Having tied us down for over a year and pried our mouths open, the MTA, the arbitrators, the government, the ATU and other union hacks, the TWU International and Toussaint finally – finally! – forced the sell-out contract down our throats. With few exceptions, it’s the same as the contract we voted down. It still stinks.
The contract gives back to the bosses wages and conditions transit workers fought long and hard to gain in the first place. The wage “increases” are below inflation, even more so after the 1.5% deduction supposedly for retiree health benefits (which 78% of retirees already get for free). And don’t forget that the deduction is set to increase. This means we’ll fall further behind inflation all the time.
We were right to strike – management’s demands to sacrifice future hires’ pensions were outrageous. And we could have won – had we stayed out longer and spread the strike, first to Metro-North and LIRR, and beyond. Instead, Toussaint killed our strike after 2½ days and agreed to what are now the main clauses of the our contract, giving management more money out of our pocket than they originally called for!
The whole point of having a union is to defend and improve the wages and conditions of its members and not to give back hard-earned gains. That’s the point for worker members, that is. The point of unions for bureaucrats like Toussaint, however, is to maintain the bureaucracy’s privileged lifestyle, well-paid and rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful.
So why did Toussaint call the strike? The short answer is that he feared the ranks would kick him from the union presidency if he agreed to huge givebacks without at least appearing to lead a fightback. Instead, he misled the strike to teach us the lesson that militancy doesn’t pay. He hoped that without a strong alternative leadership mobilizing workers and challenging him, he could kill the strike and demoralize us.
Toussaint got the shock of his life when the ranks rejected the contract in the first vote. We were right to vote No. But in the absence of an alternative leadership in place to take the struggle forward, Toussaint inevitably regained control. He forced us to vote again on the same contract. And fearing that worse could follow a second rejection, a majority of transit workers then voted to accept it.
But then the MTA refused to accept our second contract vote and called for arbitration. On the eve of our strike, Toussaint boldly declared to a Local 100 rally:
“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.”
Knowing Toussaint, it was no surprise when, under cover of a few hot-air complaints about arbitration, he proceeded to let it go ahead without hindrance. But it didn’t have to be that way. As RTW said during the recent elections:
“The Local must oppose arbitration and demand a contract with big wage hikes, full pension refund and full retiree health coverage with no layoffs, givebacks, trade-offs or increased or new paycheck deductions, and no fare hikes or service cuts. The Local must fight Taylor Law fines, jailings and interference with our union dues. We should start with well-prepared mass protests. We should demand that other unions support us: we should go to their ranks with leaflets, not only to the leaders. Through a series of rallies, marches and other mobilizations we should rebuild our confidence and fighting spirit till we are again ready to strike.” (RTW No. 39)
A few mass mobilizations could have stopped arbitration. It could have been a relatively easy victory. We would have come out of it reactivated and ready to ramp up to strike footing. Toussaint made sure nothing of the sort happened.
The mood among many transit workers was relief – it’s finally settled! – along with bitterness at how we were played by Toussaint, the bosses and the politicians. But it is important to understand that the contract is not the only bad result. The fact that management and the politicians succeeded in using arbitration to impose a contract without us having the right to vote on it is as bad as the givebacks themselves. It sets a bad precedent by taking the power to decide away from the ranks (both our ability to strike and our right to vote). We cannot afford to let this happen again.
Governor Eliot Spitzer, so beloved of Toussaint, has stated that there must be productivity gains from transit, i.e., more work from fewer workers. Perhaps he’ll get to it after shutting down hospitals, following the plan of Pataki and all the state legislators. Even had he not jailed Toussaint, fined the union and taken away dues check-off as attorney general, he would still be our class enemy as the big real estate capitalist and Democratic Party hack that he is.
His choice to replace Kalikow as Executive Director of the MTA is Elliot Sander, a Vice-President of DMJM Harris, a mass-transit building company involved in the Second Avenue Subway project, among other things – a big beneficiary of MTA contracting-out. He will, of course, quit his DMJM Harris job before handing out MTA contracts to them. But never fear: he says that privatizing the subway is “unrealistic for the MTA to consider right now.” (New York Sun, Dec. 18, 2006 – our emphasis.)
Having forced his sellout contract on us, Toussaint says to trust in Spitzer and Sander, allegedly friendlier to workers than Pataki and Kalikow. The new bosses, meanwhile, are planning for more takebacks in the next contract.
Toussaint and his flunkies also say that we must unite and start planning now for the January 2009 contract. That’s true. As usual, however, Toussaint doesn’t say what demands are important or how we should plan to win them. We have to guess that: 1) he hopes once more to have us shut up, not criticize and wait for his wise, secret plans to be disclosed sometime after the last possible minute; and 2) he’s even more desirous of avoiding a strike than before and believes he can bullshit us into it by promises of social peace and shiny new nickels from the capitalist politicians.
But Toussaint’s grasp on power is greatly weakened, and the same issues that impelled us to strike are more powerful than ever. To start, there are pent-up wage demands, a main cause of the 2005 strike. This will count greatly, given the 1.5% and growing wage deduction. Then there are inadequate health benefits, despite the modest gains for retirees. Then there is the example of our strike: misled though it was, it terrified the bosses and politicians who run this city and shows us our potential power to shut the city down. And day-to-day there are the struggles against management’s abuses.
There are also struggles of other workers, fellow MTA employees for starters. The same Sanders told the Sun that “one of his first challenges will be to avert a strike of Metro-North employees.” Our sister and brothers at Metro-North face Federal laws which make it hard to strike: there are mandated delays of 3 months at a time. Many have had no new contract since 2002, and their demands for wage raises are even stronger than ours. If their union bureaucrats can enforce the federal government’s strike restrictions, they will finally be able to go out this summer.
In any case, we should start right now going directly to workers from all Metro-North unions, as well as their leaders, urging mass rallies for a better contract and strike preparation. We should demand that the Local 100 leadership officially organize this, but we must not wait for them. We should prepare to honor Metro-North workers’ picket lines. Their leaders, with Toussaint’s help, held them back from picketing for our strike: let’s not fall into that trap! Few things will prepare us better for our next contract than joining, as much as we can, a successful Metro-North contract fight, up to and including a strike.
Also, Local 100 should look for, join and initiate mass immigrant workers’ actions, like those last May 1. The Local should use all its resources to bring the members out. In Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere, these mobilizations became a virtual one-day general strike. The undocumented workers, our sister and brothers, are also among our passengers. If we join their struggles and help defend them from boss and cop persecution, we can build solidarity of the whole working class and turn the sympathy we got for our strike into active support.
The sellout of our strike, and the subsequent ease with which the arbitrator succeeded in shoving the contract down our throat, testify to the weakness of our leadership. Transit workers, like all workers, need a leadership prepared to mobilize the ranks’ full power and not back down until we’ve won. But a transit strike that shuts down the financial capital of the world’s superpower and costs Wall Street billions is a real threat to the capitalist system. That’s why the only leadership that we can rely on not to hold back workers’ struggles for the sake of the system is one that is committed to the system’s overthrow: a revolutionary socialist party leadership. That’s the leadership that RTW is committed to building. We urge interested workers to get in touch.