Our Sisters and Brothers at the Private Lines are in an all-out battle with the bosses and Mayor Bloomberg to defend their health benefits. They haven’t had a new contract since January, 2001. At the same time, NYCT Local 100 members are in a life and death struggle to defend our health benefit plan from the bosses’ attacks. That makes this strike critical for the entire union.
Right now, the Private Lines strikers are standing strong and making big sacrifices. But they need all the back-up they can get. In the Local 100 Express (12/31/2001), President Toussaint wrote, “We will mobilize the rest of our Local in support of Private Lines members.” This week, the Local leadership finally called the first support rally. It should be just the first in a series of mobilizations to win this strike, not just a one-shot action to nudge the politicians. All workers who support the Private Lines strikers should build and attend the June 27, City Hall rally, though the last-minute call and noon starting time will make it hard for many members to attend.
For a year and a half, under Toussaint’s leadership, the Queens Private Lines workers have been limited to conducting a few inconclusive half- or two-day strikes. Rather than mass mobilization, Toussaint & Co. have depended on a strategy of pressuring the Democratic and Republican Party politicians to be nice to the workers. After the City Council fronted the union off for well over a year, the Private Lines workers got “job security” for two lousy years! Had the workers struck all-out from the get, with full support from the rest of Local 100, they could have knocked the bosses and their politicians back in January, 2001. It’s not too late to win this strike. The Private Lines workers want to fight; the spirited picket-lines show this. But if the fight drags on inconclusively, or loses, it will demoralize the Private Lines employees and adversely affect all transit workers.
This strike must be won. However, it’s not just the support demonstration which should have come sooner. An Executive Board discussion about assessing the Local members for financial support started, and then stopped, as this strike was about to begin. Of course we should assess the whole Local to support the Private Lines strikers. Instead, there was an aborted discussion about how many weeks and months it should take when it should have been done a long time ago.
The Executive Board should immediately start setting up a referendum for an assessment. But the Local shouldn’t just wait to mail ballots out. A serious Solidarity Campaign would mean sending TA/MABSTOA union officials and others into the field to ask, aggressively, for membership free-will contributions of say $10-$20 per person. Members should be encouraged to give weekly contributions, for as long as the strike lasts. I believe that a fair number of members would contribute. As well as taking collections, the Local should make the point that the Private Lines fight is the fight of TA/MABSTOA as well.
Money is important but is not the only thing we should give. We need ongoing mass mobilizations of the whole Local. With our Health Benefit Trust on the verge of collapse and the NYCT contract up in December, a victory by the Private Lines workers will be a big shot in the arm for the rest of the Local. Concretely, the Local should have troops out in the field organizing the ranks to go to Private Lines pickets. And the June 27 rally could build for a mass march soon, across the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour to show the power that workers can wield. The mass pickets and demonstrations should be along the lines of: Victory to the Private Lines Workers! Forward to the Contract Fight with the NYCT! No Givebacks, Trade-offs or Concessions! (And, RTW and many other members would say, or Strike!). A serious, ongoing Solidarity Campaign would get hundreds or thousands more Local 100 members, NYCT and Private Lines, out marching, picketing and putting the fear of God into the billionaire capitalist mayor, the millionaire capitalist Private Lines owners and the rest of the capitalists and their politicians. It could bring the strike to a quick and successful end.
There is no reason to refrain from such a Solidarity Campaign, except bureaucratic fear of the ranks’ potential power. Toussaint and other supporters of his machine boast about the numbers and extent of the (mostly unelected) Local shop steward body. Toussaint’s opponents in the RTO leadership in turn boast of the high organization of their shop stewards. How about getting all these shop stewards into the field to build a Solidarity Campaign for the Private Lines workers, as outlined above? To let this opportunity drop would be to betray the Private Lines Workers, NYCT workers and the whole New York working class, facing Bloomberg’s capitalist cutbacks.