First Class Contract or Strike!

In months of “negotiations” the TA has offered us nothing. They think we’re not serious about our demands. Local 100’s ranks have been largely sidelined while our officials negotiate. We must make our voices heard. We must show the TA we’re ready to back our demands with action.

That’s why the ranks at the General Membership Meetings must be able to discuss and vote on how to wage our contract struggle. The meetings should not be just another forum for President Toussaint and other officials to speechify and answer questions.

Militant workers must have a strategy to mobilize the Local to win our demands. RTW is joining with other militant workers at the Membership Meetings to support a three step motion to build the struggle and win our demands. Below we explain how.

TA Plays Games With Our Lives

This contract is about our ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones with a good and rising standard of living. As the deaths of two of our brothers on the tracks showed, it’s a matter of life and death. But the TA is treating negotiations like a game. They:

If two Local 100 members had to die to win a few of our safety demands, it’ll take a massive struggle to win our other demands. The TA’s hardball tactics are part of the Mayor’s and Governor’s plan to make the working class pay for the economic crisis.

Our power to shut New York down makes us potentially the strongest union in the city. If we prepare to strike and make clear that we’re doing it to defend the rest of the working class from fare hikes and service cuts, as well as for our own demands, we could win massive public support. We could force the TA and politicians to give in to our demands. And we could win amnesty from all Taylor Law penalties as well (see The Taylor Law: Only As Strong As the Paper It’s Written On). Even workers who are not yet convinced of the need to strike should support strike preparation: threatening a strike is the only way to see if we can force the TA to give in without one. And it’s the only way to be ready if the TA provokes a strike.

Where Does Toussaint Stand?

The Local is afire with talk of a strike. Many members have been arguing for a strike, others are uncertain. Lately, some workers have been arguing against a strike. In this debate, every member of the Local is speaking up, except for President Toussaint. So far he’s played along with management by not coming out for a strike. Sure he occasionally says he won’t rule out a strike. And there have been some job actions against unsafe work conditions, worksite protests and a couple of mass rallies. But Toussaint has avoided answering the most important question: is he prepared to lead a strike? Some argue that this is smart – it keeps the MTA guessing. Unfortunately, it keeps the members guessing a lot more and allows fear of striking to grow.

Worse still, you never know which Roger you’re going to hear. To the media he has often struck a moderate tone. Most recently, and shockingly, the New York Times (Nov. 30) reported that Toussaint “gave hints of moderation, noting that the results of the [negotiations] would be ‘conditioned by the current circumstances.’ He also noted that when his union went on strike for seven weeks against three private bus lines in Queens last summer, he argued against a walkout.” The same article says that if “the deficit-plagued authority [were] more accommodating on non-economic issues, most notably safety and discipline,” Toussaint could be open to reaching an agreement.

So Toussaint apparently finds the MTA’s poor-mouthing a reason to avoid a strike and sacrifice our “economic” demands like health care and wages. No way! What he should do is reject the TA’s crying poor. The TA’s lied about being in debt before, and who knows how they spend their money. First, we have to demand that the TA open their books to show how they’re spending their money. If they are in debt, we have to demand that the state and federal governments increase funding of the transit system.

Toussaint may feel able to talk moderately to the media and bosses. But he doesn’t feel so comfortable with the Local membership, who are in a fighting mood and are serious about their contract demands. That pressure will force Toussaint to adopt a militant posture in the Membership Meetings. He may even move for a strike authorization vote. If President Toussaint takes steps forward in the struggle against the TA, we will support him. But given his recent hints of a bad compromise, we can’t afford to go along with a vote that gives Toussaint and his Executive Board a blank check to call a strike if they wish, or call one off for an unsatisfactory contract. The only strike motion we should support is one that exactly specifies our demands and is clear that a strike will begin on December 16 if the TA hasn’t gone a long way toward satisfying them.

First Class Contract or Strike!

RTW is preparing to join with other militants to move a three step plan that spells out the Local’s demands and what we will do if the TA doesn’t go a long way toward meeting them by contract expiration. We urge all members to support it.

1. Vote to Reaffirm Our Key Contract Demands

Toussaint’s reported hints at moderating our contract demands has only encouraged the TA to demand more concessions. President Toussaint raised the contract slogan “Second Class No More!” We have to show that we mean it and will accept nothing less than a First Class Contract. We must start by voting to affirm our key contract demands:

Since the TA has pushed us this far, we have to add a new demand:

2. Make Clear That TA Hardball Will Trigger a Strike

For months the TA has gotten away with not taking our demands seriously and demanding concessions. We’ve got to show the TA that continued stonewalling will result in a strike. A clear strike threat from a confident and united union will do more to move negotiations forward in one day than months of b.s. We should not just vote to authorize the Executive Board to call a strike if it wishes – that would give them the power to call off a strike and accept a bad contract. The membership is the union and we must decide these questions in our Membership Meetings. We have to vote to strike if the TA hasn’t gone a long way toward satisfying our demands by contract expiration on December 15. No Contract – No Work! First Class Contract or Strike!

3. Prepare the Local to Strike!

A threat to strike is serious. It can’t just be in words. The Local must prepare to strike if we are to back the TA down. So far the ranks have been sidelined as the Local’s officers negotiated with management. Strike preparation can finally involve the ranks in deciding on and organizing actions like Local-wide and Divisional rallies, shop-gate meetings and picket assignments and publicizing how we can win amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. The way to do this is to vote to create a Local 100 Strike Preparation Council to discuss and decide on strike preparation. This Council should begin meeting the day after the General Membership Meetings and continue to meet often after that.

We must emphasize and publicize our contract demand for no fare hikes or service cuts. We should tell the rest of the area working class that if the MTA makes us strike, that’ll be one of the things we re striking for. This will defeat the TA and politicians’ plan to turn the working class public against us, and show the way forward against all the other current anti-working class attacks.

The City and State Budget Crisis

The MTA and politicians plan to use the massive city and state budget crisis to try to make us accept a give-back contract. Both the City and State face multi-billion dollar budget deficits. Mayor Bloomberg has announced huge budget cuts and tax hikes to cover the City s deficit and Governor Pataki will surely act similarly.

Bloomberg’s plan of tax hikes and service cuts aims at balancing the budget on the backs of the working class and poor. His plan particularly targets unions, threatening to lay off thousands of city workers if the unions don’t agree to $600 million in givebacks, including longer work days and new health care payments.

If we prepare to strike for our contract demands, the politicians will condemn us as being greedy. They’ll say: If all New Yorkers have to share the pain, what makes transit workers special? But the Mayor has a personal fortune worth billions of dollars and could pay for the budget deficit by himself! More important, we should be clear who the debt is owed to. The City currently pays $2.3 billion a year to service debts to Wall Street. Many of the original loans have already been repaid several times over, but the City is still paying interest! In other words, the deficit is really Wall Street’s demand for more profits. The answer is for the working class to fight to Repudiate the Debt to the Banks and Corporations and to Make the Capitalists Pay for Their Economic Crisis!

Because of the economic crisis, the politicians and MTA are playing hardball with us and making it necessary for us to strike to win our contract demands. But in one way, the economic crisis could actually make it easier for us to strike and win. A transit strike could spark a fightback by the whole working class against all the capitalist attacks. Fear of this could force the MTA and politicians to cave in to our demands quickly, especially if Local 100 takes a clear stand against all the politicians attempts to make the working class pay for the crisis.

This begins for us with the struggle against the MTA’s proposed fare hike and service cuts. 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 must be one of the demands we strike for. We would immediately become the champions of the whole working class, the defenders of their standard of living.

And what an example for the working class! Coinciding with rising anger at budget cuts and tax hikes, a transit strike could spark demands by workers for a general strike against all the capitalist attacks! Thus a transit workers’ strike could start reversing the effects of decades of attacks on the working class.

Revolutionary Party Leadership Needed

RTW is ready to join with every militant worker who wants the Local to prepare to strike for our contract demands. And as long as the Toussaint leadership is taking steps forward, we’ll stand behind them in a united struggle. But Toussaint and Co.’s record so far, and in particular their failure to prepare the Local to strike means that militant workers shouldn’t trust them and wait passively for their lead. We have to take the initiative to fight for a winning strike strategy in the Local and be ready to fight any attempt by Toussaint and Co. to hold back the 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. The Toussaint leadership is committed to working within the limits of what capitalism can afford. Therefore we should expect them to betray us eventually. Only a revolutionary socialist leadership can be relied on to lead an all-out contract 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 our class has the power to not just beat back the attacks but to overthrow the capitalist system. Our class has the potential to do away with capitalism’s exploitation, oppression and wars 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 contract fight. By joining to build a revolutionary socialist party we can prepare to lead even greater struggles in the future.