Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 24

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

December 10, 2005

Only One Way to Stop Another Sellout...

For a Real Strike Vote – Today!

(Not a Phony Strike “Authorization” Like Last Time)

The MTA used to justify its demands for concessions by claiming to be in debt. Now with a billion dollar surplus they still demand concessions. They want us to work harder for less. With new technology and their demands for “broadbanding” they are paving the way for layoffs. Their profit-drive even contributed to the recent death of TO Lewis Moore, whom they failed to get timely medical attention after he collapsed on the job.

The TA’s arrogance, and Local 100 members’ growing anger, has forced Toussaint & Co. to threaten a strike. The ranks have responded by rallying to the idea of a strike. But while the rank and file means what it says, Toussaint’s strike talk is the same hot air we’ve heard before. He talked strike last time only to sell us out. We can’t afford to trust him this time.

Toussaint & Co. have done little to mobilize the Local for this contract struggle. They have refused to hold even one mass rally so far. Their small, dispersed “Days of Action” protests were for the most part a flop because of poor planning (although workers in some locations did manage to turn them into solid protests). In fact while the TA has demanded all sorts of concessions from us, Toussaint & Co. have so far refused to raise a single demand on them! Not for wage raises, not for improved retirement and healthcare benefits, nothing! So it will take drastic action to turn this campaign around and avoid getting stuck with an even worse contract than last time. But it can be done!

With the power to shut this city down by striking, Local 100 can beat back the MTA’s attacks and win big improvements and amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. But we will have to challenge the Toussaint leadership of the Local. At the Local 100 Mass Membership Meetings last time, Toussaint avoided a real strike vote with some fiery rhetoric and a call for a phony “strike authorization.” This meant that Toussaint & Co. were free to not call a strike and cut a sellout deal with management. They plan to do the same thing this time. We can’t let him get away with it, and we don’t have to.

In the Mass Meeting we will have to stand up for our democratic rights as union members to discuss the issues ourselves and vote on all motions, not just Toussaint’s (see “Your Rights in the Mass Meeting”). RTW is joining with other transit workers to fight for a motion that will put control of the contract struggle into the hands of the ranks. It commits Local 100 to going on strike if the MTA has not gone a long way to accepting our basic demands by the contract deadline. We encourage all Local 100 members to support the motion. A real strike vote (and not a phony authorization) could scare the bosses and politicians into backing down without a strike. But if the TA bosses and politicians insist on a bad contract as an example for the rest of the city’s working class, we will have to strike. By doing so, we can set our own example of fighting back against the bosses’ attacks. We would stand to win great support.

Toussaint’s Sellout Plan

Voting for a real motion to strike is essential to turn around this contract campaign. Make no mistake: despite Toussaint’s fighting posture now, he’s planning a sellout just like last time. Consider what he’s saying about broadbanding.

1. Broadbanding and Layoffs

The MTA is demanding “productivity savings” from “broadbanding,” or combining various job categories. The MTA’s plans would have Station Agents cleaning booths and performing Platform Conductor duties; Cleaners operating fork-lifts and other machinery, painting, fueling busses and maintaining some electronic equipment; Train Operators opening and closing train doors and Conductors walking the aisles (to prepare to lay off all Conductors); and similar changes affecting every other job category.

A real working-class fighter would say that any broadbanding means layoffs and speed-up, and we must oppose it. Instead, Toussaint told the New York Times (Dec. 3) that he doesn’t oppose job consolidation as such. It’s just that “the MTA’s ideas are poorly thought out.” “We can live with” “sensible” broadbanding if the “impacted employees are properly compensated for it.” Speak for yourself, Roger!

Since Toussaint gave away our no-layoff clause in the last contract negotiations we are vulnerable to layoffs. With the TA trying to broadband in addition to job-replacing technology, we must fight to commit the Local to opposing all broadbanding and to win a contractual guarantee against layoffs or workforce reductions. No Broadbanding! No Layoffs or Workforce Reductions!  – Or Strike!

2. Wages and Benefits

After the rotten, behind-inflation wage deal he stuck us with in the last contract we know what Toussaint thinks “proper compensation” is!  Indeed Toussaint & Co. are still refusing to make any specific wage demand. This is a scandal! All they’ve said is that it should be above the 3% a year in the Philadelphia transit workers’ new contract (a third of which is getting taken away by a new health insurance premium). Toussaint tries to argue that his silence on a wage demand is a smart tactic. The real reason is that he does not want to heighten workers’ expectations for raises he has no intention fighting for.

Toussaint has already attacked the demand for a 10% yearly raise as unreasonable. It’s not. It would simply make up for some of what we lost in wages under the last contract and keep pace with inflation over the next three years. With the TA running a billion dollar surplus (without even demanding more funding from the state) there’s nothing unreasonable about demanding that we simply maintain our standard of living. But if Toussaint does make that argument, let’s demand that he commit himself to a wage figure below which we will strike and then let the members vote on it! And if he says that demands for a big raise will make us look greedy, then let’s commit the Local to fighting for a contractual guarantee against any fare hikes or service reductions, as RTW has argued for all along.

Further, the MTA is demanding that future hires pay more for healthcare, retire later after longer service and take longer to reach top benefits. So given the tradeoffs Toussaint made in the last contract, the union must oppose any givebacks: no reductions in health benefits or increased health-care payments; no worse pension benefits; no attacks on the rights and working conditions of new hires! For a 10, 10, 10% Yearly Raise! No Cuts or Increased Costs for Healthcare or Pension Benefits! No Two-Tier Deals! No Fare Hikes or Service Cuts! – Or Strike!

A Plan to Strike and Win

Transit workers don’t take striking lightly. It’s against the law; the government, politicians and press would lead a hate campaign against us; and we’re way out of practice. But our living and working conditions, and our very jobs are at stake in this contract. If they’re not worth striking for, what is?

One particular concern among Local 100 members is that a strike now would take place under a leadership that cannot be trusted. In fact, striking is the only way the ranks can start to get control over the union.

Without a vote for a strike if our demands are not met, Toussaint will be free to accept all sorts of rotten concessions. But with a powerful vote for a real strike motion, the ranks can deny him the right to trade-off our rights and interests. And if the Mass Membership Meeting votes for a strike, we should immediately create a strike committee to organize picketing at every depot and facility.

But the main advantage transit workers have over the bosses, politicians and union bureaucrats is our economic power to bring New York and much of the capitalists’ profit-making to a halt. With the power to inflict that much pain on the ruling class, transit workers can force management to agree to our demands.

Bosses, Politicians Fear Strike

The MTA’s demands for givebacks like broadbanding are outrageous and provocative. But the TA is not trying to provoke a strike. The proof is the MTA’s recent offer to send the contract to binding arbitration without further negotiations (the Local leadership properly refused). The MTA soon realized that their arrogance was angering the membership and that Toussaint cannot guarantee being able to hold us back from a strike. So Chief MTA negotiator Dellaverson withdrew a few broadbanding demands. But the MTA otherwise continues to insist on givebacks.

The area’s ruling class is also getting worried. Mayor Bloomberg expressed hope for a contract satisfactory to both sides and worried about the effects of a strike. He was careful to avoid obvious threats. The right-wing capitalist Daily News even seems to urge the TA to make concessions to the union: “MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow and union President Roger Toussaint should set their sights on giving the workforce the largest raises possible. City teachers won 15% hikes over 52 months, and cops got 10.5% over two years. Transit workers, too, should be able to score more than minimal gains.” (Editorial, December 4.)

Further, the News says that the TWU “should look to the bargaining successes of  municipal unions. They agreed to cost-saving reforms ... that let the city fatten paychecks at minimal taxpayer expense. Across the board, they made tough compromises. ... Given the TWU’s deadline, Toussaint and Kalikow have a very short time to reach a sane mid-ground. The MTA has put what appear to be reasonable cost-saving proposals on the table, and should begin outlining what the workers stand to gain by accepting them. At the same time, Toussaint needs to start bargaining about productivity measures rather than rejecting givebacks out of hand.”

The News expresses the viewpoint of the whole ruling class here. The wage “gains” in recent municipal workers’ contracts leave them well behind inflation and steal from benefits, reduce staffing, increase work, and rob future hires. City workers ratified these contracts with more resignation than enthusiasm. The Teachers even experienced a membership rebellion against Randi Weingarten’s pro-boss leadership.

Nonetheless their talk about seemingly-large raises shows they are scared of a transit strike. They particularly fear its effects on profits and its potential to show the way forward for the rest of the working class in fighting back against the capitalists’ attacks. Indeed the News itself recently published results of a poll showing 54% support for a transit strike among respondents. That’s without the Local leadership making any real effort to win wider support for a strike.

Working Class Anger Growing

The capitalists know their ruthless profit-making is becoming clear to workers everywhere. From the racist, anti-working class atrocity of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, to the bloody imperialist occupation of Iraq, the ruling class spreads misery to the masses and hordes fortunes for itself. Here in New York, the same Mayor who just spent $75 million of his loose change to buy the recent election is preparing to condemn transit workers as greedy! Working class anger at capitalist attacks on wages and jobs is widespread. The conditions are ripe for an explosion of struggle, particularly if a powerful group of workers shows the way. That’s what we can do by going on strike!

We can immediately win support from the “riding public,” that is, the NYC area working class, by making No Fare Hikes or Service Reductions a strike demand. This would stand in sharp contrast to Toussaint’s begging for riders’ sympathy.

The politicians and bosses say that we have to sacrifice because the city and state are in debt. The City, State and TA together pay billions of dollars a year to service debts to Wall Street. But many of the original loans have already been repaid several times over while interest payments continue – out of our pockets! In other words the deficit, like the TA’s loan repayments, 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!

The Local should go directly to the members and leaders of other unions, urging them to support our demands and join our mobilizations. We should make the point that if we strike, it will aid their fight against their bosses. Other public sector workers especially will benefit from a successful strike against the Taylor Law.

We could turn the sympathy of the rest of the working class into active support by holding mass meetings open to all workers and invite union leaders and members and workers at large to attend. We could plan together to keep our strike strong while arranging provisioning, travel and other vital services for workers in the city. We could raise the possibility of a general strike in which all workers mobilize to stop the bosses’ attacks.

Pressure Toussaint but Don’t Trust Him

Toussaint is still hoping against hope that the MTA will give him something which he can sell to the membership at the December 10 meeting. If he must call a strike vote, it will be for “authorization” only, meaning he gets to decide if we strike, not us. And he will try to limit discussion to his chosen speakers – enforced by his goon squad on the meeting floor.

To fight this thuggishness and bureaucracy will require  strength and unity among militant workers who want to fight. We’ll have to stand together and loudly defend the right of every member to speak. If we stick together in this way, we can force the debate and discussion, make the motions heard and force a membership majority vote. But we obviously won’t be able to trust Toussaint & Co to carry out the members’ will.

Although mass pressure on Toussaint can force him to fight the bosses more than he’d like, his leadership is an obstacle to struggle. Nor can any mass fight depend on a small circle of leaders. Effective mass mobilization requires a new leadership. That’s why RTW, as in the past, puts forward strike committees of the best fighters, elected by their co-workers throughout the system. In the course of a strike such a committee could mobilize every member and insure communication. Most important, a strike committee would serve to recruit and train new leaders. If they faced leadership which blocked the fight against the bosses, they would pressure the sellout leaders while they had to and oust them when they could. Fighting workers who understand this will also understand that the fight to oust and replace Toussaint begins now, during the contract fight; don’t wait for next year!

Revolutionary Party Leadership Needed

RTW is ready to join with every militant worker who wants the Local to strike for our contract demands. 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 sooner or later. RTW believes that 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.

Your Rights in the Mass Meeting

Pres. Toussaint is planning another sell-out. Because he fears opposition he also plans to deny members the right to discuss and vote on motions at the Mass Membership Meeting. But Article VII, Section (b) of the Local 100 Bylaws is clear:

 “The Executive Board shall be the supreme governing body in the Local Union, except only that any action, decision or rule of the Executive Board may be reversed or amended by the vote of the majority of the members of the Local Union voting either at a general membership meeting of the Local Union or through their respective Section or Division meetings.”

Support This Strike Motion

RTW is joining other transit workers to support a motion that will commit the Local to a strike if the TA does not agree to our most important demands. It will prevent Pres. Toussaint from calling off his strike threats and selling us out like last time. We encourage all Local 100 members to support the motion:

“That Local 100 demand a 2005-’08 Contract with a 10, 10 and 10% wage increase each year; a Job Security Agreement forbidding layoffs or workforce reductions; with no trade-offs or givebacks like job consolidation (broadbanding), reductions in health benefits or increased health-care payments, worse pensions or attacks on the rights of new hires;

“And that Local 100 will reject any contract proposal that does not go a long way toward addressing these demands. If on Dec. 16 these issues are not resolved we will strike.”

The Taylor Law:
Only as Strong
as the Paper It’s Written On

Local 100 conducted a victorious strike in 1966 that was completely illegal. The Condon-Wadlin Law of that time banned public sector strikes, with mandatory firing of  members and jail for the leaders being the punishment (that’s a lot harsher than today’s Taylor Law that threatens only fines).

Then-Local 100 President Mike Quill took the court’s papers banning the strike and publically tore them up! He knew that in the face of a powerful strike the law would prove no stronger than the paper it was written on. A little over a week later, Quill was out of jail, transit workers were back at work in triumph, and the Condon-Wadlin Law was a dim memory.

So far, Local 100’s current leaders have not been acting so courageously. They’re using the Taylor Law’s anti-“incitement” clause as an excuse to not come out in favor of a strike. But this sends the message that we should be scared of the Taylor Law.

This is wrong. The Taylor Law is only as strong as we let it be. Our power to shut the city down by striking is more powerful than any law the politicians and courts can come up with. If we strike, we should make amnesty from Taylor Law Penalties a contract demand: we stay out till the MTA and NY State government guarantee this. If we are forced to strike and shut the city down to win our demands, the Taylor Law can be exposed as nothing but a piece of paper and swept away along with all the bosses’ other threats.

This has been done before. NYC sanitation workers struck in the late seventies and demanded and won amnesty (from an emergency session of the state legislature). The Yonkers UFT (Teachers) have struck against the Taylor Law five times, and taken some fines while winning some victories. In recent years NYCT workers have pulled slowdowns and won, as in the RTO rule-book action against Pick take-backs. Management didn’t even try to use the Taylor Law in that case.

Bad laws are made to be broken. That’s always been the way for workers and oppressed people to overturn anti-working class and racist laws. Black people in the South, for example, smashed Jim Crow segregation by massive disobedience to “whites only” laws.

Fears of the Taylor Law should not stop us from striking, and we can’t let it be an excuse for our elected leaders to not organize an all-out struggle for our contract demands.