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Interview with March 24 spokesperson

What makes this education action special?

Published Mar 23, 2011 9:54 PM

Larry Hales
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Larry Hales is a member of the CUNY Mobilization Network. Hales was a leading organizer of last year’s March 4 student-worker action in New York and of the upcoming March 24 demonstration set to march from City Hall to Wall Street as the workday ends. Hales is also a member of Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), a youth organization.

WW: What are the political goals of the March 24 demonstration?

Larry Hales: The goals for March 24 are to show a peoples’ response to the austerity being imposed by both Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the state level and Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the city level. That is a permanent attack against public sector workers and the working class in general. This attack manifests itself in two areas: cuts to vital social services — such as housing, health care and education — and thousands of proposed layoffs of K-12 teachers as Bloomberg tries to destroy seniority.

Also, there is the constant privatization and charterization of the public school system and the imposition of mayoral control over New York City schools through the Panel on Educational Policy. The mayor just picked Cathleen Black to be the school chancellor. Cathleen Black comes from the corporate world and has almost no experience in public education. She will serve a similar role to that of Michelle Rhee in D.C. Whether new charter schools are co-located in a public school space or by taking over formerly public school buildings, this leads to closing down schools in oppressed communities.

We are also seeking to open up a struggle by putting together a new coalition that is an alliance of students, labor and community groups. Such an alliance is needed and crucial to fight against these attacks. It can steel the movement politically to prepare for an offensive where we fight not only to repel the attacks one by one, but against the system that stands behind these attacks.

WW: What are the social forces involved in this demonstration? What has brought them together?

LH: The demonstration itself is part of the national student movement, which called for a month of action throughout March, culminating in a student strike on March 31. The student organization, CUNY Mobilization Network, called for a meeting with political forces at a forum in the South Bronx called by the Freedom Party and put together by the South Bronx Community Congress.

To avoid a date conflict with some of the New York City unions, the CUNY Mobilization Network moved the date of its action to March 24.

Some of the largest unions in the city — District Council 37 and DC 1707 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Professional Staff Congress, along with the United Auto Workers Region 9A, United University Professors at State University of New York Downstate, the Women’s Caucus of the Transport Workers Union, Teamsters Local 808, and the Graduate Student Organizing Committee at New York University (UAW Local 2110), among other unions — joined with the Freedom Party, South Bronx Community Congress, Coalition for Public Education, Bail Out the People Movement, Students for Educational Rights, Bayan USA and Anakbayan, United National Antiwar Committee, FIST, Workers World Party, International Socialist Organization, Freedom Socialist Party and the Green Party. Many other community groups and political organizations have endorsed and are actively mobilizing for what we are calling a Day of Rage.

WW: Why is this demonstration different from the demonstrations held last March 4 and Oct. 7 on education issues?

LH: We are starting at City Hall, because it is the center of New York City politics, but we are marching to Wall Street. That is significant. It is important to show that a massive amount of subsidies have been given to corporations, banks and financial institutions, as well as to the very wealthy. At the same time there has been a drop in revenue at all levels, partly because of the millions of jobs lost.

There is no real lack of money. But the banks are dictating the cuts in order not to interrupt debt servicing. This is what the International Monetary Fund does around the world. So you could call it the IMFization of the U.S. economy. More money ends up in the hands of financial institutions.

There are also hedge fund and bank schemes to get more of the public funds that are now spent on education and other social programs. Hedge funds get tax breaks for putting up money to finance charter schools, and then they receive money for leasing the spaces the schools are in.

The ruling class is using the systematic defunding of public education to their advantage. Naomi Klein wrote about this in her book, “The Shock Doctrine,” and Jonathan Kozol wrote about Wall Street speculators’ desire to get their hands on the billions spent on public education

Other political questions are part of the fight. These involve the indoctrination of young people, racism in public school curricula and transforming education.

Another thing making this demonstration different is the amount of support, which wasn’t there for the March 4 or Oct. 7 actions last year. This year there is a broad alliance of students, labor and community forces.

Changed conditions have created this, along with the constant work of many in the political struggle, especially the students. Wisconsin showed the importance of the energy of young people, and they are playing a decisive role. When the governor opened his attack, all sectors of the working class, including the students, saw this as a general attack against the working class.

I expect that on March 24 there will be a massive march on Wall Street — something that has not been seen in some time. There is an energy in the air. It’s palpable, and I think it may lead to greater struggles ahead in the city and state. Because New York is a political center and the center of world finance capital, it may reverberate around the country and bounce back to those parts of the world where there are already vital and clamorous struggles.

Hales was interviewed by Workers World managing editor John Catalinotto.