Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 40

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

February 1, 2007


Why Toussaint Won

Roger Toussaint won re-election to his third term as president even though a majority of Local 100 members voted for his opponents. With opposition votes divided among five other candidates, Toussaint’s 45.5% of the vote was enough to put him over the top. Most of his running-mates on the One Union (1U) slate also won. Undemocratic “winner-take-all” union election rules that favor big slates mean that Toussaint will maintain control of the Executive Board, but by a reduced margin.

Of the three opponent slates, the most prominent was the Rail and Bus United Slate (RaBUS), whose presidential candidate Barry Roberts got 34.7%. Mike Carube if the Fresh Start (FS) slate got about 9.2%, and Ainsley Stewart of Union Democracy got 8.9%. Independent (non-slate) candidate Anthony Staley got about 1.2%.

No principled differences separated these rival campaigns. While a divided opposition ensured Toussaint’s victory, the real reason why his opponents lost was political -- none of them presented a clear alternative. None of them emphasized our 2005 strike and its aftermath, though that’s what the election was all about. None proposed a plan of action to mobilize the Local against arbitration and win a decent contract. RTW opposed all these slates, explaining that none could be trusted to mobilize the ranks against the bosses’ attacks.

Barry Roberts in particular talked out of both sides of his mouth when it came to the strike. On the Executive Board he voted against striking, in favor of ending the strike and in favor of recommending the first, rotten contract offer to the members (only later to campaign against it). During the campaign he said we should have stayed out longer -- but who could trust him? He also said he opposed the new 1.5% healthcare paycheck deduction, only to disgustingly suggest attacks on new hirees’ pensions instead. So did Ainsley Stewart.

But the ranks did perceive an important difference between Toussaint and his opponents: in spite of the fact that he sold out our strike, Toussaint came across as the one who was militant enough to stand up to the MTA and wage a strike. His opponents were unclear about or outright opposed to striking, in the cases of Roberts and Stewart. So despite many members’ disgust with and hatred for Toussaint’s misleadership, they voted for him in order to reaffirm the strike.

Further, many members who voted against Toussaint also wanted a militant strike and a no-giveback contract. They voted for Toussaint’s opponents to register against Toussaint’s betrayal, not against our strike. The RaBUS candidates who won in Track, S& LE, Power and other NYCT Train Divisions were almost all Toussaint supporters until quite recently -- in some cases, five months before the election campaign. It’s significant that Toussaint lost big in Track, his own division.

Revolutionary Candidate

The only openly revolutionary socialist candidate was Eric Josephson of RTW in Track. His campaign emphasized that we were right to strike and to vote against the contract. He said the ranks should challenge all the Local’s leaders and would-be leaders to mobilize the union against arbitration and to win a contract with a big wage hike, no givebacks and no new or increased paycheck deductions.

Central to the way forward for transit workers, Josephson and RTW argued, was preparing the Local to strike again when the time came, as part of a fightback by the entire working class against the bosses’ attacks. To this end, we emphasized the need to give no support to the Republican or Democratic Parties, the two main parties of the ruling class. And Josephson’s campaign was not limited to addressing solely “trade union issues”: instead it emphasized the need to mobilize the Local and the working class in general against racist and anti-immigrant attacks as well as against the U.S.’s bloody imperialist war in Iraq.

Josephson’s campaign pointed out that all the slates stood against effective strikes and for givebacks; that workers can win only with mass action, including general strike; that the Democratic and Republican Parties are the bosses’ friends and the workers’ enemies; that the government is the capitalists’ tool; that workers need a revolution to replace the capitalist state with their own workers’ state; and that to lead successful struggles, workers need a revolutionary party. (See RTW No. 39.)

He received 150 votes for EB Member and 154 for Division Chair, about 12%. This is about 30 more votes than he got in the 2003 election, a 25% increase. A significant number of Toussaint’s opponents in Track voted for Josephson, an avowed communist, despite the resulting split in anti-Toussaint votes.

Independent Campaigns

Two other independent campaigns merit comment. In Stations, Marty Goodman, a respected fighter of long standing, lost his re-election bid for EB Member, with 577 votes out of 2580, or about 22.4%. Though he supports an avowedly revolutionary socialist group, Socialist Action, Marty ran on a program of union militancy and anti-war, anti-Democratic Party planks. His campaign did not explain that workers’ militancy is not enough, that only socialist revolution can win and keep gains. RTW is disappointed that Marty lost: he and the rest of the membership lost a chance to test in practice his program of union militancy alone and to show that it becomes an obstacle to workers’ victory.

The Independent Team (IT) departmental slate in RTO won two posts, including Chair of Train Operators. The winner was Steve Downs, a co-founder of New Directions (ND) over 22 years ago and still a proponent of the original ND program. Downs also considers himself a socialist, but he believes that it’s appropriate now only to build a “rank-and-file caucus” which pushes for more union democracy and increased militancy. (The IT campaign added a demand to move Local 100 toward disaffiliation from the TWU International.) After an extended period of gradually increasing union democracy, winning more union elections and carefully ramping up struggle, the workers will be strong enough to hear about socialism. This strategy led to Toussaint’s victory with ND in 2000, after which Toussaint bureaucratically liquidated ND and imposed his dictatorship on the union. Downs seems further away from winning union democracy and raising socialism now than when he started. Perhaps after another 22 years ...?

Divided Union

This election’s most striking result is the obvious division among the membership and leadership. This isn’t new, but it is aggravated. Previous Local 100 elections usually gave margins of 60% or so to the winners, who naturally claimed a mandate. They were always wrong. Now no one can claim unity.

This division stems from the betrayed ’05 strike. Its premature end and subsequent lousy contract enraged the membership. Toussaint’s forced re-vote further angered the members, including many who had originally voted in favor. They hated Toussaint’s disregard for the members’ decision when it went against him.

Unfortunately, no powerful leadership group stood clearly and consistently for the necessary program: we were right to strike; we were right to vote no; we should have struck to win -- no givebacks! As a result, the meaning of that struggle remains unresolved for many members. There is confusion rather than clarity. The one seemingly clear pole is Toussaint, despite his lies and obfuscations. Many members say, “I’ll never strike again!” Some even say, “I’ll scab before I’ll strike again!”

We say that there are no fundamental differences between Toussaint and his slate opponents. The latter ducked the main issue, the strike. Nonetheless, the Local leadership is divided. Most of the RaBUS candidates in MaBSTOA were long- standing opponents of Toussaint, “old guard” allies of former TWU International President Sonny Hall and the International union bureaucracy. That is, they were previously allied with former International President Michael O’Brien, who published the notorious “scab” letter against last year’s strike (This was such an embarrassment to the bureaucracy that they forced O’Brien to retire “for health reasons” last spring.)

There was some ethnic content to the vote. Transit workers of Caribbean background voted more for Toussaint, a Trinidadian. Further, many Black workers saw the attacks on Toussaint, by the MTA, the government, the New York Post, etc., as typical attacks on any Black leader who seems to be fighting against racism. Although Toussaint in reality tries to conciliate with the overwhelmingly white capitalist power structure, the latter can’t stand any expression of Black militancy, no matter how phony.

Snapshot of the Local & Prospects

The election leaves Toussaint in power, but weakened. The EB, which includes the top 3 officers, the 7 VPs and 39 EB members, now has 32 Toussaint supporters and 17 opponents, in contrast to the previous breakdown, which was generally 33-14. Six out of 15 divisions have anti-Toussaint majorities on their Division Committees. After Toussaint liquidated New Directions, he recruited various “old guard” elements to his camp. The latter had no principles other than the rats’ instinct to swim from a sinking ship. If the new ship founders they may swim away again.

The ranks mostly voted against Toussaint, not necessarily for any person or program. The attitude toward Toussaint among many Train Operators, Conductors, Bus Operators and Mechanics, Signal Maintainers, Trackworkers, Cleaners, Car Inspectors, etc., is hatred. Toussaint’s raving narcissism, authoritarianism, dishonesty, secretiveness, spitefulness and pettiness made him the issue in the contract fight, strike and contract settlement; it wasn’t just about tactics or contract clauses. Therefore, the disappointment and rage the members feel about the misled strike and sell-out contract became loathing for this bureaucrat more than for the other equally sold- out bureaucrats.

Advisors to public sector union leaders like Bill Henning, VP of CWA 1180 (NYC semi-supervisory), and Richard Steier, editor of The Chief newspaper, warned Toussaint to listen to opposing viewpoints more, observe democratic formalities, not accuse all opponents of being agents of Rupert Murdoch, etc. More tellingly, Percival Thomas, a Trackworker and a losing 1U EB candidate, urged likewise in a letter to The Chief (Dec. 29).

Toussaint is unlikely to take this advice. He is no doubt convinced that his opponents cleverly tricked workers into voting against him; that was his explanation for the first vote against his contract. More to the point, he has a majority on the Executive Board and on most Division Committees: for now, he can force through any measures he likes. He is already putting losing 1U candidates on the union payroll and refusing to appoint his winning opponents. Later, after a flashy public relations campaign, he could stage something like a membership referendum on himself and his policies and claim again to be the representative of all transit workers.

But it will be the ranks, as they recover from the demoralization of the strike and the contract fiasco, who will force Toussaint again into class struggle -- on the road to forcing him and other class traitors out. The rising wave of struggle which forced Toussaint to strike in 2005 has flattened, not ebbed: we’ll see a new surge before long.

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