As of this writing, Queens Private Lines workers have struck twice: the 1,500 employees of the Triboro Coach, Queens and Jamaica bus companies struck first on Monday, Jan. 7, for half-a-day, and second on Feb. 27 and 28. The strikes were solid, cutting off almost all the bus service in western Queens, on which over 100,000 riders depend. MTA-New York City Transit was unable to implement scab plans: both times Local 100 organized TA/OA bus drivers not to drive struck routes. And both times the Local 100 leadership called off the strike without winning anything.
The strikers felt that they were on a roll. They had been working on an expired contract, with stalled negotiations, for over a year. The bosses had been laughing at them. Now they felt that they had the bosses where they wanted them. Their goals of wage parity with NYCT workers, improved health and pension plans and job security if the Lines franchises are sold were within sight. They received the union leaders’ back-to work orders with confusion and shock; a number accused Toussaint and Co. of betrayal. But lacking any other leadership or plan, the Private Lines workers felt they had no choice but to return to work.
The Local 100 leaders claim that everything is going well. Because the workers’ militancy and spirit forced the bosses to concede? Not at all: because the strike made elected officials “sit up and take notice.” Public Advocate Gotbaum and other politicians promised to say nice things about the Private Lines workers, and the City Council even agreed to hold a sub-committee hearing on the Private Lines workers demand to keep their jobs, contract, and seniority if the Lines are sold! Perhaps this hearing will be as impressive as the one by the same sub-committee last summer, which adjourned without taking any action.
So what the Private Lines workers thought was a knock-out punch to their bosses was instead meant as a tap on the politicians’ left shoulders. Instead of mobilizing the workers’ power to make the city run or stop, Local 100 uses the members to pressure capitalist politicians (including Bloomberg, one of the richest capitalists in New York.)
The scene is set for the politicians to string the union along for quite a while, claiming that delicate maneuvers are in progress. Toussaint’s strategy of depending on politicians to help transit workers had scored another “victory,” assuming, that is, that the negotiations actually end some day with gains for the Private Lines workers.
Laudably, most of the Private Lines workers are prepared to strike again, and the bosses, politicians and union bureaucrats know it. Toussaint had to say that another strike is very possible, this time “all-out.”
So why not before – last year at contract expiration? Many Private Lines workers feel used. Some may be wary of striking again, especially since the Local dropped the demand for wage parity with the NYCT, and is asking for a wage hike of 5% as opposed the bosses’ offer of 4%. Further, the Local 100 leadership made little effort to bring out the ranks of TA/OA workers to the picket lines, instead sending mostly staffers and whoever else was in the union hall. NYCT workers feel a natural interest in and solidarity with the fight of their Brothers and Sisters in the Private Lines. In fact, Toussaint, wrote in the 12/31/01 TWU Express, “We will mobilize the rest of our Local in support of Private Lines members.” Yet Toussaint & Co. have not called one all-Local membership action to publicize and build for this struggle! So much for Toussaint’s claim that he will make TWU #100 into one united Local!
Toussaint’s whole approach is not to show transit workers that we have power to fight for our gains: it is to show the Democratic and Republican capitalist politicians that he has the power to stop us from fighting. He is marketing himself as a broker between workers and bosses. The potential for a strike sends the message to the bosses and politicians: deal with the “reasonable” Toussaint, and he’ll deliver the workers, whether for elections or for normal “trade-off” contracts.
As Revolutionary Transit Worker has been saying for over a year, the Private Lines struggle can win a convincing victory and prepare a winning fight against the NYCT come next December. What we said in RTW No. 1 last year still holds true today: “To mobilize the ranks, Toussaint, Watt and other ND officials should call All-Union and Local-wide rallies, to show real working-class solidarity.... We should support real mobilizations in support of the Private Lines workers and against scabbing.” But NYCT employees only learned that there was a Private Lines strike from the capitalist mass media, not our own leaders!
The most meaningful solidarity action by MTA employees would be to strike together with the Private Lines workers. But a fighting leadership would at least organize mass demonstrations and pickets by NYCT and Private Lines workers, capable of blocking the passage of any busses. Such a mobilization for a Private Lines strike could quickly win all the Private Lines workers’ demands and prepare NYCT worker TWU members to strike, if necessary, for their own contract struggle next December.