Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 42

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

September 4, 2007

Toussaint Betrays Track Safety

by Eric Josephson, Track Division

Transit workers were outraged after Trackworkers Danny Boggs and Marvin Franklin died within days of one another in April. We needed to see the same outrage from our union leaders. As RTW said all along, our brothers’ deaths weren’t innocent accidents, they were murder: the direct result of dangerous conditions enforced by the MTA bosses.

But the Toussaint leadership has not held the MTA bosses responsible for our brothers’ deaths. Instead they’ve held the bosses’ hands, refusing to take a single step without them. From the fraudulent “Track Safety Bill” passed in Albany (see No “Partnership” with Killer Bosses -- Local 100 Must Fight for Track Safety! [at the bottom of this webpage]), through the official fatality reports, to the latest changes in safety rules, we’ve seen only delays, deception and half-measures. This is an insult to the memories of Danny Boggs and Marvin Franklin and a danger to transit workers.

Holding the Bosses’ Hands

The first thing Toussaint did after Danny Boggs’s death was hold a joint press conference with management, declaring our brother’s death a tragedy “for the whole transit family” -- that is, for the workers and for the bosses who oppress us and even get us killed! Toussaint later explained that in his opinion it is often “easier to simply scream at management and call them names” but that he was committed to having “TA leadership working with us.”

In reality, it is a lot easier for Toussaint and his cronies like RTO VP Tate to sit in committee meetings with the bosses than to organize the ranks to shut down unsafe work and win our demands for improved safety. As for name-calling, we will continue to call the bosses murderers, even if it gets in the way of Toussaint’s attempts to be buddies with them.

Toussaint made his strategy clear in his first Track Safety Bulletin, which said nothing about the union taking any action to shut down unsafe work. Instead, it emphasized that “a new Governor and a new MTA leadership mean new possibilities for Track Safety.” Any improvements, according to Toussaint, would have to come from cozying up with the bosses and politicians.

The union could have immediately taken charge of the safety crisis. Maintenance of Way workers have known all along how to improve track safety. Toussaint & Co. could have raised an army of officers, stewards and union-hall hangers-on and sent them to every job site to enforce new safety rules and shut down all unsafe work.

Instead, the ranks were told to wait. Wait for the “safety stand-downs” and sit through hours of the bosses reading safety rules that those same bosses try to break every other day. Wait for the official MTA Board of Inquiry’s reports on our brothers’ deaths. Wait for a membership survey on ways to improve safety. Wait for management to announce new safety regulations. Wait for more changes after a joint management-union safety committee meets. Wait again for the New York State Committee on transit safety to meet. Now, after months of delays, we can judge what Toussaint’s approach has achieved.

Boards of Inquiry Blame Bosses and Workers

The first of many joint labor-management committees concerned with track safety to report on its findings were the official MTA Boards of Inquiry into the deaths of Brothers Danny Boggs and Marvin Franklin. Toussaint’s decision that the union should for the first time participate in these boards of inquiry was a scandal. It put our union’s seal of approval on the MTA murderers inquiring into their own crimes and cost us precious time in the fight for track safety. The union could have quickly issued its own report informing the ranks of the bosses’ responsibility, based on the testimony of workers who witnessed the deaths. That could have been part of a campaign to mobilize the ranks to fight for improved track safety. Instead, the ranks were kept passive, waiting to read the official Boards’ reports.

The reports’ conclusions were not surprising. Given the overwhelming evidence, they had no choice but to find that Brother Boggs died as a result of unsafe work conditions set up by management and that Brother Franklin’s death resulted from his supervisor abandoning his flagging position. But the Boards tried to spread the blame. They claimed that Brother Boggs failed to look both ways before walking onto the tracks (when he had clearly been made to believe that no trains were running) and that Brother Franklin and his co-worker ignored safety regulations (even though they were working under their supervisors’ direction).

Tate, who glories in being the first union member of an MTA Board of Inquiry, objected to these despicable attempts to blame the victims. And Toussaint said that

... the Board gives mistaken emphasis to whether Danny Boggs looked both ways’ before stepping onto the track he was led to believe was clear by supervision. In doing so, the Board cites an all-purpose ‘rule,’ which is really intended as a training and survival skill, to instead attribute blame to the victim.

And that:

again the Board wrongly focused on ascertaining whether track workers may have violated safety procedures prior to the incident, even while acknowledging that at the time Franklin was struck, he was under the direct control and orders of supervision.

But never fear: “This is wrong, and the TWU strongly disagrees with it and has said so to the Board.” Toussaint also added that Local 100 members involved in the incident shouldn’t face any disciplinary charges.

This bland, toothless criticism weighs nothing next to the pathetic glee which Toussaint, Tate and the rest of the union sellouts show at being allowed to sit on the same committee with the killer bosses. And Toussaint, Tate and Co. all spout the “culture of safety” line. This says that the reason for unsafe conditions is “complex,” implicating both workers and bosses. This contrasts with the supposed “oversimplification” that management’s drive for production is to blame and that only workers’ fight-back can win safety.

Hence Toussaint’s even-handedness: while the top MTA bosses took a month to consider disciplinary charges against the supervisors responsible, President Toussaint never called for disciplinary action against them, let alone criminal charges. Shamefully, Toussaint & Co. refused to comment when Lloyd London, the boss who got Marvin Franklin killed, was allowed to save his pension and keep a job with the MTA, taking a demotion to cleaner. Thus London becomes a Local 100 member again -- while the bosses fire Local 100 members every day for infractions which hurt no-one! And Toussaint wouldn’t even consider calling for charges against those ultimately responsible: the MTA bosses themselves -- he’s too busy having press conferences and meetings with them.

On top of this another Trackworker, Track Specialist Martin Meyers, suffered serious injury. He fell off the lift_platform of a Clip Truck due to inadequate MTA safety_harness procedures and is lucky to be alive. But the official Local 100 response, signed by MoW Acting ( i.e., Toussaint_appointed) VP Ayala, did not blame the bosses or call for any safety changes. Instead, it says that Meyers’ injury “is a painful reminder that transit work is inherently dangerous work. We are doing everything possible to build safety into the heart of the job, but nothing can eliminate risk completely. The fall of a veteran Trackman with 24 years of experience brings this home.” In spite of this free pass from our union, the MTA effectively admitted guilt anyway, announcing a safety change that could have been in effect all along: from now on all workers on raised lift-platforms must be hooked up at all times. Once again, it took one of our brothers being seriously hurt to get the bosses to adopt safer procedures while our union’s leaders provide them with cover.

Now the bosses are threatening to write workers up for safety violations again (their favorite is failure to wear safety glasses). Now, however, they’ll do so as members of a joint union-management “team.” This will be the fault of Toussaint, Tate & Co., whether they like it or not.

Half-Measures Half-Measures

Following the release of the Boards of Inquiry’s reports, the MTA announced safety rule changes (as they always do after they kill one of us) in the Department of Subways memorandum of August 1. Some “changes” were old news, like “joint management/union safety inspection ... prior to the commencement of all major track construction projection projects” which was supposed to be in effect already. The change to full adjacent track flagging on all gang jobs was absolutely necessary. The union has actually demanded and sporadically enforced this for many years. But enforcement has been down during Toussaint’s second term in office as he and his hangers on have become more isolated in the union hall, uninterested in mobilizing against the bosses and scared of going out into the field for fear of facing members’ anger. In this there is an important lesson: safety rules do nothing to protect workers if they are left on paper and the union leadership fails to mobilize a fight to enforce them.

Other measures are far less than promised and far less that what we need to work safely. For example, “non-emergency work is prohibited in areas where Emergency Alarm Boxes and Emergency Telephones are out of service.” This is outrageous. It is well known that many Emergency Alarm Boxes don’t work. Danny Boggs was killed on a stretch of track whose Emergency Alarm Box was broken. Yet trains continue to run on those tracks and Train Operators are still expected to leave their cabs to check for track obstructions. The union leaders are depending on TA management to check for and fix defective Alarm Boxes and Telephones at their leisure. How about the union checking and listing defective alarms, telling the members to stay away from them and organizing work refusals there till management fixes them?

The memorandum adds that in cases where emergency work has to be conducted on tracks with faulty Alarm Boxes and Telephones, “radios are being issued to work crew supervisors that perform emergency work in these instances.” All MoW personnel should be getting radios! Signal Maintainers get radios, so why the hell don’t Trackworkers? After the role of supervisors in getting Danny Boggs and Marvin Franklin killed, should we continue to trust them with our lives? No way. But now we learn that not even all Track supervisors will be provided with radios!

It seems that finding new opportunities for the union leadership to join management is Toussaint’s highest aim in response to the track safety crisis -- from joint safety committees to join track inspections -- he certainly brags about it enough! As he pointed out after listing new track safety procedures, “One thing they all have in common is a built-in formal role for TWU Local 100. There was a time in the past when the Union played a much bigger role, in the daily life of transit - not just of transit workers, but of transit itself.” (Track Safety Bulletin, No. 2)

But collaboration with management is precisely what is holding us back from track safety improvements. Management clearly opposes safety measures that would actually cost money, like immediately repairing all Emergency Alarm Boxes and Telephones and providing all MoW workers with radios. To win them and other improvements, transit workers will have to reject Toussaint & Co.’s holding hands with the bosses and fight to mobilize the ranks in mass actions to shut down all unsafe work and win our demands.

Why Toussaint Betrayed

Many transit workers have already seen through Toussaint’s bluster and know that he is just another sellout bureaucrat. But some may be understandably confused by the fact that he seems so anxious to hold hands with management and the politicians that he is willing to sacrifice our basic demands for safe work conditions. Isn’t he the same Toussaint that led us out on strike against management in 2005 and even went to jail for it?

The answer is yes, this is the same Toussaint that led us out on strike against management’s demands for pension givebacks. It is also the same Toussaint that killed our strike after less than three days and stuck us with new healthcare payments and other big givebacks when we could have stayed out and won all our demands. It is the same Toussaint that went to jail for leading us on strike and then campaigned for Eliot Spitzer to be Governor -- the same Spitzer who worked to send him to jail and stick all of us with Taylor Law fines. There is a logic to all this flip-flopping.

Toussaint & Co. enjoy great privileges as union bureaucrats. They pay themselves big salaries and instead of doing hard labor they can sit in their offices or mingle with politicians. To reap these benefits they rely on acting as brokers between the bosses and the workers. But this balancing act is becoming increasingly difficult.

Transit workers in New York City are potentially incredibly powerful. We make the city run and by striking we can shut it down. Not only do we have the power to win all our demands for safe work and better wages and benefits, we can show the way for all workers to fight back against the bosses anti-working class and racist attacks. But in the financial capital of the world, that is a threat to bosses everywhere.

With the stock market teetering and profits falling, the bosses are desperate to raise their bottom line. That’s why they back bloody imperialist wars in the Middle East and attack jobs, wages and benefits and stir up racism at home. When management demands givebacks from us at contract time, they are answering the call of capitalist politicians who want to hit the entire working-class with cutbacks. A fightback by transit workers really does threaten the capitalists.

Ever since he was elected as Local 100 President, Toussaint has said that he wants to be a cooperative partner with management. He has hoped that the bosses and politicians would recognize that transit workers have the power to shut this city down by striking and that they should help Toussaint avoid such actions by not demanding such big givebacks at contract time and make small concessions.

However up until now, management and the politicians have refused to play along. They saw Toussaint’s begging for cooperation as a sign of weakness and pressed their attacks. When management demanded massive givebacks in pensions for new hires during the last contract negotiations, Toussaint knew if he didn’t put up a fight and accepted the deal, he’d be voted out of office. So he was forced to call the strike, only to quickly end it and negotiate a sellout deal.

Since then, Toussaint has hoped that the way he botched the strike would make transit workers reluctant to strike again. He also hopes that it will encourage the bosses and politicians to make more of an effort to work with him to avoid another strike. With a new MTA bosses and a new Governor, Toussaint saw in the killings of Brothers Boggs and Franklin a great opportunity to renew his efforts at labor-management cooperation and again prove himself a willing partner. He also knows that if he mobilized the ranks to protest the killings of our brothers and fight for safety improvements, we’d get a renewed sense of our own power and be more difficult to hold back at contract time. Instead, Toussaint wants us to feel weak and dependent on his brilliant self to broker for us with our capitalist masters.

So far, the new MTA bosses and Spitzer have been happy to play along. After all, with a few new safety rules and a fake “track safety bill” in Albany, it has cost them practically nothing. Moreover, the bosses know that by drawing the union leadership further away from the ranks of workers and closer to themselves, they will make it harder for us to fight back when they make new demands for givebacks. And make no mistake: they are already planning their next wave of attacks -- the perilous state of Wall Street demands it. In his first Year as Governor, Spitzer has targeted healthcare workers in SEIU Local 1199 for massive layoffs and cut over a billion dollars from healthcare. Transit workers will be in the Governor’s sights soon too. By posing as partners, the bosses and politicians hope to string us along and make it easier for Toussaint to sell us on big concessions in the future. Don’t fall for it: get ready to strike again -- to win!

Revolutionary Leadership Needed

Toussaint has sold out the fight for safety for the same reasons that he sold out our strike. He believes in the capitalist system, benefits from his privileged position in it and opposes any struggle that could threaten it.

To the extent that Toussaint is even able to join the bosses at the negotiating table, it is a result of the threat of transit workers’ potentially huge power to fight back. Like all workers, the only way transit workers will be able to defend our current wages and working conditions, let alone improve them, is through mass action against the bosses, including striking. RTW supporters stand ready to unite with all workers who want to fight the bosses for improved safety conditions and other demands and challenge every would-be militant official in the Local to do the same. But simple trade union militancy is not enough.

Like the working class in general, the ranks of Local 100 need a leadership that can be relied on to lead a fight-back and never sell out. We deserve a leadership which fights for what workers need, not for just what the bosses can afford. Capitalism’s slide toward economic crisis means the bosses can afford less and less and are driven to cut wages and benefits in order to raise profits. Under such conditions, mass struggles by workers threaten the entire profit-making system. The only leadership that can be relied on to mobilize the ranks in struggle regardless of the threats posed to the system is a leadership committed to seeing it overthrown -- a revolutionary socialist leadership.

If the capitalist bosses can only afford to take away from us, the bosses have to go. The workers will have to run society and by redirecting the economy from producing for profit to providing for what people need, a socialist world of freedom and plenty can be built. Since the bosses give up nothing without a bitter fight, for workers to run society will require a revolution.

We understand that only a small number of workers are ready to embrace such ideas today. But by proving ourselves as trustworthy fighters in workers’ day-to-day struggles, RTW supporters continue to win a large and growing audience for our views. In the course of great struggles to come, more and more will learn the working class’s power and become convinced of the need to overthrow capitalism. Key now is for the most politically advanced, revolutionary-minded workers to join with us in building a revolutionary leadership for the union, and a revolutionary socialist party to lead the struggles of the whole working class.

No “Partnership” with Killer Bosses --

Local 100 Must Fight for Track Safety!

President Toussaint has seized on the recent tragic deaths and injuries of track workers to try to begin a new era of “partnership” with management. This is undermining the fight for safe work conditions. Local 100 needs to be united -- against the bosses!

RTW urges every militant Local 100 member to demand that Toussaint and every other official and would-be leader scrap partnership with the bosses and mobilize the membership to fight for safety! No Union officers or members on Joint Safety Committees or Patrols! TWU Local 100 must enforce job safety independently by an ongoing mobilization of all officers, staffers, shop stewards and activists to visit job sites and stop unsafe work. Appeal to the ranks to come out and enforce safety on the tracks after their shifts, on their RDO’s and on union leave, paid or unpaid. Officially certify them as TWU Safety Inspectors. They should use appropriate Collective Bargaining Agreement provisions and any other means necessary to stop unsafe work. Call a TWU Local 100 General Membership Meeting to launch a fighting campaign for safety!

In every union meeting, workers should call for:

return to main article

Other articles in RTW 42:

The “Track Safety Bill” Fraud

“What’s Your Hurry?” You Know Damn Well!

Letter: Racist Cops on the Subway Beat

RTW 42 contents | RTW main page | Return to LRP Home Page | Write to the LRP