Last summer and fall, the TA claimed that a deficit of over $2 billion was forcing them to raise fares by a third and deny wage hikes to TWU Local 100 members. Only after we had a rotten (if sugar-coated) contract with a wage freeze shoved down our throats, a government audit exposed the MTA has keeping two sets of books. One kept track of real income and expenditures. The other to fraudulently enabled the TA to cry poverty and demand belt-tightening by both transit workers and the riding public. And yet after being exposed as crooks, the TA still got their fare hike.
At the time of the contract struggle, Toussaint and other union leaders knew that the TA was hiding money. He even occasionally complained about it and muttered that the TA should open their books. But Toussaint never threatened that either the TA open its books and the state increase funding of public transport – or the Local would strike. On the contrary, during and after our contract negotiations, Toussaint and his mouthpieces repeated the TA’s cries of poverty: we could either have slightly improved health benefits (for more of our money) or higher wages, but not both. As RTW argued in our special bulletin to the mass membership meetings last December:
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. (First Class Contract or Strike! in RTW No. 13, Dec. 6, 2002.)
But Toussaint sees himself in partnership with management and politicians. Anxious to avoid a strike and cut a deal acceptable to the bosses, the TA’s claims of poverty were a weapon in Toussaint’s hands to trick us into accepting his sellout contract. So he let the TA off the hook, and allowed New York State Comptroller Hevesi and City Comptroller Thompson to delay an audit till the contract was safely ratified. Toussaint and the Local had even backed Thompson’s election campaign, claiming that in office he could be a friend of transit workers. Thompson demonstratively refused to audit the TA before contract ratification, in order not to “interfere” with negotiations – a dishonest way of intervening on the TA’s side. This sort of back-stabbing is what workers get every time from the Democratic Party’s supposed “friends of labor.”
An army of hired flunkies from the Local 100 Hall claimed that the results were the best that any union official could have won. The exposure of the fact that the MTA had a lot more money than they claimed also exposes Toussaint & Co.’s line that we won the best contract possible. The fact is that Toussaint agreed to a contract with a wage freeze that the TA could afford to pay – based on its fraudulent bookeeping and no increased funding from the State. Further, by striking we could have won much more.
Now, with the TA exposed as lying to the public about its finances, any union leader genuinely committed to the ranks’ interests would demand to re-open the contract. Further, mass layoffs and brutal budget cuts are hitting the working class of the city and targeting people of color in particular. A united working class fightback is desperately needed. Under these conditions if Local 100 was led by committed working class militants, they would seize on the TA’s bookeeping scandal to reopen the contract and take the lead in mobilizing the entire working class in struggle.
But Toussaint & Co. are not such a militant leadership, they are traitors no different than the rest of the pro-capitalist bureaucrats who run the city’s other unions. Instead, Toussaint made the rounds of NYCT locations to speak against a contract re-opener, and he mailed out a TWU Local 100 Bulletin to the members. His purpose was to campaign for the contract which already passed, and to stop any re-opener movement before it starts.
Toussaint’s anxiety to preserve his own position comes through clearly in the Bulletin. For example: “Ask yourself if we would have any chance of doing better today than we did in December. The answer is NO.... All the militant sounding talk calling for a new contract fight would just plunge our union in turmoil....” And further: “Demanding that the MTA reopen the contract now would leave Local 100 isolated. We built a strong alliance with the community, riders and other unions. If we demanded to reopen, we would be telling our allies that even after we have a contract, we want more. Instead of stopping the fare hike, we want more.... That’s no way to build a strong coalition....” (all emphasis in original – RTW) The Bulletin and Toussaint’s “shopgate” talks also maintained that government deficit-caused cutbacks and layoffs of public sector workers, on top of the current war economy, create a “climate” in which transit workers’ struggle is unthinkable.
Toussaint here has built a towering pile of confusion, bad faith, question-begging, distortions, demagogy and just plain lies. For example, he says not to fight for higher wages “[instead] of stopping the fare hike....” As though we can’t fight for both! Worse, Toussaint is basically saying that because the City and State are now attacking many workers, therefore we can’t fight back. What nonsense: when our enemies attack is when we must fight back! Perhaps worse still, Toussaint blames the “bad climate” on a war which he and Local 100 officially oppose – and which he now uses as an excuse to lie down before the bosses. That’s how seriously he takes his opposition to the hideous US war against Iraq – and how seriously we can expect him to oppose other imperialist mass slaughters!
Toussaint’s argument that fighting for our standard of living would isolate us from our “allies” spits on basic class solidarity and grossly insults our intelligence. Multitudes of workers, public and private sector, sympathized with our strike vote, although a transit strike would greatly have inconvenienced them. Why? Because they thought such a militant fightback could shake up all the employers and encourage their own struggle. Now, when government and private sector workers are facing even more attacks, they have been looking for someone to show the way to a mass fightback. That was the meaning of the DC 37 demonstration on April 29. Leaflets from the League for the Revolutionary Party urging a General Strike against cutbacks got a warm reception there. We would have a good chance of connecting with the DC 37 workers and other workers in the area who are angry at service cuts – if we had a leadership which stood for united workers’ struggle.
That’s not Toussaint. His touching concern for “the community, riders and other unions,” as he vigorously blocks the mass struggle needed to reverse fare hikes, layoffs and other attacks, is not a message to our real allies – the rest of the working class. It’s a message to other sellout union hacks, to the capitalist Democratic and Republican politicians, and above all, to the capitalists, public and private sector themselves: if they want a workers’ leader who can squelch the workers’ fightback, Toussaint’s their man!
To build and extend the transit workers’ struggle would take pressuring Toussaint and Co. while we have to and replacing them with a new, fighting leadership when we can. That’s the “turmoil” Toussaint fears. And he has some nerve to blame unnamed people for Local turmoil when he’s the one firing, censoring, and demoting elected Local officials and turning them in to NYCT Labor Relations!
RTW understands that despite the TA’s current surplus, they have a big long-term deficit. But much of that deficit is interest payments owed to holders of TA bonds, mostly banks, corporations and individual capitalists. Most of the principal has been paid many times over – and still these blood-suckers demand more!
We workers can’t base our demands on the TA’s real financial condition, even if anyone could figure out what it was. We have to fight for what we need – Make the Bosses Pay! A massive, solid strike can shake immediate improvements loose from the bosses and put us in a good position to defend ourselves against the next wave of cut-backs.