Roger Toussaint has called this “General Membership Meeting” (GMM) to mark his team’s election victory over the “Members’ First” slate which offered no real alternative. But transit workers have nothing to celebrate as the reality of Toussaint’s 2003-5 sellout contract is starting to hit. For example:
While Toussaint promised to win big improvements for us, we’re barely breaking even. And the MTA is planning to hit us with much worse. Since Toussaint gave away our no-layoff clause they’re planning massive job cuts, and they’re already starting with elevator operators’ jobs (see Stop Elevator Job Cuts!).
Now Toussaint is announcing his new “five year plan” for the union. With his record in the last contract, it’s no surprise that he kept the plan a secret during the recent election campaign. He even kept it a secret from the Executive Board! And it’s no wonder why he’s announced that he will not allow any membership discussion or votes on the plan at the GMM.
No doubt Toussaint will bluster about building a powerful fighting union. It will mean as much as his strike “threats” of 2002. He really plans more of the same trade-offs and give-backs. In The Chief, Toussaint hinted that he would address “the balance we’re willing to strike between benefits and wages,” and argued that “members must consider whether improvements such as a better dental plan or paid maternity leave should be paid for with money that might otherwise be used for a wage increase.” (December 12)
This is the same argument he used to bully Local 100 members into accepting this contract’s rotten deal! Had we used our power to strike we could have won both wage raises and benefit improvements with no increased costs. In response to the MTA’s cries of deficit, we could have exposed the fact that the deficit is really the profit-taking by capitalist banks and bondholders at the expense of transit workers and the working class riding public. We could have demanded that the MTA repudiate those debts and we could have forced the State to increase funding to transit, two demands Toussaint never pressed.
Instead of preparing the Local to strike in 2005, Toussaint will argue for more of the same voting for (mostly) Democratic politicians who always stab us in the back. He’ll continue to back politicians who support the anti-worker Taylor Law.
If Local 100 is going to organize a real struggle against the bosses and politicians, the fight will to have to come from the ranks of the most militant transit workers. And a fight is inevitable because the MTA is preparing big attacks on us.
The MTA has steadily worn away at Local 100 members’ jobs and services to working-class passengers, particularly those in predominantly Black, Latino, and immigrant neighborhoods. Provocatively, they have taken some Station Division elevator operators out of passenger elevators at the 181st Street stations on the A and 1 lines last week, not even waiting for their own board to rubber-stamp this long-heralded attack. And the Toussaint leadership has done nothing to organize a fightback against this attack on our jobs and racist attack on the community.
The MTA’s long-term plans are not hard to make out, despite their secretiveness. They intend to build the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway line over the next twenty years, and within ten years or less so thoroughly automate trains and signals that they will be able to run the system with a fraction of the current workforce. The Train Control Center (TCC) they’re building on Manhattan’s West Side, together with the massive signal replacement project, has moved them far along this road. Their replacement of Station Agents by fare-card machines has long been under way. They are continuing to hire and train technicians in newly-created non-civil service -- and non-union -- job titles.
Further, the MTA intends to consolidate all bus lines in the New York State part of the metropolitan area. Toussaint gave them a big boost on this by agreeing to the consolidation of the two main bus divisions in New York City Transit. The details of this agreement are still secret from the members.
The Toussaint leadership’s defense against all the above has been ... nothing. When members ask Toussaint, Financial Secretary-Treasurer Watt or their flunkies whether the MTA’s current attacks on our jobs will bring layoffs, the leaders just say, “Don’t worry, no one’s been laid off!” In other words, they’ll cross that bridge when the MTA throws us on it.
The MTA feels secure that they can get away with these attacks, given the current Toussaint leadership. By betraying our big strike authorization votes last year and sticking us with his sellout contract, Toussaint sent the message to management that not only is he committed to cooperating with them, but that he can stop us from fighting back and enforce management’s demands. Further, Toussaint’s sellout contract gave the MTA just the weapons it needed to prepare their next wave of big attacks.
The Bus Consolidation is one of the MTA’s four contractual big guns against the union. The other three are the New Technology clause, the mis-named “Bargaining Unit Protection Clause,” and the elimination of the no-layoff clause.
The New Technology clause gives the MTA the unlimited right to introduce labor-saving technology as long as they consider its effects on the workers and tell the union about it in advance. The Bargaining Unit Protection clause gives the MTA the unlimited right to farm out whatever work they like -- again, as long as they tell the union about it in advance. As the armies of contractors all over the system show, the MTA is making full use of this clause.
The MTA starting last spring raised the possibility of layoffs, especially in Stations Department. The resulting uproar made them back down, but they continue to close Station booths and eliminate elevator operator jobs while saying that the displaced employees will still have jobs. The MTA is obviously softening us up for layoffs.
An ominous development along these lines was the publication in the Daily News of a column by union-buster Richard Schwarz that effectively called on the MTA and the City and State to declare war on the Local 100 in 2005. His suggestions included “Contracting out subway and bus repairs instead of relying on the MTA's own obscenely unproductive shops ... Privatizing entire swaths of the system, as cities like London, Tokyo and Beijing are doing ... Moreover, once workers realize they’re replaceable, the MTA could exact tougher deals, yielding huge efficiencies. The first attempt to lift productivity, to automate or privatize, could spark a strike. But it would be worth the pain.”
Schwarz’s column doesn’t represent the mainstream of capitalist opinion, yet. But he’s testing the waters for the MTA and the rest of the capitalist class, figuring that he’ll be satisfied if the MTA hits us with even half his suggestions. It’s unlikely that he would so lightly call for provoking a strike if Local 100 leaders had not betrayed the strike movements of 1999 and 2002.
With the MTA and politicians planning such big attacks on us, we’ve got to start preparing ourselves to strike. That means taking advantage of every opportunity to organize workers’ action against any attacks by management. For example, the Toussaint leadership failed to even organize a pick boycott in Stations to fight the elevator job cuts. Militant workers will have to join together to demand that Toussaint & Co. lead such actions in the future. If they refuse, militants will have to take the lead in the struggle themselves.
The need for actions like these occur in every division. They can defeat management’s attacks as well as raise workers’ sense of power and militancy in preparation for the next contract struggle. In fact such actions in the Local’s Divisions often point to wider actions.
For example in Track Division in particular, unsafe work is a constant danger. If management ignores or backslides on safety, we have to fight to shut down all affected jobs! If any more MTA workers die from on-the-job trauma, we’ve got to fight to shut the whole system down in protest! That would not only appropriately mark such tragedies and force management to organize safe work, but also challenge the Taylor Law and prepare us to strike for our demands in the next contract round.
With the power to shut the city down by striking, Local 100 is potentially the most powerful union in the city. By mobilizing in full force against the bosses and politicians’ attacks and preparing to strike for our demands, transit workers can offer leadership to the rest of the working class that is getting hit hard by layoffs and budget cuts here and across the country. In fact if Local 100 strikes it could trigger a general strike of the whole working class that could beat back all of the current capitalist attacks.
But the most important task in preparing for the coming struggles is beginning to build a new leadership for the union that can be relied on to take our struggles forward and not sell them out the way Toussaint and his predecessors have.
Union bureaucrats like Toussaint sell out because they accept the capitalist system and jealously guard their privileged position in it. Accepting the limits of capitalism means that when the bosses cry poverty, these leaders see no alternative to forcing workers to sacrifice. It means that they fear unleashing the working class’s power to strike because it could threaten the bosses’ profits. And elevated from the ranks of the workers and enjoying great financial and other privileges, the bureaucrats are corrupted and seek to defend their privileged position from the threat of an angry rank and file with a sense of their own power.
That’s why only revolutionary socialists can be trusted to lead the working class in struggle. Because socialists aren’t concerned for the fate of the capitalist system, they won’t hold back from launching the strike struggles we need to defend and improve our conditions. Because genuine socialists believe in the potential of the working class to run society, they will fight for democratic discussion and decision-making in the unions so the ranks won’t have to blindly trust their leaders, but will control the direction of the union themselves.
In spite of the current up-tick in U.S. profits, the world economy is sinking deeper into crisis and the U.S. economy will follow it. The bosses and their politicians will seek to make the working class pay with intensified exploitation, rising unemployment and massive cuts to social services. While mass action can temporarily defeat such attacks and even win improvements, the crisis of capitalism will continue to press against the working class until the system is overthrown. And it can be!
Capitalism has built a world economy with the potential to produce an abundance of everything humanity needs. Starvation and every other form of want can be done away with -- if the working class seizes control of the economy and redirects it from private profit to producing for social needs. Under capitalism, the workers and poor are forced to fight one another for scraps. By creating an abundance of all we need, socialism will remove the basis of class exploitation and all the forms of national, racist and sexual oppression that feed on decaying capitalism. For that to take place, revolutions will be necessary the world over.
Further, capitalism has created the social class with the power and interest to overthrow it: the working class. As they have in the past, workers in this country will again be forced to launch mass strikes and other struggles (as workers around the world are already doing) to defend themselves against the capitalists’ attacks. Through these struggles the working class will learn that it has the power to shake the world and every interest in overthrowing the capitalist system and building a socialist society -- so long as a revolutionary socialist political party is there to lead the way.
The League for the Revolutionary Party, which supports Revolutionary Transit Worker, is dedicated to building this party. While seeking to lead our fellow workers in their day-to-day struggles in Local 100 and elsewhere, we emphasize the urgent need for revolutionary-minded workers to join with us in building that new revolutionary party leadership in the unions. If you’re interested in learning more, contact us!