Taking back our building, our school, our education, our city.
I appreciate the sentiment of this flyer: rallies are NOT going to stop the school closings, Metrocard and transit cuts, or layoffs. We need more militant action.
However, this IS the time for more rallies, if they can be used to build stronger actions like occupations and strikes. Demonstrations are symbolic shows of strength (or weakness) unless they are coupled with effective means of making change directly, ourselves. They are often called by people who have no intention of carrying forward real struggle, like the UFT union bureaucrats, but who find themselves forced by mass momentum to do something or be swept aside.
We will not win our struggles through demonstrations. But we should use them as the opportunities they are to come together, organize, and mobilize our forces. We should take every opportunity to go to demonstrations and try to push them in more militant, radical directions (while avoiding the danger of the chilling effect of self-provoked repression).
All students, workers, and teachers should fight for walkouts, occupations and a general strike against the capitalist attacks at the same time we pressure the scumbag bureaucrats of UFT, TWU and other unions to join the fight by mobilizing their memberships through general membership meetings and demonstrations. We can use the power of the working-class only when we unfetter it from its misleaders.
We need to occupy a closing school to keep it open – and use the occupied space as a general assembly for a citywide general strike against all cuts to education and transit and all other attacks on the working class.
While some, especially the union bureaucrats, do not see the necessity for militant ACTION, demonstrations are still a legitimate participation in the same struggles we wage. We must coordinate our efforts as much as possible in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation. Students should take the initiative, however, to push the struggle forward with or without the “leaders”.
OCCUPY A CLOSING SCHOOL TO KEEP IT OPEN – AND BUILD A GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO SHUT THE CITY DOWN! Plan these occupations around the announced demonstrations, nearby in time and space, so that the people who come out to demonstrate support have the opportunity to defend and join occupations to build and escalate the struggle.
STUDENTS AND WORKERS NEED A GENERAL STRIKE!
I agree with many points Ben makes in this article. Certainly, occupations are one of the strongest weapons we have. CUNY students have used occupations many times in the past to win major victories, including the creation of open admissions in 1969. However, I do have several disagreements with this article.
First, the slogan ‘this is no time for a rally’ is misguided, and in fact does not accurately reflect what the author says later in the article when he writes that “more demonstrations may only be a way for us to wear ourselves out, or they could be a staging ground for more powerful action.” Likewise, a commenter on Ben’s website writes that “We will not win our struggles through demonstrations. But we should use them as the opportunities they are to come together, organize, and mobilize our forces.” I agree that demonstrations can be used to launch more militant actions, and that ultimately we will need to escalate our tactics to occupations, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of demonstrations as a tactic in their own right. In the past, CUNY and SUNY students have staged demos of ten to twenty-five thousand students in Albany and NYC that have succeeded in stopping or reducing tuition hikes and budget cuts. Demonstrations also do some things that occupations can’t: demonstrations are better at attracting and involving new people in a movement, and because they are capable of involving larger numbers of people than occupations, they can make a statement about the breadth of support for a movement that occupations can’t. In general, demonstrations and occupations should be seen as complementary, not counterposed. In fact, given the aggressiveness of the police against occupations in NYC, no occupation has any chance of success right now without a large and powerful support demonstration taking place outside the building being occupied.
Occupations can be very powerful, but they have to be used correctly. Occupy a building prematurely, without mass support among students, and you may find yourself isolated from the student body and vulnerable to a backlash, as happened last year at NYU and the later New School occupations. This movement is still in its early stages, and a poorly thought out occupation could set it back significantly. On the other hand, a well-timed occupation could be a huge leap forward. Careful thought is called for.
Second, the article doesn’t attempt to assess whether teachers and students in the anti-school closings movement are ready to undertake occupations. Has the author discussed this tactic with them, or is he projecting his own ideas onto others? If the actual people who are making the anti-school closings movement happen aren’t ready for occupations, then calling for occupations now is going to be futile, and possibly counter-productive. Organizers need to look for the next logical step for a movement, not try to force a movement to jump ahead of itself.
CUNY is a more likely target for occupations right now than the public schools, since CUNY organizers are aware of CUNY’s history and have already discussed the possibility of occupying buildings at CUNY when the time is right. But this is something that we should discuss together; as Ben points out, it’s not a good idea for a small group of activists to plan and undertake an occupation in secret.
Finally, I think the criticisms of TJC and of March 4 organizers use the latter as straw men. TJC does not think that there is nothing rank-and-file teachers can do on their own; if they did, they wouldn’t be organizing protests against school closings. March 4 organizers do not see March 4 as an isolated incident separate from the ongoing struggle to defend education.
Doug, thanks for responding quickly. I tried hard to get the article done before the meeting today so it’s nice it was read before then too.
First, I want to clarify that I do not support the slogan “this is no time for another rally” but I was using it to exemplify the need for more militant action as well. I also wanted to make the point that demonstrations are part and parcel of the same fight and can themselves be quickly escalated.
Second, you ask whether those in closing schools are prepared to occupy them. I do not have wide contact with people in the NY public school system, no. However, the occupation wave is not so parochial. There have been hundreds of occupations around the world in the last year. There were occupations at the Republic Windows factory in Chicago, New School and NYU here, and the occupation wave in California as well.
I raise the slogan of occupation because I believe it is an effective means of keeping closing schools open as well as broadening the education struggle. I am trying to engage in this discussion with those involved in the specific battle to keep the 19 closing schools open here. Admittedly these schools are being phased out, rather than shut up right away, so occupation probably seems like a less necessary means since they will remain “open” for some while anyway. But still, I am just offering a view on a tactic that I think will be necessary to carry forward the struggle here.
I do want to strongly agree that no occupation could be successful without mass support outside. But I think occupation could also be a way to mobilize the people who are affected by the cuts and attacks but do not see demonstrations as a real way to stop them. If students, parents and teachers occupied a closing school, the UFT could possibly be forced to mobilize its resources to defend the action (only to criticize it later, no doubt).
Finally, I wonder what exactly made me seem critical of March 4th organizers. I didn’t intend to come off this way. Today I hope to bring up the ideas from my article in the discussion about planning the March 4th route and location. In the article, I was appealing to the people who will be participating to think outside the protest box and start to think of radical, militant ways of challenging our situations.
On TJC, a group I have little familiarity with, I intended my remarks to simply point out the immediacy of the situation. Sure, TJC has been mobilizing outside the UFT and that’s just great. Union caucuses like this, though, very often fall into the union-electoralist trap and substitute it for real action. I hope TJC does not do that. So, my article was written in light of the fact that TJC has not posted anything to its website since after the PEP meeting. Are they going to let this vote stand without continuing to fight it just as before? I hope not.
Thanks for your response and ideas. Let’s continue to have tactical, strategic and theoretical discussion/debate even while we stand shoulder to shoulder against the capitalist drive to privatize education.
For reference the article Doug and I refer to is here: http://revolutionarydesire.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/march-4th-unifying-and-escalating-the-struggle-for-education-in-new-york/
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