No one can doubt the power of Local 100’s ranks. First, we made history with our strike, ending the period of decades in which anti-working class attacks went unchallenged. Now we’ve made history again by defeating Toussaint’s attempt to stick us with his rotten contract.
Our rejection of the proposed contract shocked the ruling class. They have long taken for granted that the privileged, pro-capitalist bureaucrats like Toussaint who control workers’ unions can be relied on to confuse, demoralize and intimidate the rank-and-file. Our vote proves otherwise. As one commentator in the mainstream press summed up:
“It’s an unprecedented event in modern public-sector labor law history” ... The decision by the union’s membership shows its militant wing “is much deeper, much more cohesive and much more organized than anyone anticipated.”
“I've never seen anything like this ... We are really in new territory. Union militancy and resolve was much greater and deeper among the rank and file than anyone had anticipated, including the union president, Mr. Toussaint.” (Prof. D. Gregory, Bloomberg.com, Jan. 20, Daily News, Jan. 22.)
By standing up to the bosses, the politicians and our sellout leaders, transit workers are setting an inspiring example. Other workers, like transit workers, are under attack but are also stuck with leaders who oppose a real fightback. Our struggle has the potential to not just defend our wages, benefits and working conditions, but spark a long overdue fightback by all workers.
The contract vote margin was small -- just seven votes. But our victory is big. We have, for the moment, saved ourselves and other city unions from the threat of new healthcare premiums. We now have the chance to unite the Local in a struggle to win a contract that all members can support. But we must seize the time and press ahead with the fight for a no-giveback contract.
Transit workers know that opposition to the contract was in fact far greater than the contract vote results indicate. Not only did 11,234 workers reject the contract outright. Many who voted to approve the contract knew it was bad -- they just didn’t see an alternative. Cable channel NY1, for example, reported that its “informal sampling found even those voting yes are doing so reluctantly.” The one member they found who said he’d voted yes even added that he knew “It is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal.” (NY1.com, Jan. 19)
The vote shows the way to uniting the Local’s ranks in a renewed contract struggle. Those who mistakenly voted “yes” did so in support of the contract gains and in spite of its givebacks. Those who voted “no” understood that the givebacks far outweighed any gains. So what the Local must do now is clear: reaffirm our commitment to the gains in the contract, withdraw all concessions and prepare a new struggle to win.
The membership’s rejection of the contract is a massive vote of no confidence in Toussaint’s leadership. It is also true that many who voted “yes” also have no confidence in his leadership. Therefore, we can’t allow what happens next to remain in the hands of Toussaint and his flunkies. To take forward our contract fight, transit workers should join the growing call for mass membership meetings in which the ranks must have the right to speak, raise motions and vote.
The ranks have every reason to celebrate their defeat of the contract. But the MTA and politicians are already preparing a counter-attack. Meanwhile, Toussaint & Co. are desperate to find a way to save their positions Ė at our expense.
The TA and politicians are already threatening arbitration. But transit workers need not panic in the face of that threat. The TA is trying to speed up the process to force arbitration on us, but that process will still take time. If we succeed in remobilizing the Local in struggle, we can stop it from ever happening.
Some workers have told us they are unclear about exactly what arbitration is. Officially called “impartial,” arbitration is really a tool of the bosses. The arbitrator acts as a government official who makes a binding decision on what workers will and won’t get. According to the rules, the workers don’t get to vote or get any choice in accepting the decision or not. It is always used to stick workers with rotten deals, under the pretense that the arbitrator is not tied to either management or the workers.
RTW of course always opposes arbitration. Even Toussaint has said heís against it, declaring on the eve of our strike that:
“they said they wanted binding arbitration. We said ‘Go to hell.’ We will go to binding arbitration only over the dead bodies of our leadership.”
However we all know Toussaint has broken promises before, so we’ll have to force him him to keep his word.
But arbitration is not the most immediate danger. In fact the immediate aim of the arbitration threat is to make us panic into quickly accepting a bad deal since arbitration would mean worse. Thus Toussaint could call for another vote on the same contract or one very similar, as the possibility of arbitration approaches. That’s why RTW’s proposal to reaffirm our contract demands and withdraw all concessions from negotiations are so important.
Rank-and-file opposition to Toussaint has already won gains in this contract struggle. For example the New York Times reported that in their secret post-strike negotiations, Toussaint and management searched for
“ways to sweeten the deal because of fears of widespread rank-and-file opposition. If the members vote down the settlement, it will put Mr. Toussaint and the transportation authority in a difficult position.” (Dec. 28, 2005)
This apparently explains the last minute inclusion in the contract of the 25/55 pension refund and retiree health benefit improvements. Since then, angry protests by train operators and conductors forced Toussaint to withdraw a bad contract provision affecting sick days for RTO workers. It is clear that the ranks will have to continue to take matters into their own hands in order overturn any of Toussaintís other givebacks.
But we must recognize that no big improvements will be won simply through Toussaint returning to negotiations. It will take a massive struggle to defeat managementís demands for big givebacks. To win the contract we deserve, the Local will have to prepare to strike again.
Restarting our struggle begins with fighting for mass membership meetings in which the ranks can discuss and decide on the next steps. Through such meetings, thousands strong, we will regain our sense of power and fighting spirit. There we can adopt contract demands to win the pension refund, retiree healthcare improvements and other gains from the proposed contract, reject the concessions like the healthcare paycheck deduction and surrender of our December contract expiration date, and raise new demands for a real wage raise and amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. That will show that the Local is united in struggle. And mass rallies, tens of thousands strong, with the participation of the ranks of other city unions, will show we have the power to win the struggle.
Such strong and clear preparations to strike, including appeals to other unions and the rest of the cityís working class to join our struggle might forces the bosses and politicians to back down. If they donít give in to our demands, we will be on course to strike again and win this time. And in the course of this struggle, Local 100 members will have the opportunity to test and select the best fighters from their ranks to lead the struggle.
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:RTW
P.O. Box 1936
Murray Hill Station
New York, NY 10156