The MTA is mounting major attacks on transit workers and the whole working class. Their December 16 Board meeting will vote to close 164 token booths and cut bus services. It will also vote to raise the price of unlimited-ride Metrocards and Metro North and LIRR fares -- barely one year after the previous fare increase from $1.50 to $2 per ride.
They are also charging ahead with computer-based train control on the Canarsie “L” Line and other lines, with plans to eliminate at least 4,000 transit jobs by 2008. Last month they withdrew their threat to lay off 1,200 transit workers -- for now. But they are clearly planning to hit us with mass layoffs in the future. We cannot afford to wait any longer to fight back.
Transit workers can’t afford to wait for President Toussaint to lead the fight either. The MTA signaled these attacks years ago, and Toussaint’s response was to do anything but mobilize the power of Local 100’s membership in struggle. Instead he launched a big publicity campaign with Taylor Law-loving politicians that hopelessly used pleas for sympathy and attempts to shame the MTA into reversing course (but that’s more than he’s done this time). Then in his sellout deal with management over the last contract, Toussaint refused to call a strike, gave away our no-layoff clause, made many other concessions and won nothing to stop these attacks. That deal paved the way for these new attacks. If we don’t stop the MTA now, their attacks will only get worse.
Toussaint has been making the rounds of Local 100 Division and Departmental meetings urging us to come to the December 4 meeting. He says to plan for the December 2005 contract expiration. He says that it will be a “hard fight.” His Local 100 Express column says, “Our answer to [MTA attacks] is Battle Stations!!” This is bluster: he and his flunkies haven’t called a single membership demonstration. They aren’t suggesting a single concrete member action. They aren’t even enforcing the contract they “won” in 2002: the MTA bosses have not been forced to hold even one New Technology meeting with the union leader, in spite of the fact that the contract mandates they take place twice a year.
When TWU members and officers propose demonstrations against the MTA’s attacks, Toussaint and his flunkies have shouted them down. The only reason they ever give for not mobilizing is that turnout would be small. With such passive leadership, it’s no wonder! As Toussaint used to say before he became Local President, “If the membership isn’t organized to fight, it’s the leaders’ fault.”
But Toussaint & Co are worse than passive: they are allies of the MTA. For example, Local 100 TWU Financial Secretary-Treasurer and Toussaint’s right-hand man Ed Watt is a member of the MTA Board. There, he doesn’t even pretend to defend us. He sometimes gently requests information. But mostly he sits at public MTA Board functions like a bump on a log, or laughs and jokes with NYCT boss Larry Reuter.
So if we transit workers are going to defend ourselves from the MTA’s attacks, we’re going to have to take matters into our own hands, and this General Membership Meeting (GMMs). GMMs are the supreme decision making body of the union, so by majority vote, we can order Toussaint & Co to organize the struggle we need. That’s why we have joined with other Local 100 militants to support motions (see Cuts) that will direct Local 100 to organize a massive demonstration against the MTA and to immediately strike if the MTA tries to layoff a single transit worker.
With a big demonstration, Local 100 members will start to feel our power and fighting spirit again. And we can win massive public support by defending not just our jobs, but the whole working class from fare hikes and service cuts. This will pave the way for even bigger struggles if the MTA doesn’t back down. And by committing ourselves to immediately strike in response to any move to layoff transit workers, we’ll terrify management and the politicians, and give the rest of the working class an example of how to stand up to the bosses. What better way to start our 2005 contract campaign?
Toussaint & Co’s collaboration with and passivity toward the MTA are a bad example for the members. Members see their union leaders making deals with the MTA in conference rooms but rarely find them in the field. They see opposition elected officers on road jobs, while pro-Toussaint’ers who lost elections are on the union payroll. They see a third of the pro-Toussaint officers in RTO drop out, while Toussaint resists the new elections for those slots mandated by the Local By-Laws. Local Executive Board meetings spend hours dealing with accusations against Toussaint’s opponents and no time planning mass defense against the MTA’s attacks. Toussaint has turned on and dumped many of his supporters and allies. No wonder the sense of solidarity and militancy among Local 100 members has declined since Toussaint’s election.
But if the Local’s membership mobilizes in big actions like the mass demonstration we’re fighting for, the sense of solidarity and fighting spirit will come back. We can use massive pressure to force Toussaint & Co. to organize the struggles we need. But their record of collaboration with management shows that for as long as they’re in power we’ll always be in danger of being sold out. But in the course of struggles like the ones we’re fighting for now, the most politically conscious and militant fighters from the ranks will come to the fore and start building a new leadership for the Local.
With the MTA and politicians planning such big attacks on us, we’ve got to start preparing ourselves to strike to win during the next contract round -- or sooner if we have to! 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.
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, we could not only smash the anti-union Taylor Law, but 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 to begin to build a new leadership for the union, a leadership that will take our struggles forward and not sell them out the way Toussaint and his predecessors have. RTW supporters are ready to unite in action with every militant worker who wants to fight back against the bosses. But we also want to discuss exactly what sort of leadership our union, and the whole working class needs.
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 we say 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. Then the ranks won’t have to blindly trust their leaders, but will control the direction of the union themselves.
The U.S.’s bloody invasion and occupation of oil-rich Iraq was driven by the ruling class’s urgent sense that drastic action was required for it to stay on top of a crisis-ridden world economy. But as the world economy sinks deeper into crisis, the U.S. economy will follow it. U.S. imperialism is making the Iraqi masses pay a terrible price for its quest for profits. At home, the bosses and their politicians will also 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!
Toussaint called this meeting and the special departmental meetings in November because he is desperate to make a show of being in charge with the support of the ranks. He is trying to assemble a “Committee of 1000” activists for the contract struggle. Toussaint apparently intends this Committee as a new layer of flunkies to bring his line to the ranks. Honest militants may try to work with the “1000” to make it a militant membership force which fights for and organizes actions like those in the motions. But to build a strike and other mass actions which draw on the ranks and build a new, militant leadership needs democratically elected membership fightback committees.
We can’t depend on the union leaders to fight the bosses. We need mass pressure to make them fight. We have to set concrete tasks, as in the motions, so the union bureaucrats won’t be able to wiggle out of them. If they fail to organize seriously, they will be clearly exposed. These bureaucrats will only go so far. Then we’ll have to replace them. The fight to pressure them can train up new, fighting leaders.
The fight can’t stop at the boundaries of TWU Local 100. That’s why the motions also call on the Local “to publically and persistently, weeks in advance, urge other unions, community groups, churches, elected officials and the public at large to build and join this demonstration.” We can’t just ask the union leaders nicely, we have to appeal to the ranks as well. Many workers in New York have hoped for years that transit workers would strike and knock the bosses back. They would be happy to join a big, well-organized action with us.
Our union leaders say that Democratic and Republican politicians can be our friends. RTW believes that they and their parties are capitalist, anti-worker enforcers. But however you feel about them, if they come to this demonstration, following the workers’ leadership and bringing others with them, it will make for a bigger action. If the politicians refuse to show or try to dominate the action and make it into a voting drive, they will be exposed as enemies of the working class.
Above all, let’s remember that the contract fight is already underway as far as the MTA is concerned. They may wait till next fall to start layoffs -- or not. We have to start fighting back now, we have to unite and fight alongside our brother and sister workers who ride mass transit, and we have to mobilize now and prepare to strike.
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.
RTW wants to become a voice for all transit workers. So let us know what’s happening in your division, either in the union or on the job. If we think your letter raises issues that are important for all transit workers to read, we’ll publish it in RTW.
Let us know what you think of our views. If you agree, let us know. If you disagree, let’s discuss it.
Write to us at:
RTW, P.O. Box 1936
Murray Hill Station
New York, NY 10156
Or send us an e-mail!