October 31, 2010

Andrew Cuomo, Sworn Enemy of the Working Class

Election day is but two days away, but I feel compelled to write this. Earlier in the week, I posted a statement by Freedom Road calling for a vote for Charles Barron, Black activist and New York City Council member, as governor of NY State, and specifically warning against any vote for Democrat Andrew Cuomo, even on the Working Families Party line.

The day that flier came out, the New York Times confirmed its correctness by publishing an article entitled “Cuomo Vows Offensive Against Labor Unions.” Based on an extensive hour and a half interview with the politician, it is a grim harbinger of things to come.

The lede, the first paragraph, tells the story:

Andrew M. Cuomo will mount a presidential-style permanent political campaign to counter the well-financed labor unions he believes have bullied previous governors and lawmakers into making bad decisions. He will seek to transform the state’s weak business lobby into a more formidable ally, believing that corporate leaders in New York have virtually surrendered the field to big labor.

Go ahead, read that again and let it sink in.

The next governor of New York has vowed an ongoing frontal attack on one of the few union bulwarks left in the United States. Union membership in the US, after decades of brutal attacks by corporate power and of government hostility or indifference, has declined to 12.3% of the workforce. New York is the only state where over a quarter of all workers (barely, 25.3%) are still union members. Six states have unionization rates below 5%.

This has consequences. One of the ugliest effects of the union busting that shifted into high gear with President Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union in 1981 is that real wages for blue collar workers have remained stagnant or declined since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the incomes and wealth of the top 1% of the population have soared.

Contemplate for a moment the second half of that paragraph, too. He wants to make the state’s business community “a stronger ally” of his, does he? On account of Wall Street, the too-big-to-fail banks, corporate executives, developers and landlords don’t have enough political clout, I guess. Even the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision to allow unlimited secret spending on political campaigns isn’t a big enough thumb on the scales for Cuomo.

A couple of additional thoughts:

First, the main strength unions in New York State have is not, whatever Cuomo claims, their ability to put millions into a bank account and buy television ads, with the result that:

The governor’s popularity drops; the governor’s knees weaken; the governor falls to one knee, collapses, makes a deal.

New York State unions do buy ads, but their political clout is based much more on their attention to state elections and on their ability to flood Albany with informed and fired-up members when important bills are before the Legislature. Anyone who has watched buses of construction workers, teachers, or purple-clad SEIU members descend on the State Capital to reason with, shall we say, their elected officials will have to wonder--and worry about--what Cuomo’s plans to counter that might be.

Second, this has shown up the weakness of the Working Families Party as an electoral third party formed expressly to representative working class interests in New York State. NY is one of eight “fusion states” where parties can cross-endorse the candidates of other parties (usually one of the two major parties). The WFP has mainly endorsed Democrats (and run its own candidates in Democratic primaries), but has also backed Republicans and sometimes run candidates solely on the WFP line--and won.

The catch is that to maintain ballot status, WFP must garner 50,000 votes for its gubernatorial candidate every election cycle. Without this, a party must go through the arduous work of collecting tens of thousands of valid signatures on petitions—which, for instance, the Green Party has done since 2002.

This year, Cuomo--whose Republican challenger Carl Paladino is racist, sexist, reactionary, seriously dim and a sure loser--played cat and mouse with the Working Families Party for months, withholding acceptance of a promised WFP nomination he didn’t really need.

At last, with no time at all left before the ballots were to be printed, the Working Families Party was permitted to ”crook the pregnant hinges of the knee,” as Shakespeare hath it, and kiss Cuomo’s ass, accepting his whole platform, full of anti-union and pro-business planks. They, like the progressive unions which bankroll the WFP, are now working to elect a candidate who is a sworn enemy of the union movement and of the working class as a whole.

In closing, I echo the FRSO/OSCL statement. Fellow NYers, this Tuesday, please vote for Charles Barron and the Unity Party! Or, if you are so inclined, vote for Howie Hawkins and the Greens. Or skip the governor's race on the ballot. But don't stab yourself in the back with a vote for Cuomo.


redFlags said...

Yesterday morning, a pair of 1199/SEIU canvassers came to my door. I wish I was surprised when they urged me to vote for Andrew Cuomo. I asked how they could campaign for a man who promised a frontal attack on organized labor.

"We're really trying to support Obama," the woman said in earnest. I laughed, since Obama got 90% of the vote in my neighborhood.

"Everything good he promised he lied, everything bad he did. Why should I support him? Card check? Nope. Single payer? Nope. Peace? Nope. Civil liberties? Nope. Can you tell me one thing he's done worth supporting?"

"Yeah, that's true," the man said. "Are you some kind of socialist?"

"Some kind," I said, introducing myself and shaking their hands. "We have a real fight on our hands and it's not in the voting booth. Maybe Charles Barron?"

They both then told me they were paid to campaign for the Dems, and expressed their frustration with the situation. This while watching Jon Stewart's Rally for Ironic Detachment on the tv.

Hegemonik said...

This is a case where "labor" or "the unions" are a meaningless and over-broad category, and where we have to read between the lines of our enemy's statements.

It is absolutely true that Cuomo will seek to break labor. But even he, with all his well-known bravura, won't try to do this all-at-once. His statements are explicitly aimed at public employees, because one of the easiest targets in a crabs-in-a-barrel economy is the public employee retirement system.

While the attack is obvious and will have severe impact on all labor –when public employees have to work additional years before retirement, the competition in the jobs market will be that much more dog-eat-dog– it's the panicked reaction that is much more insidious and damaging.

It was not just the WFP but the AFL-CIO and SEIU that endorsed Andrew Cuomo. The unspoken underlying logic is appalling: they will tolerate an attack on the public sector, and even bless it to some degree, as long as they get to negotiate what happens subsequently. In other words: after shafting X number of public sector workers, the AFL-CIO (particularly its construction trades unions) and SEIU are hoping that they can get a piece of the action that will come with further privatization.

So our task is not as easy as simply pointing at Andrew Cuomo and saying he's an asshole. It will be a deeper fight than that. We will have to examine motives, force the tough questions, and once again start asking the most basic of questions in the labor movement: "Which side are you on?"