Complaining about Local 100’s strike threat, Mayor Bloomberg said “You can’t negotiate with a gun to your head.” Meanwhile, of course, the Mayor, the Governor and the bosses have been aiming every legal weapon at us, threatening fines, jail and even the smashing of our union. They’re terrified because our strike weapon, and its ability to shut the city down and cost them hundreds of millions of dollars of profits, is more powerful than any weapon they can think of.
President Toussaint and the rest of the Local 100 leadership should have refused to play along with the MTA and politicians for as long they were pointing guns at our heads. The Local 100 leadership have not backed down from the possibility of a strike -- yet. But they haven’t stepped up our threat either. Instead, they have been sending the bosses the message that they want to cut a deal to avoid a strike.
President Toussaint has come in for harsh attacks and threats from the politicians and media. We all must defend him and our entire union from the bosses’ attacks. And we must be ready to join with President Toussaint if he takes the next step in calling a strike. But RTW’s highest loyalty is to our fellow workers, and we are duty bound to explain that there are many signs that President Toussaint is not taking the struggle forward and is even preparing to sell it out.
At each step, negotiating with a gun at our head and offering concessions has only encouraged the bosses to attack us harder:
Almost every hour the bosses’ politicians have announced to the media new plans to defeat a transit strike. Meanwhile, our leadership has gone along with negotiations, begging to be allowed to avoid a strike. This is confusing the ranks and wasting our momentum.
If the Local leadership is allowed to continue this strategy we’re going to get a rotten contract shoved down our throats. And imagine what the bosses will then try to do to the rest of the working class if they beat the city’s most powerful union in this fight!
We’ve got to stop the Local leadership from playing along with negotiations and get them to declare a definite strike date for definite demands. A mass labor rally in solidarity with the TWU is planned for 4pm tomorrow at MTA headquarters in Brooklyn. We’ve got to pressure Toussaint and the rest of the Executive Board to announce that the rally will be the MTA’s last chance to agree to our contract demands, or we’ll strike at midnight! Below we explain exactly how Local 100 members and supporters can do this.
The fact that there is no time to waste is made clear by signs that Toussaint & Co. are preparing to sell out our struggle.
Local 100 has a proud tradition of defying the bosses’ threats, striking and winning. In 1966, the politicians and courts threatened transit workers with jail if they launched an illegal strike. Then-Local President Mike Quill publicly tore up the court’s injunction papers and told the judge to “drop dead in his black robes.” Quill was thrown in jail, but the strike went ahead, and after a little over a week, Local 100 was victorious, winning its demands and suffering no penalties!
Reporters have asked President Toussaint if Quill is his role-model. While many transit workers have hoped that Toussaint would live up to Quill’s example, Toussaint made clear in a recent interview that these hopes may be disappointed. “Quill lived in heroic times,” he told the Washington Post. “Mine are complicated times. You need to know how to pick your fights carefully -- and win.” (December 12) Our times seem more complicated to Toussaint because he’s searching for a deal that will satisfy the bosses and that he can hope to sell to the ranks. But with the bosses determined to make the working class pay for their falling profits, such room for compromise is harder to find. Increasingly it seems as though what Toussaint means is that he’s giving up on the fight for certain demands like a good wage raise in order to win demands that won’t cost the TA much, like reforming the disciplinary system. This would be a horrible sellout of our struggle. Toussaint’s wrong -- even more than in the past, our times demand courage and heroic struggle if workers are to defend their living standards, let alone improve them. We have to follow the examples of the past and strike to win our demands!
Toussaint’s already hinted to the bosses the sort of sellout deal he’d like to try to sell to the membership. The New York Times (November 30) reported that in speaking to the press Toussaint “gave hints of moderation, noting that the results of the [negotiations] would be ‘conditioned by the current circumstances’.” The same article went on to explain that Toussaint’s message seemed to be that if “the deficit-plagued authority [were] more accommodating on non-economic issues, most notably safety and discipline,” he could be open to reaching an agreement. We’ve got to send the message to Toussaint and the rest of the Executive Board that they shouldn’t even think of trying to sell us a deal that trades modest improvements on non-economic issues for a lousy wage deal and other concessions.
Moreover, there are other bad signs coming from negotiations besides Toussaint’s lowering of our wage demand. Most scandalously, on Friday, December 12, Local 100 Vice President Neil Persaud held secret Car Maintenance Division negotiations with MTA officials and barred the elected Division Officers, including Chairman Ainsley Stewart and Naomi Allen from attending. Remember that during negotiations of the last contract in 1999, Willie James’ henchmen Arnold Cherry and Dennis Calhoun used the same move of holding secret negotiations to agree to broadbanding and loss of seniority rights. Who knows what Toussaint and Persaud are trying to hide?
The problem for Toussaint is that no matter how much he makes clear that he wants to cut a deal to avoid a strike, it’s unclear that the MTA is willing to offer him a contract deal that he can hope to try to sell to the membership. If that happens, he may try to extend negotiations past contract expiration. This would be a disaster that would only encourage the bosses to take a harder line, just like every other sign of weakness by Toussaint & Co. has done so far.
Toussaint has tried to avoid the membership having a say on the contract struggle from the beginning. At the General Membership Meetings on December 7 he did not allow any discussion or motions from the floor. He used his motion to authorize the Executive Board to call a strike if they wished -- in order to avoid RTW supporters from moving their motion for a definite strike date for definite demands. Even at the Joint Expanded Executive Board Meeting this morning, December 15, he prevented any motions from being raised. But he has to allow motions to be raised at tonight’s Executive Board meeting. At that meeting RTW will be supporting a motion for the following plan to strike and win:
Toussaint’s reported hints at sacrificing some of our contract demands in order to avoid a strike must be rejected. 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:
The MTA continues with its hard line. Only a decision to strike on a definite date and time can possible force them to give in. Toussaint already signaled his willingness to work past contract expiration by scheduling the labor solidarity rally for December 16, a day after contract expiration -- after all, if the union was committed to striking at midnight December 15, how could a labor rally take place the next day? It seems like we’re stuck with working a day after contract expiration so the solidarity rally can take place. But we must reject the idea of working under the old contract any longer. The Executive Board must vote to tell the TA that unless they go a long way to agreeing to our demands by the end of the day of the solidarity rally, December 16, then we will strike at midnight!
Toussaint and Co. have tried to keep the ranks sidelined while they negotiate with management. With a strike date set, the ranks must be involved in organizing the strike every step of the way. Strike mobilization 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. President Toussaint has called for strike committees to be formed at every worksite. Emergency Boro Headquarters have been set up. Good, but these can’t just be to follow orders from the top. We must demand that the Executive Board create a centralized Local 100 Strike Council open to all members to discuss and decide on strike mobilization. The strike council should meet regularly at Local 100 headquarters, beginning immediately. Worksite and Boro strike committees can meet and if necessary elect delegates to the central strike council.
A small but growing number of transit workers are joining with RTW to fight for a winning strike. Even if we avoid the danger of Toussaint & Co. agreeing to a bad contract in order to avoid a strike, the danger of a sellout will continue during a strike. Under these conditions it will be more important than ever to build an alternative leadership committed to a strategy of striking and winning. So there is not a moment to waste in getting in touch with us.