How They Rammed Through
The plan to hold a CUNY-Wide “7K or Strike” Conference was initiated by CUNY Contingents Unite members last fall, to “build, deepen and broaden support” for the “7K or Strike” slogan. Our adjunct comrades put in dozens of hours working on the conference, together with others, including those with whom we have significant political differences. Given that no strike at CUNY could win without massive support and participation by undergrads, students from the Internationalist Clubs and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth made building the conference a high priority in our work.
The event was originally designed for discussion, debate and organizing focusing on “linking up with undergrads; lessons from education workers’ strikes, labor, and immigrant-worker struggles in NYC and beyond; and how to overcome obstacles posed by New York State’s Taylor Law and CUNY’s multi-tier labor system, in order to build the kind of power and unity needed to win.”
Literature Ban Imposed
However, as noted in the accompanying article, these efforts so crucial for winning the 7K demand were stymied by imposition of an outright ban on any kind of leftist literature at the conference. This was carried out through insistence that the event be moved from the CUNY Graduate Center, where rooms had been obtained, to a venue (The People’s Forum) where, it was suddenly announced, distributing “outside” fliers and literature was prohibited, and anyone doing so would be “removed from the space by staff immediately.”
After a motion was passed at the “Adjuncts for 7K” organizing meeting, where the conference plans were voted, to uphold the right to distribute leftist literature at the event, the prohibition was reiterated via text message: “We do not allow for left political formations to distribute their newspapers or literature in our space regardless of where they fall on the left spectrum.” The contradiction with the previously approved motion to uphold workers democracy was “resolved” by a CUNY Struggle organizer administering an instant on-line “vote to amend” it into its opposite. How? With procedures for making amendments in meetings found on – the Oregon School Board Association website. Faced with the ultimatum to “accept” anti-communist censorship, those committed to workers democracy withdrew from the conference, while continuing to struggle and organize for 7K.
Among the labor, immigrant and student activists that had accepted invitations to participate in conference panels were Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (TIC – Class Struggle Immigrant Workers), the Laundry Workers Center, CUNY Internationalist Clubs, among others. Faced with the literature ban, they withdrew. Seven TIC activists – restaurant, construction, house-cleaning and taxi workers – sent a letter to those now in charge of the 7K or Strike Conference. It powerfully explained how bowing down to such a ban would be impossible given the importance that “leftist literature,” including their own, has played in their years building unions, fighting wage theft and sexual harassment, demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants, supporting women laundry workers in Harlem, building solidarity with Ayotzinapa, and other struggles, in which many of them have been fired by racist and sexist bosses.
After a week went by without the TIC’s letter being mentioned, let alone distributed, on the “Adjuncts for 7K” listserv, an activist opposed to the ban posted it. In response, the founding organizer of CUNY Struggle dismissed it with a post stating that “TIC is a group composed of members and affiliates of the Internationalist Group.” A few minutes later, another CUNY Struggle spokesman responded by posting an anti-communist song by an English-nationalist skinhead band called “Cock Sparrer,” which rails against leftists who try to sell “your press” to promote the “party line.” Titled “I Got Your Number,” the song is one of eight by Cock Sparrer featured on the “Rock Against Communism” Spotify list. Rightist, racist and outright fascist bands and songs on the same list feature names like “White Warrior,” “Stormtrooper,” “Patriotic Voice,” “British Pride,” “U.S. for Us,” “This Is America,” “Ultra Violence,” “Deutschland,” “Rocking the Reds,” etc.
The use of such a xenophobic and virulently anti-communist band as a response to the immigrant workers’ letter should, to say the least, have set off alarm bells. On the Adjuncts for 7K listserv, the activist who had posted the TIC letter noted Cock Sparrer’s fan base in the violent “football hooligan” milieu, a major recruiting ground for fascist groups in Britain and elsewhere. He cited the band’s xenophobic anthem “England Belongs to Me,” with its lyrics about “fighting all the way for the red, white and blue” (the song was released during British imperialism’s bloody Falklands War); and others like “Take ’Em All” (“put ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em”), “Secret Army,” “Droogs Don’t Run,” etc.
He also pointed out connections between Cock Sparrer and fascist violence here in New York City. In February 2017, outside a “Cock Sparrer After Party” celebrating a concert by the band in Brooklyn, two Columbia grad students were brutally beaten by 6-7 skinheads from the far-right “211 Crew.” The attack occurred outside the Clockwork bar on the Lower East Side, where the after-party was DJed by a white-supremacist 211 Crew member, after one of the students was seen with a “NYC Antifa” sticker on his phone. Shortly thereafter, the students were doxxed and vilified on line by the founder of the fascist Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes. This past October in New York, Proud Boys violently assaulted antifascists outside an appearance by McInnes.
How did CUNY Struggle react? Raging against the posting of these facts, its founder and best-known organizer declared himself a “life-long Cock Sparrer fan,” upheld the English-chauvinist group as a “beloved fixture of working-class street culture,” and called for the adjunct who had dared to raise these points to be “removed” from the Adjuncts for 7K listserv. And that was that: nobody objected or said anything further about it on the listserv. No wonder they were so intent on ramming through the anti-communist literature ban. For anyone genuinely committed to defense of the oppressed, this repulsive episode speaks volumes.
Enter “Left Voice”
With the anti-Internationalist hate campaign having done its work in the service of the anti-red ban, the conference – now transformed into a leftist-literature-free zone – was held on March 2. Forcing the class-struggle left to withdraw helped “free” reformist and liberal organizers from serious discussion of the real tasks and obstacles facing the struggle for 7K. Instead, the conference was to center on self-congratulatory happy talk avoiding real debate over how to mobilize the PSC ranks and CUNY students, linked with the power of the city’s working class, oppressed and immigrant communities; the question of the Taylor Law-enforcing Democratic Party; etc.
One of the panels scheduled for the 7K conference was supposed to address what would be needed to defeat this anti-strike law, and was to have been chaired by a CCU member and include a presentation by a Class Struggle Education Workers speaker. In the face of the leftist literature prohibition, they withdrew. At the March 2 conference, joining CUNY Struggle founder Jarrod Shanahan on the stage was a speaker representing “Left Voice” (part of the international media “network” of the “Fracción Trotskista”). Purveying a brand of left tailism inoffensive to the tastes of languid hipsters organically hostile to “vanguardism,” Left Voice had no problem with the anti-communist ban on leftist literature imposed on the conference. Indeed, one of the most vocal ban supporters, a regular contributor to its site, is now joining its editorial board; and Left Voice has been promoting CUNY Struggle with increasing avidity, a favor the latter has been happy to return.
Giving a presentation on New York State’s Taylor Law, Left Voice’s speaker at the conference laughingly portrayed the vicious anti-labor law, under which striking subway and bus workers were heavily fined and their union president jailed in 2005, as essentially a paper tiger – seen by the ruling class as “so ineffective at stopping strikes” – that can be broken with ease. What’s actually needed to take on the law and win a strike at CUNY – of this not a word. Flattering to adjunct-centric fantasies, such trivialization obscures the most urgent requirement for winning: bringing in the mass working-class power needed to defeat and shred the Taylor Law.
Virtually every real step in winning strikes, building fighting unions and advancing the cause of the working class in this country has been led by reds. Scorning attempts to silence and censor their revolutionary views, this legacy of struggle goes from the “Haymarket martyrs” whose frame-up gave rise to May Day; to Lucy Parsons; the “free speech fights” waged by Joe Hill, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Frank Little and other “Wobblies” (Industrial Workers of the World members) during World War One; the general strikes and factory occupations of the 1930s; the Trotskyist Teamsters imprisoned for their internationalist opposition to FDR’s imperialist war, and many others. Reviving this tradition of intransigent class struggle is essential to winning today. ■