The capitalist press has played up the opposition to Toussaint inside the TWU as an explanation for the transit strike and the contract rejection. Toussaint has given his own distorted, self-serving take on the matter. In fact it was the pressure of the militant rank and file that forced Toussaint to call the strike, and also led to the large ‘no’ vote on the concessionary deal. Toussaint has said that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy to trick workers into voting no. This conspiracy supposedly saw the bosses and their newspapers united with anti-Toussaint union officials to lie about the contract. In fact, the contract was bad and contained concessions that far outweighed the gains. RTW has repeatedly detailed what was in the deal that Toussaint and the MTA both advocated.
Of course, Toussaint doesn’t mention Revolutionary Transit Worker. Instead, he concentrates his fire on particular opponents on the Executive Board. Toussaint says they are remnants of the “old guard” bureaucracy, based mostly in the bus divisions of the union, who lost control of the Local five years ago but who still control the TWU International. They also include Ainsley Stewart and John Mooney, Vice Presidents for Car Equipment and Stations
Toussaint’s explanation for the contract rejection is garbage. Workers know the real reason why the majority voted no: because we didn’t strike in order to give back a new paycheck deduction and see our wages fall behind the cost of living!
The divisional breakdown of the contract vote also makes a mockery of Toussaint’s argument that particular “right-wing” union officers were responsible for the vote. There was a strong “no” vote across the Local. But the contract passed in all the bus divisions as well as Car Equipment, exactly where these particular union officials are in charge. It was rejected by a 5% margin in Stations. But by far the strongest votes to reject the contract were in Conductor/Tower (70% voted “NO”), Train Operator (68.3% “NO”), and Track (57.6% “NO”). In other words, the divisions from which many of Toussaint’s E. Board opponents come, voted to accept the contract. The big rejection votes came from those sections of the union that were the most militant and hostile against Toussaint’s “old guard” predecessors.
Thus the contract rejection, far from being a right-wing conspiracy, continued the struggle that swept the “old guard” from office after the 1999 strike movement. The same militant workers who supported Toussaint in his rise to power turned against him after he stabbed them in the back. They realized that he was lying when he promised to mobilize the power of the union to end years of sellouts. Now these militants, along with other fighting workers throughout the Local, are looking for an alternative leadership for the struggle and for the union. This makes it particularly important to examine the forces who oppose Toussaint and assess their claims, as oppositionists, to represent the members’ interests.
The TWU International is currently headed by Michael O’Brien and controlled by the old Sonny Hall gang of sellouts so rightly despised by Local 100 militants. Their fate was sealed by our powerful 1999 strike movement when they spread then-Mayor Giuliani’s anti-strike injunctions and sold us out. This was repeated when they publicly denounced our recent strike and called for scabbing. RTW, among others, immediately condemned and exposed this criminal act. Toussaint & Co.’s response to this treason was to apologize for it. They said that the International leaders had to do it for legal reasons.
Toussaint has some nerve to now blame his opponents for the International’s betrayal! If they hadn’t opposed his contract deal, he wouldn’t be complaining about them. It’s as simple as that. Nevertheless, no worker in their right mind is looking toward the International as an alternative to Toussaint.
Toussaint controls up to 75% of the Local 100 Executive Board and a like percentage of Local Division and Section officers. Though some of these officers used to support Sonny Hall and Willie James, Toussaint has bought their loyalty by placing them on the union payroll. If they develop disagreements with Toussaint, he takes them off the union payroll, often replacing them with unelected flunkies This shows Toussaint’s contempt for the members’ democratic rights.
It is true that among those opposed to Toussaint are individuals tied to the International leadership, most notably NYC Surface and MABSTOA VP’s Bill Pelletier and Barry Roberts. They both voted against our strike. They split on the question of ending the strike: Roberts voted to return to work while Pelletier correctly opposed this. But both voted to approve the contract! Then they turned around and said they were wrong to have voted for the contract on the E.B. and hesitantly supported some efforts against the sellout. Pelletier in particular had developed a certain militant reputation in Surface divisions, which extended into the current fight. He and Roberts attended some anti-contract meetings and spoke out to an extent against the contract. But they didn’t campaign hard where it really counts: among the membership. Their divisions voted overwhelmingly to pass the deal.
Roberts and Pelletier were right to oppose the contract. But we cannot ignore their role in providing cover for the treacherous International leadership. They have not, to our knowledge, denounced the International’s scabherding or repudiated its years of sellouts. RTW is prepared to cooperate with them temporarily in joint action whenever they take a step forward in struggle against the bosses, just as we denounce every instance in which they back down. Overall, we warn that they are part of the “old guard” bureaucracy with a long history of betrayal. RTW has warned against them repeatedly in prior issues. They cannot be trusted to lead our struggles and represent no alternative to Toussaint & Co.
Also opposed to Toussaint on the E.B. are Ainsley Stewart and John Mooney. While they act independently and take different positions on issues, often these two are also closely aligned. Stewart has played a very troublesome role in this contract struggle. He has been a vocal opponent of Toussaint for years, but has played ball with the International leadership. They rewarded him by making him an International Vice President at the 2005 International Convention. On the E.B., Stewart joined the International in treacherously voting against our strike and abstained on ending it! While Stewart opposed the sellout contract and has often been courageous in standing up to Toussaint & Co., he played a bad role in the vote “NO” campaign. He often got the facts about the contract wrong, which gave Toussaint an ounce of “truth” to his charge that the contract was misrepresented. Worse, Stewart spoke against the idea of another strike and floated the idea of agreeing to lesser givebacks like a flat-rate health care paycheck deduction rather than opposing them all.
Unlike Stewart, Mooney voted the right way on each major question in the contract struggle: to strike, to stay on strike and to reject the contract. And he was consistently active in the campaign against the contract. But Mooney also supports trying to find capitalist politicians to cut deals with even when these politicians openly work against workers’ interests. This strategy undermines workers’ awareness of their class interests and need to fight. It leads to disaster every time. For example, Mooney supported Mayor Bloomberg, who has so prominently attacked transit workers. Mooney also supports the Independence Party, an outfit that steers independent-minded voters to support Democrats or Republicans like Bloomberg.
This appears to be Toussaint’s main evidence for his wild conspiracy charges -- although Toussaint also donated money to Republicans, such as State Senator Joseph Bruno and former State Senator Guy Velella. Of course, he’s donated plenty to the pro-capitalist Democrats. There are plenty of union leaders who support Republicans that Toussaint has never attacked. Dennis Rivera of 1199 has backed Pataki. Lillian Roberts of DC 37 endorsed Bloomberg. The list goes on.
RTW and the League for the Revolutionary Party oppose giving support to any capitalist party -- this includes the Republicans and the Democrats. We believe that the working class can only successfully defend its interests by relying on its own power and organization in struggle. Voting for supposed “lesser evils” only encourages the false idea that there is a capitalist alternative and creates dangerous illusions that all the capitalist politicians are not our enemies.
The above VP’s, plus the ex-Toussaint supporter Randy Nevels from TO, have filed a lawsuit against the Local demanding substantial money awards. They correctly complain that Toussaint has prevented them from doing the VP jobs the members elected them to do. But any lawsuit or other government interference in the workers’ unions only helps the bosses and weakens the unions. The government is not neutral -- it is a capitalist government. RTW opposes all efforts by the courts and government to exert power over the unions -- only the ranks can clean their house and put an end to the bureaucratic and dictatorial practices of the leaders. Toussaint condemns this lawsuit, but he’s a hypocrite: he supported at least one lawsuit against the union himself, before he became president. Unlike RTW, he has never denounced lawsuits against unions in general -- only the ones that are against him.
Also on the E.B. is Marty Goodman, E.B. member for Stations. A self-described socialist, Marty has played an honorable role in the contract struggle, fighting consistently for a strike to win big gains for all workers, and energetically working to expose and defeat Toussaint’s sellout. RTW has worked closely with Marty throughout this campaign. We do have crucial differences with him over the strategy and tactics for the class struggle, however, which we take up below.
Importantly, some of Toussaint’s formerly strongest supporters in the leadership have broken from him and opposed the contract. They have been centered in the Track division, and include Division Chair John Samuelson, Track Executive Board members Carlos Albert and Mario Trischitta, and the majority of the Division Committee. Albert and Trischitta voted wrong on every question during our strike: they abstained on the question of striking, voted to end the strike and voted to recommend the proposed contract to the membership. But they have since admitted they were wrong and campaigned against the contract. However, they have so far declined to join with others in united actions.
The discovery of some working-class principles has come late for these guys. They participated in Toussaint’s bureaucratic regime for years, including dictatorially removing RTW’s Eric Josephson from release-time after he was elected Vice-Chair of the Division in 2001. They supported the last sellout contract, which saw wages fall behind the cost of living and gave away our no-layoff clause. And as late as the December 10, 2005 General Membership Meeting, Samuelsen said he had no criticisms of the Local’s contract campaign, despite Toussaint’s refusal to mobilize mass contract rallies and his early hints at agreeing to givebacks. Samuelsen and the rest of the Track Committee should continue to oppose the contract sellout in action, not just in words, and to unite with others in the fight. RTW has been criticizing and warning about Samuelson in prior issues as we do now. If Samuelsen & Co. don’t back up rhetoric with action, more workers will have good reason to think that their new opposition to Toussaint has more to do with their concern for their future careers in the union than it does with taking our union’s struggles forward.
Transit Workers for a Just Contract (TWJC) has been one of the more influential elements in the opposition, despite the fact that they put little energy and muscle into the contract fight. Simply put, they really didn’t do much before the strike or during the strike to fight for what we needed. They are basically the old New Directions caucus under a new name, which for years had been seen by many as the “official” opposition.
New Directions was a “reform” caucus, which means more than their favoring reforms. It means they believed in conveying the message that pressing for a series of improvements will add up to a solution to workers’ problems. While such an approach can never really provide a solution, it is exposed as completely ludicrous in the face of the intensifying bosses’ offensive. This reform approach is opposed to our political message: the necessity of building a revolutionary leadership and strategy that can lead the mass struggles of today beyond immediate victories to the overthrow of the entire capitalist system. No surprise there -- except for the fact that some of TWJC’s most prominent leaders consider themselves socialists. They apparently think that talk of socialism can wait until some distant point in the future. In practice, they avoid and are even hostile to creating the revolutionary vanguard.
New Directions demonstrated over time that they were opponents of the mass militancy that we needed to defend ourselves against the bosses even in the most immediate sense. In 1991, ND were the most recognizable leaders for the mass opposition to a sellout contract. But ND refused to call for a strike -- until the very day then-Local 100 President Sonny Hall presented a new, slightly improved contract with an option to vote “YES” or have it go to arbitration. They pissed away the momentum in 1999, after a mass meeting had unanimously backed an RTW motion for a strike. They leafleted against the 2001 contract sellout, but refused to join with RTW, Marty Goodman and others who were working to mobilize the members against it.
New Directions made union democracy their program, in effect offering it as an alternative to mass militancy -- and to revolutionary politics. ND increased its popularity simply by being an opposition, while the International leadership openly and repeatedly betrayed. Toussaint himself came to power running on the New Directions ticket (appearing at that time to be more militant than their traditional candidate, Tim Schermerhorn.) Once elected, Toussaint quickly turned on his old allies, whom he considered an obstacle to his own quest for power and political plans. In the following Local election (2003), the remnants of ND ran in the “Members 1st” slate with supporters of Sonny Hall and the TWU International leadership. They never criticized themselves for this thoroughly rotten bloc!
TWJC’s role has been weak at best. They could have played a large role before and during the strike: they are widely known from the past -- and have a standing among layers of the ranks as an existing opposition. But when the strike was approaching and during the strike, they did not mount a campaign to prevent a sellout and for a definite battle plan to win, even though it was highly predictable that Toussaint would sell out if he could. TWJC took correct stands on major contract issues. And after the contract rejection, they helped set up the Vote NO Coalition and then the Committee for a Better Contract -- on the basis of joint actions for progressive demands. But TWJC did little to actually mobilize union members for a fight on these issues -- just as they had failed to do before and during the strike.
LRP supporter Eric Josephson raised contract fight motions in the Track Division meeting and got them passed. (See “Track Division Vote Shows the Way Forward.”) TWJC leaders in Train Operators Division, including Steve Downs, did nothing to pressure Toussaint’s T/O Division bureaucrats to hold the emergency Contract Meeting mandated by the T/O membership meeting. TWU CED VP Ainsley Stewart and former TWU CED Vice-Chair Naomi Allen didn’t even try to raise the demands in the January Local 100 CED meeting.
Last but not least among the known leaders who have opposed Toussaint’s contract deal is Marty Goodman. Marty has played a consistently positive role in this contract struggle. On the Executive Board he has voted the right way on all the key questions and has been as tireless as RTW in building a militant fight against the MTA. RTW has closely cooperated with him during this time. But we have deep disagreements with him and the newspaper (Socialist Action -- SA) that Marty writes for. Among them is SA’s belief that revolutionary leadership is not necessary for the trade unions now, and that there is no link to be made between the fight for immediate and reform demands and the general fight against capitalism.
SA typically adapts to more militant-sounding but nonetheless pro-capitalist trade union bureaucrats, seeking to pressure them quietly rather than openly struggling against them. In fact, SA has been less critical of the TWU leaders’ sellouts than Marty individually has; they praised Toussaint for leading a militant strike in their preface to Marty’s last article in SA!
Marty’s interventions also seek to build union militancy as a separate stage of struggle, rather than openly fighting to build a revolutionary leadership. Marty was an active member of New Directions. He even advocated running Toussaint as ND’s candidate in 2000, based on Toussaint’s more militant appearance and not because of real agreement with him. And he in no way warned against Toussaint or any other candidate on the ND slate.
RTW and its leading supporter, Eric Josephson, took an opposite approach. While we advocated voting in Toussaint and the ND slate at that time, we openly warned that only the rank and file could stop ND, or any other pro-capitalist leadership, from betraying the membership. This was the revolutionary tactic of “critical support,” which is a way of proving the need for revolutionary leadership through a joint experience of workers. As Eric wrote in the very first issue of RTW,
“In voting for ND, I solidarized with the ranks’ desire to throw out the old guard and clear the way for further struggles. In no way does this mean any let-up in my hard and consistent opposition to ND’s opportunist leadership. They are now on the hot seat. They can no longer excuse themselves from working for a militant fightback by blaming the old guard’s obstruction. Transit workers will expect results, and I intend to help keep the pressure on ND. As Track Division Vice-Chair, I will be able to do so more effectively. Toussaint says he wants to mobilize the ranks. Fine! I support every real step to fight the bosses. But I intend to oppose and expose backsliding, sellouts or betrayals. I’ll continue to warn my fellow workers to trust their own power and mobilization, not the pro-capitalist ND leadership.”
Marty has learned to regret giving a blank check of support to Toussaint, but he does not seem to have learned the more general lesson that only a revolutionary socialist leadership can answer the crisis that workers face and that it is necessary to openly say so. Workers who already consider themselves socialists must openly fight for it now
Marty’s work in the Local is that of a “good” trade unionist, not a revolutionary. His bulletins generally stick to “bread and butter” issues and avoid wider political questions -- while RTW pays prominent attention to the struggle against racism, and U.S. imperialism’s bloody wars abroad. Marty fights racism and imperialism, but not as part of his opposition work in the union. While Marty criticizes the Democrats and Republicans, the day-to-day alternative he poses in the union is only trade union militancy -- and not the need to build a revolutionary socialist party inside and outside of the unions. In the final analysis, Socialist Action’s views are in the same ballpark as those of TWJC’s “socialist” supporters. We hope to win a dedicated militant like Marty to our perspective, though this will mean a break from his long-time political method.
As our comments on the oppositionist leadership forces indicate, our disagreements are basic and often severe. We are fundamentally in a political struggle to prove the need for revolutionary leadership of the union to our fellow workers. This is not a struggle that can be postponed for the future. Vacillating, hesitant and inconsistently militant at best, with the exception of RTW and Marty Goodman, the leadership opponents to Toussaint are in large part responsible for the current demoralization of the rank and file. This article has outlined a lot of concrete examples of opposition behavior on the leadership level. The net result of what we have described had one result: workers who voted down the contract could not find any immediate alternative to Toussaint among the opposition-elected union officials, an alternative that commands real resources. Which of them could be trusted to lead the struggle forward and which of them acted boldly and immediately to do so? None.
These elected officials run divisions and workplaces where they had the power to immediately mobilize workers who had voted for them in good numbers. They needed to immediately act in a united and strong fashion, in order to demand a renewal of demonstrations against the MTA. In particular, they should have fought for the election of, at minimum, an oversight committee of workers so that the contract negotiations would not remain in the hands of Toussaint alone. They have access to the media and they have access to the rank and file.
All in all, they did not use their positions in leadership to do what needed to be done. They have generally been individual mouthpieces rather than workers’ leaders. This meant leaving negotiations in the hands of Toussaint, who would most obviously betray. Toussaint holds top power and was already the obvious danger -- that much workers knew. But opposition leaders who fail to lead are themselves another form of misleadership. What became clear to more workers is that we not only have to fight Toussaint, but that we have to demand that those leaders who claim to be in opposition actually lead, or step out of the way.
Sober political assessments and political disagreements, including sharp ones, are necessary. It is necessary to fight demoralization by facing reality. The rank and file has the power to force leaders, including the opposition leaders, to mobilize actions on our behalf and we must unite to do so. This is part of the process of defending the union and allowing our fellow workers, through joint struggle, to learn what kind of leadership we need. There is no obstacle to working with other oppositionists that are contending for leadership over practical steps in the struggle against the bosses. In fact, it is absolutely necessary! We are hardly interested in criticizing from the sidelines. As long as other workers look to these leaders, and as long as these leaders are taking positive actions on behalf of the union, we will fight alongside them for every possible gain. Workers, including workers who support RTW, recognize that we need the maximum unity possible in action for the maximum effective strength. At the same time, the various cooperating groupings and individuals have the right to present their politics and criticize others. Such unity in action with freedom of criticism is known to socialists as the “united front” approach. It is a fundamental feature of revolutionary work within and outside of unions.
Through such united fights, particularly when they achieve victories, we will be able to convince the best militants and revolutionary-minded workers, including those in and around other groups, of our point of view. We believe that RTW has both the action plan and the political views that will best serve the interests of our fellow workers. Only RTW and the LRP have the political views and practice that a fighting workers’ movement needs to win serious victories under the capitalist system and prepare for its eventual overthrow. We are ready to prove this in the course of joint actions to defend the interests of transit workers and the whole working class.
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
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New York, NY 10156