The challenges of administering misery in the two New York Cities

An article looking at New York City as a new 'progressive' mayor takes power.

The background for our tale is the story of a more laborious problem: class. This appears as a specter haunting the Dickensian narrative emphasizing inequalities within the city which Mayor Bill de Blasio used during his campaign. But it also appears in the impending renegotiation of municipal labor contracts and the broadening social recognition that “stop and frisk” is criminal, as is the entire regime of mass incarceration.

All of the city’s unions are currently working under expired contracts. More gravely, the city’s housing projects (in poor districts) and the prisons are full of people who are treated as a surplus population, ghetto residents whose “contracts” with the city desperately need to be renegotiated. The strategy of de facto eviction through police terror and starvation has failed.

For the last 25 years, New York City has been two cities: a city of dreams for financiers and real estate operators and a lawless police state for the working class. Now the workers and the poor demand a new city. One where they will not be starved, imprisoned, and gunned down, one where they will have dignity on the streets and on the job.

The Tale of Two Cities that de Blasio used to channel the people of New York City into the voting booths is for them the tale of the Restoration City of the last 25 years in contrast with the new city that they demand in order to live with dignity— to live at all in many cases. These people expect changes after the 25-year neoliberal Dark Age in the city’s politics that began in 1989. Will de Blasio deliver that change or be an obstacle to it?

Indices of the character of the de Blasio administration are available for all who would look: the appointment of Bill Bratton as police commissioner and of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor give a disturbing premonition of the way the city’s human capital will be managed in the coming years.

Bratton’s distinguished record as a racist and apologist for police murder is not easily forgotten, nor is his pet theory of broken windows policing and his role as an architect of the “stop and frisk” policies that terrorize the ghettoes. And despite the near-total amnesia reflected in the press coverage of her appointment and the United Federation of Teachers’ pragmatic silence, there is a record of Carmen Fariña’s activities preserved in the memories of all rank-and-file teachers. She was an all-too-compliant appointee of the Bloomberg and Klein apparatus. She is famous for inventing an intense terrorist managerial style (the “gotcha” mentality), lording her power over her subordinates like a high school bully surrounding herself with a pack of sycophants and lashing out against the losers. And she is infamous for her embezzlement of funds and other criminalities. The list goes on…

What, then, can we expect? Neoliberalism 2.0: neoliberalism without neoliberals. Although the de Blasio administration has claimed to offer changes from the way things were done under the archneoliberal prince Michael Bloomberg, they only offer us nominal ameliorations of inequalities, the better to preserve inequality.

Luckily, “expectation” does not equal “fate.” We can act to change the course of things. We are in a particularly strong position to do so at the current time, which brings us back to the working class. The city has a number of issues on the class front: the fast-food strikes, the renegotiation of union contracts, the legal recognition of the need to end the terror inflicted on residents of public housing and other socially neglected zip codes. What is the working class prepared to do? General strike? Riot? Demand the release of our brothers and sisters from the prisons? Demand the end of the starvation of our communities?

A mass strike is the only rational response. Insofar as the working class— from the homeless freezing beneath a bed of newspapers to the wage slave chasing the clock through a fairly wellpadded nightmare—shows itself as being prepared for a mass strike, we can see the birth of a hospitable world. One where we don’t let each other starve, where our friends and neighbors will be emancipated from racist prisons, where our parents and friends will no longer work full time and still have to beg the bosses’ state for food stamps, where our “bosses” will no longer have the power to enslave us with clocks and statistical tables.