|Many New Yorkers blame Wall Street for the state's crippling budget deficit [GALLO/GETTY]
In the shadow of towering colonial-style office buildings of the world's most powerful financial district, a crowd over 5,000-strong amassed outside Manhattan's City Hall last Thursday, chanting "the people united will never be defeated!"
As the contagious effects of democratic uprisings radiate from North Africa to North America, New York City's exploited workers and students are not about to let the opportunity for mass struggle pass them by.
The "Day of Rage Against the Cuts" has been in the works for over four months, ever since New York's recently appointed Democrat governor Andrew Cuomo openly declared his intention to slash spending on public education and healthcare and lacerate the budget previously allocated to state agencies by over half a billion dollars in order to close an estimated budget gap of $10 mn.
"I am fed up with Bloomberg and Cuomo taxing students and hiking tuition," said Sarah Anees, a graduate student at the City University of New York (CUNY).
"Passing a 100-dollar million budget cut on CUNY means less financial aid assistance, fewer professors, more decrepit buildings and no daycare services for student-parents," Anees said.
"Working class students can no longer shoulder the brunt of a budget deficit that we did not create," she added. "We didn't start this crisis – Wall Street did."
In a risky, and unapologetically conservative, move, Cuomo announced in February that the budget for Medicaid services and local school aid would be cut by $2.85 bn each, closing half the supposed state deficit.
Following his presentation of the new budget, the New York Times reported in early February that as a result of the truncated spending, potential losses of federal matching funds would roughly double the Medicaid cut, bringing spending on those programs down by a projected three billion dollars more.
Additionally, Cuomo shamelessly laid bare his intentions to delay the 1.93 billion-dollar allocation for local schools, mandated by a 2006 ruling from New York's highest court following tireless lobbying from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, an immense coalition of education groups in the city.
The court-authorised expenditure was designed largely to serve schools in low-income communities where the standard of education has been in sharp decline for decades.
Said a spokesperson for the South Bronx Community Congress, "this is the beginning of unity between people of colour, immigrant communities and white working class people in New York."
"We have allowed many factors to divide us in the past," he said, "but now Bloomberg and Cuomo have accomplished what their predecessors failed to do – bringing together all these different forces. Today marks the birth of a new, multi-ethnic alliance."
Dismal disparity, bona fide rage
As thousands of protesters poured onto Wall Street chanting "When they say cut back, we say fight back", flayers and leaflets, detailing the stark contradictions in Cuomo's budgetary policies, rained over demonstrators' heads.
According to the department of Economics at the University of Berkley, California, New York State rebates 15 billion dollars annually in stock transfer taxes to Wall Street.
This potential revenue to the state is lost in the hands of the richest one percent of New York's population, whose income share is currently 44 per cent of total New York State income.
Additionally, Cuomo and senate majority leader Dean Skelos proposed a termination of the Millionaires' Tax that brings in 1.5 billion dollars, and refused to reinstate the 50 per cent tax on bankers' bonuses, which would bring in 10 billion dollars in state revenue.
Small wonder, then, that the bulk of some 4,000 banners and placards read "Tax the Rich", a spectacle that drew scores of police barricades and state security personnel to the scene. As the enormous line of bodies moved through the streets, workers from nearby offices – some in suits, others in janitors' uniforms – ran outside to join the protesters.
"New York City has the greatest income inequality in the whole country and this is a disgrace," said a representative of the Socialist Alternative.
"What is particularly scandalous is that we don't impose even a basic transfer tax, or a sales tax, on the tycoons on Wall Street – if they were forced to pay a penny for every sales transaction they made, that money would more than cover the budget shortfall," he added.
Sándor John, a faculty member at CUNY, chastised the union leadership for its collaboration with the architects of what he calls a "bipartisan assault" on the working class in the United States.
"Ever since Roosevelt's New Deal, the union leadership has been politically subordinate to the Democratic Party," he said. "But now we must acknowledge that none of us here today can hope to achieve anything by remaining in an alliance with the people who are carrying out this campaign."
"The attack on public education is not being spearheaded by the Tea Party," continued John. "The people at the forefront of the campaign for 'merit pay' and charter schools is Barack Obama and the Democratic Party," he added.
"What we are facing as workers, as students, as fighters, is a bi-partisan attack, which has chained the power of the working people to capitalism for decades – if we are going to defeat this, we are going to have to defeat capitalism and this requires a break from both the Republicans and Democratic parties that are part of this coalition."
As the march petered out two hours after the initial gathering, many protesters expressed their commitment to an ongoing fight.
"As long as lay-offs continue, the struggle will continue," a member of the Freedom Party said. "People's anger might not yet be perfectly organised – but the fury exists and it's here to stay."
Kanya D'Almeida is a US activist on human rights issues. She writes on a wide range of topics - including homophobia, immigration, environmental issues and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This article was first published by IPS.