When Local 100’s ranks voted down the proposed contract, we at least deserved a leadership that would put the members first: one that would respect the decision of the majority and work to unite the entire Local in a struggle for a contract all could support.
When the MTA announced its new “proposal” of outrageous demands, we needed a leadership that would strongly denounce them and fire back with the Local’s own demands, threatening a powerful response.
Instead, Toussaint & Co. have spent almost all their time attacking “No” voters rather than the MTA. “Yes” voters shouldn’t feel good about this either. The union leadership threatens to stick “No” and “Yes” voters alike with a terrible contract.
This came through loud and clear when the union e-mailed the new MTA “offer” to the membership with the simple message: “Be careful what you wish for.” In other words, they tried to blame “No” voters for the MTA’s attacks, and they insinuated that they would let the MTA get away with them.
This is treason. Toussaint’s refusal to respect the ranks’ vote and stand up to the MTA has obviously encouraged management’s latest attacks. A decent leader’s response to the contract rejection would have been to say: “The members have spoken and I am listening and standing by my members. I am determined to fight for what the ranks want. I can do no less.” But Toussaint did the opposite: he turned against the members. Toussaint has no one to blame but himself for the contract’s rejection. He killed our strike after just three days and agreed to an unacceptable, giveback contract without ever consulting the ranks beforehand.
Toussaint even went on radio and television after the contract rejection and essentially promised that there would be no improvements in the contract. Workers never gain from voting to reject contracts, he said. This, of course, is nonsense. U.S. labor history has many examples of workers rejecting betrayals by their leaders and going on to win their struggles. But there are, sadly, more examples of union bureaucrats like Toussaint & Co. succeeding in selling out their members because they bank on demoralizing the ranks.
This is what is happening. Toussaint’s sole concern right now is to preserve his privileged position at the top of the union. In this context, even the New York Times’ labor reporters noted:
“Strange as it may sound, not just the authority, but perhaps Mr. Toussaint as well, may have little desire to negotiate an agreement that is far more generous to the workers ... because it might make him look weak -- as if he had negotiated too stingy a deal the first time around.” (January 22.)
To add to his scare tactics, Toussaint played with arbitration. In December he said that Local 100’s contract would “go to binding arbitration only over the dead bodies of our leadership.” Now the New York Post reports that while he still says he is against arbitration, he is participating in the arbitration process already by nominating union lawyer Basil Patterson to sit on the arbitration panel! (February 9).
Toussaint didn’t want the contract to go to arbitration. Rather, he has used the threat of arbitration to force the members to vote for the same or a worse contract. Toussaint belatedly shifted to verbally condemning the MTA’s “offer.” Apparently he realized how bad he looked by refusing to even verbally condemn it. However, Toussaint & Co. have yet even to hint at mobilizing the Local to press for a better contract. Indeed, at the January 25 Executive Board meeting, Toussaint and his flunkies didn’t even consider raising any demands on the MTA.
Since then, however, it grew increasingly clear that Toussaint & Co. intends to force a re-vote on the rejected contract. They’ve hinted at this to newspapers as well. Executive Board member Mike Morales told the Daily News that “As each day passes, more and more members have feelings of regret ... If we got to see the same package today, and vote on it, I think it would be overwhelmingly approved.” (February 6.)
This strategy seems to be working. NYCT Surface workers in Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 726 (Staten Island bus) and 1056 (Queens, Corona Depot) negotiated the same contract with the MTA as Local 100, as usual, and voted on it after Local 100. They voted to accept by 92% and 79% respectively.
Toussaint and his tool in the ATU, International staffer Larry Hanley, had almost a month to bully and demoralize the brothers and sisters in Staten Island and Queens. It was reasonable to believe that if they rejected the contract, Toussaint would enthusiastically help the MTA give them worse. In the absence of a credible opposition in leadership able to wage a mass fight against the MTA, the ATU sisters and brothers saw no alternative. Nevertheless their vote was a mistake because the contract will hurt them and the union as a whole.
This gives Toussaint leverage against his enemies -- rank-and-file transit workers. He’s better able to blackmail more workers into accepting a sellout. And he’s given the MTA (who he refers to as his “partners”) the main givebacks they wanted, from two important groups of workers. It is most likely that the MTA will focus on getting this sellout from the ranks of TWU Local 100 at this point.
A re-vote on the contract is the ultimate disrespect for our contract vote. The ranks have not changed their opinion of the contract. Most understand that it’s a bad deal. But many Local 100 members fear that Toussaint & Co. would use the renewed contract negotiations to punish them.
Local 100 members who voted to reject the contract were right. It would have left our wages falling further below the cost of living, left us paying ever increasing health benefit premiums and without the bargaining power of our strike threat during peak shopping in December.
If Toussaint & Co. make us vote again on the same contract, or any other with givebacks, we should vote “No” again. But if there is another vote on the previous contract offer today, the contract would probably pass. Many workers would vote for it knowing it was bad, because they fear Toussaint is prepared to stick us with even worse. Such workers would nonetheless, like the “No” voters, look forward to voting Toussaint & Co. out of office at the next elections.
It is still possible that the MTA will keep up its recent threats and demand so many new concessions that Toussaint will not be able to simply call for a re-vote on the already rejected sellout package. And Management may even try to force the contract into arbitration -- especially since the pension refund would not be part of the deal.
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. Arbitration 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.
Obviously workers must continue to oppose arbitration and any new threats from the MTA. But we shouldn’t give in to accepting the old concessionary deal either. The newer threats were designed exactly to make us think that what we already rejected wasn’t so bad. While we can understand the frustrations and even demoralization that members may feel about what Toussaint has done, we can’t afford to passively accept the MTA attacks, in the form of either the old “offer” or a new one even worse. And we can’t afford to let Toussaint off the hook
The longer that Toussaint & Co keep the Local membership passive and fan the flames of destructive in-fighting, the greater the danger. Militant workers must raise the call for immediate actions which can unite “Yes” and “No” voters in a common struggle against the MTA.
The picket protest called by two union officials and the Committee for a Better Contract (see announcement on this site) is one step in the right direction. It took a long time for some action to happen but it is far better late than never! All members, whether they voted Yes or No, can see the need to fight givebacks in terms of a health care premium. And if this protest is successful, which it should be, it can encourage further action. But we have to hold the “opposition” leaders to the test and demand that they actually mobilize the ranks for this action and beyond.
We must work to overcome the often bitter division between “Yes” and “No” voters. United we stand! Divided we fall! “No” voters must reach out to “Yes” voters and explain that we are committed to fighting for the demands of all transit workers. We want to fight to defend the potential gains that led some to vote for the contract, like the pension refund and the improvements in retiree health benefits. But “No” voters must also keep demanding that Toussaint & Co. respect the results of the democratic process and withdraw the concessions he made to management, which we rejected -- particularly the retiree health care paycheck deduction and the surrender of our December contract expiration date.
For the ranks, the picket protest can be used as a step toward a big Local 100 demonstration, which would be a real shot in the arm. We’d start to feel our power again, and more workers would see the potential for a renewed struggle. With that reawakened sense of solidarity, the call for a mass membership meeting to decide on the next steps in the struggle could gain widespread support. Such a mass membership meeting, however, must not be anything like those Toussaint has held in the past, where the members can’t speak but can only listen to and support what he has to say. Instead, it should be democratically run, with the ranks having the right to speak, raise motions and decide on the next steps in the struggle.
Even some of the most militant workers are feeling discouraged right now. Many are tired and disappointed by the outcome of the struggle so far. The demoralization of broader numbers of workers and the rotten behavior of the Local’s leadership can make our talk of a new struggle seem hopeless. But in truth, militant workers should understand three things:
1. While Toussaint & Co. have succeeded in betraying our struggle so far, each step forward we have taken has taught important lessons. Our strike showed our power. Our “No” vote showed that opposition to Toussaint’s sellout was widespread and that there is a strong current of militancy to build on for the future.
2. Attempts to fight in the union’s Division meetings for continuing contract struggle, while mainly frustrated so far, have brought the most militant workers closer together and shown broader numbers of workers that we don’t have to back down to the bosses or union bureaucrats. Some opposition leaders are feeling the pressure, and are now mounting this picket protest.
3. Toussaint & Co., as well as the MTA, are counting on demoralizing the rank and file in order to push through a contract that smells as bad as it did before. It is in the interests of workers to combat this pressure to give up, and to continue the fight.
Our fighting spirit gave Toussaint little choice but to strike against management’s attacks. With little or no help from the leadership, we organized strong picket lines, showing no weakness when Toussaint sent us back to work without a contract. Militant workers then stood up against the betrayal and defeated Toussaint’s contract proposal in spite of massive disinformation efforts by the leadership.
While a growing number of transit workers actively support the ideas expressed in Revolutionary Transit Worker, we are still far too small and we do not yet have elected leadership positions in the Local at this time. That is why the path forward must include placing demands on those who are in official leadership positions, and claim to oppose the contract, to mobilize now. As well, there will be further steps ahead to stop Toussaint’s betrayals as long as he still holds the top power.
Wherever possible we join with the largest number of militant workers to fight for a united struggle against the bosses. We have participated in the Committee for a Better Contract (CBC). We have great disagreements with many in the committee, some who are bureaucrats themselves, regarding the correct tactics and aims of the working class struggle in general. But where we can agree on immediate practical steps in our contract fight, from rejecting Toussaint’s contract proposal to the picket protest next week, we do so readily However, Revolutionary Transit Worker makes absolutely clear that without significant leadership forces in the union mobilizing to reject any sellout deals -- and to prepare to strike when necessary -- there is no chance of us winning our contract demands.
Agreements for united action, like with the CBC, are essential to taking forward our struggle. But temporary groupings like the CBC are in themselves not the answer to the crisis of leadership of the Local and the entire working class. Workers need a leadership that will mobilize the full power of the working class in struggle and not sell out our interests to the bosses. They need a leadership that will not only defend workers’ immediate, job-related economic issues, but all our concerns, from the fight against racism at home to opposition to U.S. war-mongering abroad. RTW believes that only a revolutionary socialist leadership of workers can fill that bill. We urge our fellow workers to consider these ideas more. Discuss them with us while we fight together against the MTA and against the concessionary contract.
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:
P.O. Box 1936
Murray Hill Station
New York, NY 10156