labor Branch, they also introduced their Rank and File strategy, as passed at the City Convention. LoMan sees building a 21st century labor movement as imperative to the DSA's political goals. This initiative 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.

Their October meeting looked at the international left movements and parties to help make sense of what DSA should be doing at this moment.

In November, LoMan talked about childcare with the Red Sprouts and reflected on the past few months of electoral work.

Queens

The Queens branch came into its own in 2018, building on foundations laid the prior year.  

In the first half of 2018, the branch played an important role in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary campaign, with transformative results for DSA and U.S. politics: Ocasio-Cortez’s  primary victory and subsequent star role as an organizer and media figure fueled the doubling of DSA's membership nationally and in NYC, and supercharged campaigns for DSA-endorsed and other candidates in New York and nationally, while putting issues like Medicare for All, Abolish ICE, and the Green New Deal into the national spotlight.

In the second half of the year, Queens DSA played an early, outspoken leadership role in the ongoing #NoAmazon campaign, which has focused attention to the importance of fighting gentrification and neoliberal, tax-cut fueled development schemes.

Participating in both campaigns has tied the branch into the Queens and NYC progressive  communities: AOC's campaign created or deepened ties with new and existing networks of electoral activists; the #NO Amazon campaign, with local and citywide housing and community groups.

Tangible results for the branch include larger and livelier monthly membership meetings and social events in recent months, and the development of broader leadership. The Queens electoral, housing and mutual aid groups have solidified. Potential involvement in the Queens District Attorney election next year (the electoral working group is currently reviewing candidate statements) offers a chance to further deepen and broaden our leadership team and community ties, while making the Queens criminal justice system more deserving of the word “justice.”



#NoAmazon HQ2

Miriam B

How do you block a deal with a $1 trillion corporation, majority owned by the world’s richest man, when political leaders have cut off almost every formal avenue for public input?

You mobilize the community in every way possible, searching for the right pressure points.

DSA and our community allies have been doing just that since November 5, when Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that Long Island City was one of two places that Amazon chose for its second headquarters (HQ2).

The terms of the deal are dreadful. New York City and State have agreed to $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, although the MTA, NYCHA and city schools desperately need those funds. Amazon has promised to create 25,000 to 40,000 jobs and build a school and tech center on 4 million square feet of land, some of it public, in a rapidly gentrifying and overcrowded neighborhood just two or three stops from some of the city’s most rent-burdened neighborhoods.

Cuomo and de Blasio used provisions of state law to circumvent the Community Board and City Council approvals necessary under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). “They tried to take away our voice,” DSA’s Susan Kang declared to the max-capacity crowd at the town hall at the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria. But the deal can be stopped, she added. The state Public Authorities Control Board can veto the deal; it vetoed another boondoggle, for a New York Jets stadium on the far West Side of Manhattan, in 2005.

Queens DSA had organized the town hall with many partners: Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Chhaya Community Development Corp., DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving), Hate Free Zone, Socialist Alternative NYC and Whole Worker.

Pressure on elected officials and community outreach are key. In early December, A Quinnipiac poll released in early December found that a majority (57%) of New York City residents favored Amazon coming to New York City. But when asked about the deal with its various subsidies, only 46% of poll respondents were in favor; 44% were against. And when more than 200 DSA members and friends went door to door in Western Queens, they found little enthusiasm, and much hostility, for the Amazon.

“Most people I spoke to in Long Island City were against the deal,” said David Lee, a new DSA member who took part in six of 29 canvassing events that DSA organized. In Sunnyside and Woodside, by contrast, few people knew much about the deal. Canvassers distributed information about the town hall and explained that Amazon’s HQ2 “isn’t for us.” Not many of the headquarters jobs, which projects will have a $150,000 average annual salary, are likely to go to the working-class people it displaces, or even other New Yorkers, and some of the jobs could last only a month or two.

Some elected officials and community groups hope to modify the deal, but not DSA and its allies. “This is a no Amazon Zone,” said Shrima Pandey of QNU, a moderator of the town hall.  Speakers touched on the many ways that Amazon abuses the working class. Members of the community groups, many of whom are working-class immigrants, testified to their personal experience of landlord harassment, rising rents, and overcrowded schools and subways, in neighborhoods as close to the proposed HQ2 site as the Queensbridge Houses and as far away as Jamaica. These problems would increase drastically if Amazon builds its HQ2 in LIC.

Other speakers noted that Amazon provides facial recognition software to ICE. As DRUM member Mauricio Piritova said at the town hall. “We can’t call NYC a sanctuary city if we welcome Amazon.”

A Whole Worker member discussed union-busting efforts at Whole Foods, which Amazon now owns and Whole Worker is organizing. A Socialist Alternative member reminded the crowd that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the world’s richest man, bullied Seattle public officials into repealing a tax on Amazon to fund housing for the homeless in Seattle.

NYC-DSA has also been working with ALIGN, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Make the Road, and New York Community for Change, in addition to the Queens groups, to oppose the Amazon deal. This loose coalition marched on the proposed Amazon site shortly after the deal was announced and protested just before a City Council hearing on the deal. During the hearing, CAAAV and DSA members dropped a huge HQ2Scam banner from the Council’s balcony. #NoAmazon activists have also testified and protested at Community Board meetings in Queens.

Organizing plans for the new year are still being hashed out. Possibilities include more town halls in other neighborhoods, visits to elected officials, protests at PACB meetings in Albany, and mass civil disobedience; more canvassing is for sure. To get involved, email queens(at)socialists.nyc. You can also give this factsheet to friends.

November Steering Committee Update

Strategy Forum:

In the wake of the November elections, Steering Committee facilitated a discussion about campaign strategy. Campaign leaders discussed the new political landscape in New York State, and the updated outlook for some of our higher organizational priorities.

Reds Need Green Holiday Fundraiser:

Led by our Treasurer, Tiffany Gong, the Steering Committee has put together our annual holiday fundraiser. With an eye to being open to more DSA members, this year's event is being held in a space that is both all-ages and accessible. Come out and celebrate on December 1!

Public Advocate Endorsement Process:

At Tuesday's forum for public advocate candidates, the Electoral Working Group (EWG) held an advisory vote on 1) whether NYC-DSA should endorse in the PA race (a yes or no vote), and 2), a vote on who, if NYC-DSA does endorse, it should endorse, with each voter selecting only one candidate.

The vote result was to not endorse in the race. The top three candidates, if DSA were to endorse, were Ify Ike, Nomiki Konst, and Jumaane Williams.

Based on this advisory vote, the EWG will send a formal proposal to the leadership of NYC-DSA's Branches, including a strategy proposal and recommendations on how to hold a vote, if there is one. Leadership of each branch will then decide whether or not to hold a vote during their branch's December meeting. If a candidate meets the required threshold - 60% of branches - then an emergency meeting of the Citywide Leadership Committee will be called for early January to hold the final endorsement vote.

The proposal voted on can be read here.