President Toussaint’s strike-ending contract deal is falling apart. Last week, Governor Pataki strongly suggested he would veto the proposed pension refund and pressure the MTA Board to refuse to pay for it. Now we learn that part of Toussaint’s deal for the MTA to pay it would see the refund liable to be taxed at the top rate of 49%! Opposition to the contract deal was already rising before this -- now it’s growing in leaps and bounds.
The proposed contract includes some gains for Local 100 members. But its main feature is below-inflation wage “raises” tied to a new, ever-increasing healthcare paycheck deduction.
The contract’s promise of a big, one-time pension refund payment for some Local 100 members was the MTA and Toussaint’s only hope of getting it passed. It was planned as a bribe to get those eligible for the refund to vote for the contract -- and thereby betray their own interests as well as those of their brothers and sisters. But now even that deal is in jeopardy.
The Local 100 ranks still feel the power of our strike. We have to fight back against Pataki and management’s new attacks. But that’s the last thing on President Toussaint’s mind. He’s still trying to talk his way out of the mess he’s gotten us into and trick us into supporting his deal. His initial response to Pataki’s veto announcement was to tell us not to worry -- he had a secret, legally binding agreement from the MTA that if the State legislature or Governor doesn’t approve the refund, they’ll pay for it themselves.
Still, Toussaint kept other details of the agreement secret. Only after a copy was leaked to the media did we learn that it features written recognition that the refund will be liable to be taxed at top rate. Eligible members may only get half what they are owed! Even that’s not guaranteed: if the issue ever goes to the courts we can expect the judges to side with the bosses -- as they have with the pension refund in the past. Transit workers who overpaid into the 25/55 pension plan deserve every cent of their money back. To win it, we must reject Toussaint’s contract and return to struggle for this and our other just demands.
Our warnings about this contract have proven correct. In RTW No. 30 we wrote:
[The pension refund] money was rightly ours to begin with -- it was stolen by the State and courts. We could have easily won it by staying out on strike. Now we’ve only got a promise by the MTA to sponsor State legislation to make it happen -- there are no guarantees. Plus it is being used as a bribe to trick workers into passing a contract that will hurt them and all workers much worse. For the MTA this is a great deal -- they get to trade support for this refund ... in return for almost unlimited potential health care savings out of all our pockets.
Now the MTA is bragging about how bad the deal is for us. In a recent memo to its board members they explain that the new healthcare premium takes from us 16% more (a total of $77.2 million) than they would have gotten from their final pre-strike offer with its big pension attacks! (New York Times, Dec. 31) And given the revelation of the secret pension refund deal, transit workers wonder what other secrets are being kept from us. (A summary of other reasons to vote down the deal appears in elsewhere in RTW 31.)
Local 100 was right to strike and we could have won if we stayed out. We stood strong and proud against the bosses and politicians and our strike was promising to spread to other unions -- until Toussaint sent us back to work without a contract and then stuck us with this sellout contract. Toussaint’s betrayal of our strike has encouraged the politicians’ latest round of attacks. Indeed the MTA just announced a new one: to financially cripple the union they’re going to try to revoke automatic dues check-off.
Caught between growing opposition to the contract from below, and Pataki and the MTA’s attacks from above, Toussaint is becoming increasingly paralyzed. He’s announced a delay of the membership’s contract vote until after the MTA Board has voted. But the MTA’s declared they won’t vote until we have. While this standoff continues, the bosses will gather their forces against us. We can’t afford to let more time pass before we start a fightback.
For as long as Toussaint keeps pushing this contract, we have to prepare to vote it down. But we shouldn’t wait for the vote. We have to turn this struggle around now, starting with the ranks getting control of the struggle. Here’s how we think it can be done:
Militant workers opposed to the contract should mobilize as many of their fellow workers to attend the next meetings of their Division, both morning and evening sessions. Explain why the contract must be rejected and raise a motion like the following:
“This Division rejects the current contract offer and directs the Executive Board to organize Mass Membership Meetings of Local 100 (in both the morning and evening) at the earliest possible date. At those meetings, the membership must have the right to speak, raise motions and vote. The Executive Board must also fully publicize the Mass Membership Meetings with phone blasts, leaflets, e-mailings and on the Local 100 website.”
As soon as a majority of the Local’s Divisions have passed such a motion, the EB will be bound by the Local’s by-laws to carry them out. And let RTW know how your effort goes!
According to Local 100 by-laws, Mass Membership Meetings are the supreme decision making body of the union -- not the Executive Board. The Local’s elected officials are constitutionally bound to carry out its directions. That’s why Toussaint never allows the ranks to speak or raise motions at such meetings. So we will have to make sure the ranks get those rights and exercise them -- no matter what Toussaint & Co. do to stop them.
At such Mass Membership Meetings, RTW supporters will look to join with the most workers possible around a program of action to win our contract struggle. It would include:
We believe our struggle should begin by rejecting all the contract givebacks and re-affirming our demands for a big wage raise, no givebacks on pensions or healthcare, the guarantee of all gains in the MTA’s last contract offer including the 25/55 pension refund, and amnesty from all Taylor Law penalties.
Toussaint & Co. sold us out. We cannot trust them to negotiate a new contract. Mass membership meetings should elect a contract struggle committee, with representatives from the ranks bound to regularly report back to the members on all developments. If we are forced to strike, this committee should have the power to lead the strike to victory.
Our contract demands will be hot air if we don’t back them with the threat to strike unless the MTA and politicians give in. Toussaint avoided mass mobilizations and let our contract expiration pass. This started our strike on the wrong foot. We can do better next time. To regain our sense of organization and power, the Local should organize a mass demonstration and invite other unions and the rest of the city’s working class to participate. We should make clear that if we have to strike, we will call on the other city and state unions to join us to beat back all the bosses’ attacks.
The ranks of Local 100 responded powerfully to Toussaint’s strike call, setting up and maintaining picket lines with little help from the leadership. There is no lack of fighting spirit. But the contract sellout shows that we face a crisis of leadership. Mass membership meetings and an action plan are necessary. But only a new fighting leadership coming up from the ranks and fighting to seize control from Toussaint & Co. can really solve the crisis.
Many workers who played little role in the union before have been energized by our strike. They are paying attention to the issues like never before. Through the campaign to reject Toussaint’s sellout, the most militant and politically conscious workers are starting to see themselves as leaders. RTW wants to see these workers come together to take the struggle forward.
As everybody familiar with RTW knows, we are revolutionary socialists. We believe that the growing crisis of capitalism is behind the bosses’ and politicians’ escalating racist and anti-working class attacks. We believe that through building a fightback to defend its living and working conditions, the working class will see that it can and must overthrow the entire capitalist system to put an end to racism and exploitation. For this purpose it is necessary above all to build a revolutionary socialist party of the working class to lead the struggle.
But we don’t insist that our fellow workers agree with us before we unite to lead our immediate struggles. Rather, we are confident that common experience in the struggle will prove our perspective true.
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