In the face of the MTA’s outrageous attacks, Local 100 members stood strong and ready to strike - in spite of Local President Toussaint. He loudly promised that “A Deadline Is A Deadline” -- but didn’t have the guts to follow through.
When the contract expired at 12:01am on December 16, the union didn’t have anything close to a deal, yet Toussaint & Co. refused to call a strike. They showed contempt for the thousands of workers at the Javits Center Mass Meeting who had unanimously authorized them to call a strike. As RTW warned before that Mass Meeting:
The TA’s arrogance, and Local 100 members’ growing anger, has forced Toussaint & Co. to threaten a strike. The ranks have responded by rallying to the idea of a strike. But while the rank and file means what it says, Toussaint’s strike talk is the same hot air we’ve heard before. He talked strike last time only to sell us out. We can’t afford to trust him this time. (RTW, No. 24)
Now Toussaint’s set a new strike deadline of 12:01am Tuesday. It looks like the TA’s giving him no choice but to call a strike and Toussaint’s acting militant again. But he’s still secretly trying to sell-out and avoid a strike. He has sent lawyers to the Public Employees Relations Board to try to take the MTA’s demands for pension givebacks off the table in order to reach an agreement. That must mean he’s willing to give in to the some of the TA’s other outrageous “offers,” like miserable wage “raises” and broadbanding, and then let the State legislature hit us with pension attacks later. So we’re going to have to fight like hell to hold him to the Tuesday, 12:01am deadline. We must tell Toussaint: A Deadline Is A Deadline! No More Stalling! Strike to Win -- Now!
We still have the power to shut this city down and beat the MTA’s attacks. Sure we’ve been set back by Toussaint’s cowardice. He gave away our chance to shut the city down over the last holiday shopping weekend, has sowed confusion in the ranks and cost us momentum. But we can quickly get that back when we strike. And make no mistake: we are going to have to strike.
Behind the MTA’s outrageous demands for givebacks stands Governor Pataki dreaming of running for President, and a capitalist class looking to make an example out of transit workers. Demanding that the next generation work harder for years longer and pay more for “benefits” is an attempt to divide Local 100. And it is a message to the entire working class that there will be no “American Dream” -- future generations will have to work harder and longer for less and less to keep up the bosses’ profits.
Of course the “American Dream” has been a lie for most workers, and in this racist country it has been particularly so for most Blacks, Latinos and immigrants. Indeed one reason why they are trying to make an example of New York transit is that it has been a rare source of better-paying union jobs for Blacks and immigrants. Further, one reason the NYCTA is threatened by debts in the future is that it gets far less state funding proportionally than the LIRR and MetroNorth, which both serve a much whiter ridership. And NYCT workers receive significantly lower wages as well. As a powerful, united, interracial union, Local 100 members must say what its leaders haven’t: Down With the Racist Attacks on Transit Workers! From New Orleans to New York City -- Stop Murderous Budget Cuts and Racist Attacks!
In fact the ruling class has been waging a one-sided, racist class war on the working class for decades, cutting wages and social services and busting unions. During that time, it has not been confronted by a strong workers’ fightback because of sabotage by the pro-capitalist bureaucrats who control the unions. Breaking Local 100 has now become a priority for the ruling class because New York remains a union town and transit workers have such great potential power to fight back. Hoping that Local 100 will go down to defeat like past unions, one Daily News columnist spoke for the entire ruling class when he called this “the last great battle of the twentieth century.”
Local 100 has the opportunity to fight for the future of the entire working class and make this the first great class struggle in America of the twenty-first century. It can use its power to lead a fightback of the working class and poor against the bosses’ racist, anti-worker attacks. Indeed with no serious appeal from the Local 100 leadership, the New York area working class is already showing solidarity with us. A Daily News poll found that a majority of New Yorkers support a transit strike in spite of the inconvenience it would cause them. If we stand strong, that support will grow. But transit workers must take the lead. We have the strength to defeat the bosses, but need a plan to stop Toussaint & Co. from selling out.
In response to Toussaint’s refusal to call a strike at contract expiration, some workers feel resigned to him determining their fate, but most are mad as hell. Indeed Toussaint and his cronies are too scared to show their faces in many transit quarters -- for fear of what might happen. Directing that anger into a powerful strategy is vital to the rest of the struggle.
We certainly have to take every opportunity to forcefully show Toussaint & Co. that we are committed to fighting any sellout by pressing our calls for a strike and our rejection of a rotten wage deal, broadbanding or other givebacks.
Indeed it is clear that Toussaint and his cronies on the Executive Board are vulnerable to pressure. When Toussaint went to the EB after contract expiration and proposed a strike delay, he faced resistance. Marty Goodman, Executive Board member for Stations, opposed the betrayal and raised counter-motions (as we would expect from his long history as a trustworthy militant). But Toussaint even faced opposition from some of his former lieutenants. He is increasingly isolated, making him and the divided EB less able to resist pressure from the ranks. But the key will be with the strike and taking the lead in organizing it on the ground. Here’s how we can start:
We have to take the lead in forming Rank-and-File Strike Committees to coordinate picket duty and maintain communications -- they should be elected by workers throughout the system. Picket lines will be necessary to stop and report any attempt at scabbing. By bringing workers together we will strengthen our resolve and boost the confidence of less certain workers.
This organizing will be crucial because Toussaint & Co. have kept us demobilized, passively waiting to be told what to do. They will continue this if there is a strike, to try to send us back to work more easily when they cut a sellout deal.
Since Toussaint broke his promise that “A Deadline is a Deadline,” imagine the other promises he’d be willing to break! Importantly, RTW will join with other transit workers in circulating a petition to demand that a Mass Membership Meeting with full speaking and voting rights for all members be held to discuss any possible deal before ending a strike. That petition activity will also be an opportunity to discuss our demands and what sort of deal we should and should not accept.
Most importantly, RTW is seeking to join with other militant workers, including dissident elected officials, to form a No Giveback Contract Committee, to challenge any attempts at betrayal by Toussaint & Co. It should be committed to a basic program of demands that can take our struggle forward in the event of a betrayal: A Big Wage Raise! No Broadbanding -- None! No Givebacks on Healthcare and Pensions! -- or Strike! and Amnesty From Taylor Law Penalties! For more information about the committee, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local 100 members should make no mistake: before Toussaint let the December 16 contract deadline pass he was begging Dellaverson and Kalikow for a deal he thought he’d have a chance of selling to us. Even after Kalikow announced the MTA’s “best final offer,” Toussaint begged for more negotiations. What did Toussaint think he could offer that we could be duped into settling for?
Details of the MTA’s “offer” are hard to come by, but as of Saturday, December 17, they include behind-inflation wage “raises” of 3% a year and outrageous attacks on new hires: a 1% paycheck deduction for members’ health insurance and a 30 years or 62 years of age pension plan with 3% contributions out of members’ pockets.
Toussaint says he rejects all this. But he has rejected conditions before and then accepted them, like the 0% wage “raise” in the last contract. So what miserable deal might he try to stick us with this time? There are already clues.
Of particular concern are the TA’s demands for broadbanding. Their plan would have Station Agents cleaning booths and performing Platform Conductor duties; Cleaners operating fork-lifts and other machinery, painting, fueling busses and maintaining some electronic equipment; Train Operators opening and closing train doors and Conductors walking the aisles (to prepare to lay off all Conductors); and similar changes affecting every other job category. Clearly this is a recipe for layoffs.
A real working-class fighter would say that since any broadbanding means layoffs and speed-up, we must oppose it. Instead, Toussaint told the New York Times (Dec. 3) that he doesn’t oppose job consolidation as such. It’s just that “the MTA’s ideas are poorly thought out.” “We can live with” “sensible” broadbanding, he said, if the “impacted employees are properly compensated for it.”
However neither Toussaint nor the MTA negotiators have mentioned broadbanding for some time now. This arouses suspicion that Toussaint has already agreed with the MTA to broadband various titles. Such a betrayal, together with Toussaint’s refusal to push for a no-layoffs agreement, will surely mean layoffs for some and speedup for the rest. And given Toussaint’s 2002 rotten wage deal, you can imagine what he thinks “proper compensation” is. Transit workers must demand: No Broadbanding-NONE! No Layoffs or Workforce Reductions!
In the lead up to this contract round, with the TA enjoying a billion dollar surplus, Toussaint refused for the longest time to even state a wage demand figure. He condemned calls for a 10% yearly raise, claiming it was extravagant -- even though it would have only kept up with inflation and made up partly for what we had lost in the last contract.
Not until the EB meeting immediately before the Javits Center Mass Meeting did Toussaint put forward a demand for 8% yearly raises. Since then, he hasn’t even mentioned the 8% figure and at recent Local 100 rallies his cronies have lead chants with: “Will we accept 2%? ... Will we accept 3%? ...” and stopping there. Apparently they hope to stick us with a 4% yearly raise at best, but if we strike we can win more than that. RTW originally fought for demanding 10% yearly raises. After Toussaint got his 8% motion passed on the EB, we joined in raising the call for 8% yearly raises. We knew he was planning to stick us with a lot worse and thus we aimed to hold him at least to that figure. Now, thanks to Toussaint’s backpedalling, we are in a fight to defend the most basic standards of wages and benefits. But if we go on strike, there’s no reason why we can’t win a big raise, the size of which the ranks can decide in the course of the struggle.
When he tries to sound like he shares the ranks’ fighting spirit, Toussaint calls upon the memory of past Local 100 leader Mike Quill. The latter famously tore-up court papers banning a strike. He knew that in the face of a powerful strike, the law would prove no stronger than the paper it was written on. After a little more than a week on strike, transit workers were back at work in triumph, and the Condon-Wadlin anti-strike law of that time, which was much harsher than today’s Taylor Law, had been smashed.
Quill wasn’t as great as Toussaint says he was, but he was a hell of a lot better than what we’re stuck with today. One thing Quill did that Toussaint hasn’t mentioned is that he made amnesty from fines a demand of the union’s illegal strike -- and won! All signs are that Toussaint wants to bury that tradition. He’s called on Private Lines bus drivers to strike on Monday without the rest of us because they’re exempt from Taylor Law penalties. Meanwhile, the Central Labor Council has announced the creation of a fund to help cover the cost of fines. While solidarity is welcome, supporting a fight for amnesty from Taylor Law penalties is what’s really necessary. Militant workers should demand that if there is a strike, Toussaint must make Amnesty From Taylor Law Penalties! a strike demand! It’s in the interest of all public sector unions in particular to join us in smashing the Taylor Law.
Right now, New York has a millionaire for a Governor, a billionaire for a Mayor, and bosses giving themselves multi-million dollar year-end “bonuses.” These are the bastards who are calling transit workers greedy! Workers are confronted by the same conditions across the country because the ruling class has been waging a one-sided class war for decades. But the tide is beginning to turn.
Both capitalist political parties, but particularly the Republicans, stand exposed. The bloody imperialist occupation of Iraq is unpopular, and the racist, anti-working class atrocity of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans have popular opinion shifting toward the working class.
That’s why the ruling class is going all-out to beat us. Their economic attacks on transit workers and criminalization of our right to strike are a declaration of war, and we have to fightback accordingly. Leaders of other unions, like 1199’s Dennis Rivera and the UFT’s Randi Weingarten, as well as Brian McLaughlin of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council (CLC), have stated their support for Local 100. That’s more than these sellouts usually do. If we strike and the bosses continue to refuse our demands then we should call on these unions to back us with real solidarity.
We could turn the sympathy of the rest of the working class into active support by holding mass meetings open to all workers and invite union leaders and workers at large to attend. Beginning with calls for other transit unions to unite and strike in sympathy with us, we could call on the CLC to call a General Strike of all unions. Such a display of the power of the working class united in struggle would rock the entire country. If the ruling class is united against us, why shouldn’t the working class unite in a fightback?
Indeed transit workers’ struggle inevitably raises demands in the interests of the entire working class that go well beyond jobs, wages and pensions. One reason why there is already such surprising support among the NYC working class and even layers of the middle class is because the MTA has been screwing over everyone for years with fare hikes and service cuts. We can immediately win support from the “riding public,” that is, the NYC area working class, by making No Fare Hikes or Service Reductions a strike demand. This would stand in sharp contrast to Toussaint’s bland and ineffective appeals for sympathy.
While the MTA has a billion dollar surplus right now that they want to spend on anything but transit workers, it’s true that they will probably face debt in the future. TA corruption and waste has played its part in this, but the major reason is because NYCT receives less State funding proportionally than public transport in any other major city. Instead of funding necessary infrastructure development, the State has told the TA to take out loans from Wall Street and now the system is burdened by massive interest rate payments. The TA’s attacks on transit workers are thus really demands to work harder for less to make profits for Wall Street. It’s the same with the City and State debts.
There are two immediate responses to this crisis. First, Local 100 should demand that the State increase funding for NYCT -- an idea Toussaint has barely mentioned and refused to make as a contract demand. The capitalist politicians’ refusal to invest in infrastructure just led to the destruction of New Orleans and the loss of countless lives. It’s time to put an end to the capitalists’ orgy of budget cuts and racist, anti-working class policies. Following from this, the workers’ movement should reject the idea that workers should sacrifice for Wall Street’s profits and call to Make the Capitalists Pay! Repudiate the Debt to the Banks and Corporations!
RTW is ready to join with every militant worker today who wants the Local to strike to win our contract demands. But there is more. An all-out struggle for our demands, let alone against all the anti-working class attacks, will deal a body blow to the capitalists. The Toussaint leadership is committed to working within the limits of what capitalism can afford. That’s why Toussaint has gone so far to compromise our struggle and avoid a strike. It’s not just because he’s cowardly and corrupt, but because he fears an all-out struggle would threaten the system and his privileged place in it. RTW believes that only a revolutionary socialist leadership can be relied on to lead an all-out contract struggle because only it is dedicated to the system’s overthrow.
Through rising struggles more and more workers will come to see that our class has the power to not just beat back the attacks but to overthrow the capitalist system. Our class has the potential to do away with capitalism’s exploitation, oppression and wars and build a classless society of abundance and freedom: a socialist society.
In the course of the current transit struggle RTW and its supporting organization, the League for the Revolutionary Party, hope to get in touch with other transit workers who are thinking along these lines. Together we can play a decisive role in the contract fight. And by joining together to build a revolutionary socialist party we can prepare to lead even greater struggles in the future.
RTW wants to become a voice for all transit workers. So let us know what’s happening in your division, either in the union or on the job. If we think your letter raises issues that are important for all transit workers to read, we’ll publish it in RTW.
Let us know what you think of our views. If you agree, let us know. If you disagree, let’s discuss it.
Write to us at:
RTW, P.O. Box 1936
Murray Hill Station
New York, NY 10156
Or send us an e-mail!