The TA just doesn’t get it. In 1999 we were ready to break the Taylor Law and Giuliani’s anti-strike injunctions to win a decent contract. The Willie James leadership sold us out. So we replaced them with leaders who promised to confront the bosses. Now strike talk is spreading through the ranks.
But the TA is playing hardball in negotiations. They have rejected our most modest demands and are provocatively taking steps to attack our jobs and working conditions. The TA is making it clear: we must prepare to strike to win our contract demands.
The Union opened negotiations demanding reforms to the grievance and discipline process. Every year the TA’s “Plantation Justice” unjustly slaps thousands of Local 100 members with charges and targets Black, Latino and immigrant members for a disproportionate amount of persecution. But TA chief negotiator Dellaverson sneered that they “have nothing to apologize for.”
The TA still refuses to pay enough into the HBT to keep it functioning till contract expiration – unless the Union is willing to discuss “productivity savings.”
Most recently, management launched a new attack, announcing they’ll “immediately” begin restructuring the MTA. They plan to create a Regional Train and Bus Company combining all NYS-based suburban rails, subways, and metro area bus lines (including the private lines), into single authorities. This will mean layoffs, attacks on our seniority and pick rights, reductions in civil service status (particularly in busses), and will take the right to strike away from Private Lines workers who are not now covered by the Taylor Law.
The TA’s rejection of our demands and their new attacks aim to test our commitment to our contract demands. We have the power to beat back the TA’s attacks and win our demands. But more tough talk and demonstrations by the Local leadership will not be enough to do the job. We’ve got to mobilize now! We must show the TA and politicians that if they force us, we’re prepared to strike and shut the city down to win our just demands.
Many transit workers already support the idea of striking. But those who aren’t yet convinced should also support the call for strike preparations. Only a real strike threat will test whether the TA can be forced to back down without one. Otherwise the TA could force us into an unprepared strike – something none of us want.
Compared to past Local 100 leaders, the Toussaint leadership has done a lot more to organize our contract struggle. They’ve mobilized protests including the recent demonstrations on NYCT’s own property against the “Medical Assessment Centers” which shook management up. And they’ve issued regular bulletins with some basic news about the negotiations.
But Toussaint & Co. have never answered the most important question: what’s their strategy for winning our contract demands? If the TA refuses to accept our demands, are Toussaint & Co. prepared to lead a strike to win them?
Strike sentiment is burning through the ranks. Thousands ask: will Toussaint take us out on strike? Toussaint and Co. have sometimes stated that they don’t rule out a strike, and other times that they will do everything possible to avoid a strike. Though Toussaint has never explained his strategy, he seems to hope that giving speeches to a succession of rallies and other mobilizations will force the TA to make an offer which he can sell to the ranks.
But the Toussaint leadership opened negotiations with the TA early hoping to get a quick settlement and it’s gotten us nothing. We’ve held protests that have surprised the TA, but management still feels strong enough to demand concessions. More protests are needed to build our unity and strength. But it’s going to take the threat of much more drastic action to get the TA to take us seriously. With the TA playing hardball, it’s time for Toussaint & Co. to tell us where they stand: are they ready to lead the Local in a strike if the TA won’t give in to our demands?
Last year Toussaint supported the TA’s plan for a regional bus company til rank and file pressure made him back away from it. This time he made clear that he opposes the TA’s proposed restructuring. But Toussaint did not warn the TA that continuing their current course will trigger a powerful strike. His response sounds instead like an attempt to avoid mobilizing our real power.
Toussaint complained that “This is the first time we are hearing of this [restructuring plan]. They didn’t think they had to talk with anyone.” (The Chief, Nov. 1) He then announced that Local 100 will soon unveil its own restructuring plan which is currently circulating among union consultants. Unfortunately Toussaint also didn’t think he had to talk to the union about this. Not only didn’t he tell the Local 100 ranks, even Executive Board and Committee members knew nothing of it until Toussaint told the media!
The few details Toussaint has leaked aim to create a “People’s MTA” in which management, the union and riders’ representatives decide together on the system’s operations. Currently the union’s and riders’ representatives to the MTA’s governing board have no vote. According to The Chief, Toussaint wants them to get a vote in the future. But these two votes will be insignificant against the overwhelming pro-management majority on the MTA Board. It will only give democratic window dressing to management’s decisions, making it harder for Local 100 to fight against management’s attacks.
But Local 100 already has an effective veto power over the TA: the power to strike! Toussaint’s counter-proposal to work cooperatively with management shows that he is avoiding even a threat to use that power. Toussaint seems to prefer lobbying the State Legislature – a dead end for workers. Such a weak response will only encourage management to step up its attacks.
Most members believe that Toussaint & Co. will lead the Local in the actions necessary to win our contract demands. But with contract expiration fast approaching and Toussaint & Co. dancing around the question of a strike, it’s time for the ranks to step in and show they’re ready to take the struggle all the way to victory.
Militant workers should use Divisional and other meetings to argue for the Local to start preparing to strike. And they should put their elected leaders on the spot and demand that they support strike preparations.
But militant workers need a Local-wide forum in which to make their voices heard. For the moment, the only Local-wide meetings that can be used this way are the “Shop Steward Assemblies,” which are open to all members. The leadership now mobilizes Shop Stewards to carry out policy decided at the top. But the Shop Stewards, in daily touch with the ranks, sharply feel the pressure to prepare for a strike in deeds, not just occasional, vague words. Many stewards themselves sincerely desire Local strike preparation and are looking for ways to organize it. At recent stewards’ meetings they’ve been asking the leadership whether it is prepared to strike, and have received only vague answers.
Particularly if lots of militant workers attend, the Shop Steward Assemblies could put real pressure on the Toussaint leadership to declare themselves for a strike if the TA doesn’t give in to our demands. This would strengthen the ranks’ militancy and put a real scare into management and the politicians.
If Toussaint & Co. acknowledge that continued hardball by the TA will lead to a strike, the next step would be obvious. The Shop Steward Assemblies could become an organizing center for strike preparations, sending out teams to explain to the ranks how the Taylor Law can be beaten, and winning their support for an all-out struggle to win our demands.
The next Shop Steward Assemblies are November 7, at 10 am and 5 pm. All members who want the Local to prepare for a strike should attend and begin to make these assemblies into the voice and organizer of militants from the bottom up! Others in the Local who claim to stand for militant mobilization and union democracy, like the supporters of Rank and File Advocate, should join with us to build this effort.
If the Shop Steward Assemblies become a real voice for militant workers, the situation inside Local 100 will undergo a big change. So far the discussion of contract strategy has been confined to Toussaint and a few close advisors. The ranks have had little choice but to stand by, waiting to see if Toussaint & Co.’s strategy delivers anything. Suddenly militant workers would be actively involved in the planning and organization of the struggle. It would lead toward the General Membership Meetings Toussaint must call. There, the members must be able to raise motions, discuss and hold binding votes on Local Contract strategy!
Many Local 100 members already support the idea that the Local should prepare to strike. Some have already decided that the Local will have to strike to win its demands. Others still hope that the threat of a strike will force the TA and politicians to give in to our demands. RTW is ready to unite with all workers who favor preparing to strike. But we make no secret of the fact that we believe that the Local will have no choice but to strike.
The TA and politicians have an ambush planned for us next month. To help re-elect Governor Pataki in early November, Mayor Bloomberg and he made a deal to not act on a massive budget crisis until after the elections. The City is projected to have a $1 billion budget shortfall for this year, and another $5 billion shortfall for next year. The State also can’t pay its bills. So billionaire Bloomberg is starting to announce elements of a new budget to be released next month featuring huge cuts to spending on social service like education and health care (as well as withdrawing the City’s funding of the MTA), tax hikes, tens of thousands of layoffs and giveback union contracts. Pataki can also be expected to announce attacks that aim at making the working class pay for the economic crisis.
The TA and politicians figure that in the middle of a regional economic crisis where all workers are being told to sacrifice, they’ll be able to bully us into accepting a giveback contract. But the economic crisis not only means that we’ll have to strike to win our contract demands. The fact that the working class will be expected to pay for the bosses’ falling profits will make it even easier for us to win popular support for our strike. As the most powerful workers’ organization in the city, Local 100 will have the opportunity to lead a fightback against all the anti-working class attacks.
This perspective runs directly against the lie that workers on the one hand, and the bosses and their politicians on the other, have a common interest to work together. One source of the MTA and City’s funding crisis is that they must pay Wall Street interest on bonds and loans they exchanged to finance their operations. When Wall Street fears their profits won’t come in, they don’t hesitate to strike by refusing to buy more bonds or issue more loans. When management and the politicians demand that we tighten our belts, it’s so that the big financiers can get fatter.
A transit strike would give the capitalists a taste of their own medicine. Without us transporting millions every day to and from work, this city can’t run. A transit strike would shut down profit-making for the capitalists until we win our demands. We could bring Wall Street to its knees quickly. We can make the capitalists pay for their profit crisis.
But that will mean going beyond the approach of the Toussaint leadership. They continue to promote cooperating with management in spite of the latter’s escalating attacks, and they seek to avoid unleashing our power by promoting dependence on lobbying politicians at every turn. Just consider Toussaint & Co.’s campaign against a transit fare hike.
The big transit fare hike planned by the politicians will in effect be a massive tax increase on the working class. They plan to blame the hike on our “selfish” contract demands and use this to turn the rest of the working class against us. It’s obvious that Local 100 must take the lead in the struggle against this.
Recognizing this, Toussaint & Co. have built a “Save the Fare” campaign, with the formal help of “community organizations” and pressure groups like the Straphangers’ Campaign. Dozens of Local 100 members have passed out leaflets warning riders of the likely fare increase and urging them to fill-out pre-printed post cards to Governor Pataki begging him to stop it.
Several thousand riders have contacted Pataki to express their opposition to a fare hike. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this: we workers often have to place demands on the capitalists and their politicians. Press conferences and letter-writing campaigns can play a role. Sometimes bad publicity can win partial, temporary gains from the politicians, as with last year’s successful campaign against token booth closings.
What is wrong, however, is to spread the illusion that by themselves, such campaigns can defeat major capitalist attacks; or the worse illusion that union “political action” (members voting every few years) can set major government policy. As loyal servants of the capitalists, the politicians are committed to raising the transit fare as part of their plan to save the capitalists’ falling profits. It will take a much more powerful threat than bad publicity to force them to back down. Perhaps Toussaint & Co. figure that the fare will rise to $1.75 and not the $2 that is being talked about, in which case they could claim a partial victory. But that would still screw the working class and set us up to be blamed.
Moreover, a letter-writing campaign doesn’t encourage the working class to develop a sense of the power it has when it unites in struggle. And that’s exactly what it needs to beat back all of the capitalists’ attacks. Rather, the “Save the Fare” campaign feeds into workers’ sense of powerlessness and dependence on the capitalist Democratic and Republican politicians.
The alternative is mass working-class struggle. Local 100 is in an excellent position to wage this struggle: a supporter of RTW raised and the Contract Policy Committee and EB passed unanimously a contract demand for No Bus or Subway Fare Hikes or Service Cuts. If the MTA forces us to strike, that should be one of the demands we strike for. We would immediately become the defenders of the whole working class.
With our power to move the city or stop it cold, we could win this victory for our fellow workers and point the way for future struggles. In fact if the politicians play hardball with our strike while pressing ahead with their planned attacks on other unions and the whole working class, a transit strike could be the spark needed to bring the whole working class out in a general strike! Thus a transit workers’ strike this year could start reversing past decades of attacks on the working class.
RTW is ready to join with every militant worker who wants to push for the Local to be prepared to strike to win its contract demands. And for as long as the Toussaint leadership is taking steps forward in the struggle, we’ll stand behind them in a united struggle.
But an all-out struggle for our demands, let alone against all the anti-working class attacks, will deal a body blow to the capitalists. Only a revolutionary socialist leadership can be relied on to threaten the system by leading such a struggle because only it is dedicated to the system’s overthrow.
Mass working-class struggles against the capitalist attacks are inevitable. Through such struggles more and more workers will come to see that their class has the power to not just beat back the attacks but to overthrow the capitalist system and build a classless society of abundance and freedom: a socialist society. In the course of the current transit struggle RTW and its supporting organization, the League for the Revolutionary Party, hope to get in touch with other transit workers who are thinking along these lines. Together we can not only play a decisive role in the current contract struggle. By joining to build a revolutionary socialist party we can prepare to lead even greater struggles in the future.