Next month, millions of New Yorkers will head to the polls hoping to defeat Republicans and open the door to progressive change in the state. But if we are going to win bold change in Albany, it will require a massive struggle against Governor Andrew Cuomo and his big business backers. That’s why Socialist Alternative urges people to not vote for Cuomo. Instead, we encourage people to register a protest in the election by voting for Howie Hawkins. More importantly, we urge everyone to get involved and help build a mass movement in 2019, and to demand bold action on healthcare, housing, inequality, racism and more.
Cuomo Maneuvers Against Progressives
The Democrats have a two-to-one voter registration advantage statewide, and Republican candidate Marc Molinaro is highly unlikely to beat Cuomo. With a blue wave sweeping through New York this fall, it’s also increasingly likely that down-ballot races will flip leadership of the State Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. There is a big mobilization under way to help make this happen.
Many progressives have hopes that complete Democratic Party control over Albany will result in the passage of bold progressive change in 2019. We should fight against all obstacles in the way of progressive change in Albany. But we can’t rely on a Democratic Party majority next year to stand up to Cuomo and big business.
Cuomo has already begun to maneuver against the left. He recently announced an alliance with a group of Long Island Democrats, whose potential victories over Republicans could deliver a majority for Cuomo’s party and hold the balance of power in the Senate. Together, they have pledged to essentially divide the suburbs against New York City and particularly progressive movements in the city. Their priorities included promises to keep property taxes capped, make New York City pay for the MTA, and increase public investment in infrastructure projects.
They also promised some things that are generally worth supporting, like enshrining abortion rights in state law and reforming ethics and voting laws. In other words, Cuomo will pursue an agenda with a progressive veneer in areas that don’t threaten corporate power or profit.
Fight for a “People’s Agenda”
At the very least, this agenda is too little, too late. It’s too little because it rejects popular progressive measures like the New York Health Act or closing pro-developer loopholes in New York’s expiring rent laws. It’s too late because any progressive legislation that Cuomo may support should have been passed years ago.
As Cynthia Nixon’s campaign reminded us: it was Cuomo who helped form the right-wing Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) to deliver control of the Senate to the Republicans. This decisively blocked progressive legislation for years. In truth, every progressive reform under Cuomo required enormous pressure from below against his resistance. At the end of the day, he loyally serves the interests of big business, developers, speculators and the rich – not working people, tenants, and the poor.
What we need next year is a fight against Cuomo and his big business backers. We need to build an independent mass campaign to demand a “People’s Agenda” that aims to unite broad layers of working people around our common interests and against the opposition of big business and the political establishment. Such an agenda should include things like the New York Health Act, strong pro-tenant rent reforms, ending cash bail, and a major tax increase on Wall Street to provide the money we need everywhere in the state to fully fund education, healthcare, housing, and transit.
Casting a Protest Vote
To strengthen the ground for such a fight, the left, progressives and socialists should not support a vote for Cuomo in November. The stronger the vote that Cuomo gets, the more he will claim a mandate to bowl over the left next year. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent comments on CNN went too far in support of the governor. DSA-NYC was correct to say in response: “An endorsement for Cuomo suggests that working people across New York should accept him as an ally, when the opposite is true.”
We disagree with the decision of the Working Families Party (WFP) to endorse Cuomo. Cynthia Nixon’s campaign rallied hundreds of thousands of people against Cuomo’s establishment politics. We should fully keep that momentum going. We can’t wait for elections in 2020, 2022, or 2024. We need to begin building a well-organized and massive fightback now. Nixon and the WFP should have run all the way until November and used the campaign to build a movement.
The WFP now faces an uncertain future. Cuomo will not forget they supported Nixon in the primary, and he is not known to be very forgiving. The WFP should not let itself be bullied. They should fight back and help lead the opposition to Cuomo and big business. They should move to reject corporate cash, not endorse corporate candidates, and base their strategy on building struggles as the decisive way to win reforms. Ultimately, Socialist Alternative argues a new mass party completely independent of corporate cash is needed.
Instead of voting for Cuomo, we call on progressives and socialists to register a protest in the election by voting for Howie Hawkins who is a socialist, a retired Teamster, and a consistent voice for working people. However, it’s not enough to simply register a protest vote, and one problem with the Green Party is that it has failed to demonstrate an ability to develop as a fighting organization outside of elections (in turn, this has weakened its appeal in elections). That’s why we are also calling on the left, progressives, and socialists to immediately start preparing a serious fight against Cuomo and his big business backers.
Build a Mass Movement in 2019
Together with New York’s vibrant left, including Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Make the Road, housing groups, unions, along with prominent left leaders like Ocasio-Cortez, Julia Salazar, Cynthia Nixon, Hawkins and others, we have a huge opportunity to build on the momentum of progressive campaigns of the last year and immediately begin building toward a united mass movement in 2019.
Many organizations are already working hard for to gear up for a fight next year. Cuomo is also gearing up and he will try to divide us up into competing interest groups forced to fight with each other over crumbs. We need a strategy to push back against this by basing our efforts on building a united mass movement that fights for what’s needed.
Toward this end, we should not orient our efforts toward lobbying the Democratic Party, which is dominated by Cuomo and big business. Even the most honest politicians don’t have a real counterweight to Cuomo and big business unless they base themselves on a mass movement outside the legislature. Our efforts should primarily be geared toward rallying support from the broad mass of working people in New York and with an aim to activate tens of thousands to demand the legislature enact the change we need. When mass movements, organizing and mass actions start to pose a credible threat of a radical alternative to the status quo, that’s when we win big historic reforms.
While we need to be realistic about what’s possible, it’s conceivable that a protest of 10,000 people in Albany could be organized at the start of next year to demand a “People’s Agenda.” A serious mobilization could be used to begin to turn passive support for progressive policies into active and organized support in 2019. If groups like DSA, NYCC, Make the Road, the WFP, along with leaders like Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar, Hawkins and others put their full weight into such a mobilization, we could lay the basis for an escalation of mass action throughout the legislative session.
Over the next weeks we could start by holding meetings and rallies around New York to discuss the issues and fire up a wider layer of people to fight. The activist layer around DSA, NYCC, Make the Road, Socialist Alternative, and others could be the basis for building organizing committees in neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools to provide a scaffolding to involve broader layers of people in building a movement.
Build the Socialist Movement
The election of Julia Salazar to the State Senate and the growth of an organized socialist movement of thousands of people in New York is an important new development. With the right approach, Salazar, DSA and the socialist movement could play a pivotal role in helping build a movement. We would urge socialists in New York to study the role of Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative in Seattle. There are important lessons from how we used elected office to build a movement and win the first major $15 an hour legislation in the U.S. By basing our office on movements outside City Hall we have avoided the pitfalls that come with the real pressures of elected office under capitalism.
While there are opportunities for the left in New York, the victory of Trump and the rise of far-right populism around the world should serve as a big warning. Capitalism is in crisis. The system cannot deliver like it used to, and if we don’t break with establishment politics and build a powerful movement of working people to fight for an alternative — socialism — then the massive alienation in society can and will be mobilized behind right populism in the future, even in “blue” New York.
This makes 2019 a critical year for challenging establishment politics. Don’t vote for Cuomo. Join us in building a fight against him now. Vote Hawkins and help us campaign for a fighting strategy as part of building a broader fight for what working people need, and not what the billionaire class says their system can afford.