The contract for 22,000 cleaners, janitors, elevator operators and other members of SEIU Local 32BJ – Commercial buildings expires at the end of the year. They face a tough battle. The parasitic real estate bosses are demanding sweeping givebacks. 32BJ members are fighting the same kinds of attacks that transit workers are. A building workers’ strike could help move the whole working class toward a mass fightback, but they’ll need real solidarity.
What is Local 100 doing to aid their fight? 32BJ workers are in a more vulnerable position than Local 100 workers. Their jobs are less secure, they make less and they have a weaker and very undemocratic union. Other organized workers, particularly Local 100, have a special responsibility to act in solidarity with their struggle or else it makes a mockery of the whole idea of “unions” – being united in struggle. Their fight is our fight and Local 100 cannot mount a serious defense of our own contract without doing everything possible to stand with our brothers and sisters in 32BJ. A first step would be to build the December. 14 rally called by 32BJ.
TWU Local 100’s leadership launched a media and public outreach campaign around the rat infestation in the NYC subways. Over the past few months, the union organized rallies at Parsons-Archer station in Jamaica, Queens,149thStreet-Grand Concourse in the Bronx and others. They asked riders to sign petitions to the MTA calling for more trash pickups, patching up rat holes, more Station trash cans, extermination., etc. It could have been part of a workers’ and poor people’s campaign to fight MTA neglect which endangers the health of transit workers and the whole NYC working class.
The union correctly says that the rat infestation follows from the MTA’s elimination of station cleaner jobs. But the petition does not even call for the MTA to hire more cleaners. According to NY1 news, the MTA brags that they reduced the cleaner workforce by 10% in the last year. The MTA eliminated these jobs without any fight from the union because the job cuts came through attrition: when station cleaners retired, they were never replaced. More work was dumped on fewer workers, and the Local 100 leadership quietly went along with this capitalist speed-up and service reduction.
Disgracefully, almost all union leaders accept job cuts through attrition, hoping thereby to prevent outright layoffs. The union leaders accept the capitalist profit system and ask only for what the bosses can “afford.” For almost 40 years, the economy has trended down, and the bosses have continually cut back on workers and the poor. Since 2008, the economy has fallen off a cliff. The bosses want to take everything back, and the union leaders accept job cuts through both attrition and layoffs. The TWU could have made a fight for jobs and to defend service for the workers and poor concrete by pointing to the loss of cleaning jobs.
Worse still, the TWU leadership has said little and done less about the the MTA’s restart of its “Work Experience Program” WEP slave labor program. All the people cleaning trains and stations in while wearing green vests are poor and working class people who the MTA is exploiting for free! WEP is an attack on both the union and poor people who depend on welfare. Welfare was never a solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty. But it was an important concession that saved many from starvation and homelessness. Now the bosses’ and their politicians want to grind welfare recipients further down as part of their plan to lower all our wages and working conditions.
The union must make every effort to organize these workers—Full Union Wages, Benefits, Protection For All Workers on TA Property!—but more, it must make every effort to wage an all-out political fight for jobs and and against these racist, anti-worker attacks. Their silence is shameful.
Early Friday morning, August 19, at the 86th St. IND Station, an apparently suicidal man jumped on to the train tracks. Station Agent (SA) Marty Goodman was on duty. He immediately phoned for help, then left his booth to try to convince the man to get off the track. When the man refused, Brother Goodman turned off electric power on the track, preventing train passage and the danger of electrocution. He almost certainly saved the man’s life. Bravo, Marty!
Brother Goodman, a long-time militant in TWU Local 100 and avowed socialist, was doing his job. The MTA bosses, as they had to, praised Bro. Goodman’s actions – while they continued to demolish Station booths and allow SA numbers to dwindle. Last year they laid off hundreds of SAs, many of whom remain out of work. Bro. Goodman and other honest, decent transit workers go above and beyond to help their working class brothers and sisters, the bulk of subway riders. The penny-pinching MTA bosses cut workforce and facilities, placing riders and MTA workers in danger – even danger of death.
The banks and big businesses that drove us into this economic crisis got bailed out with trillions of taxpayer dollars. Now the working class is being made to foot the bill with cutbacks, layoffs and foreclosures. TWU Local 100 has great organized strength and a key role in making the financial capital of the world move. That, and now our contract battle, gives us transit workers a chance to take a stand against all this exploitation and injustice on behalf of all workers and our allies. We have the chance to help turn bitterness and anger into action.
All workers are getting hit hard – mostly harder than transit workers. The capitalist bosses depend on divide-and-conquer to bring down all workers’ standards of living. The time is long past for working people, Blacks and Latinos and other oppressed minorities, the poor and youth, to unite against all the attacks, including layoffs, cuts in services and benefits, and union-busting. TWU Local 100 must become a leading force for building this united fight-back. The “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests and the sympathetic response to them showed that the idea of serious protest is popular and that a fight against Wall Street and against all the attempts to make us pay for their crisis could receive wide support.
This is only what MTA management and union leaders have told us so far.
Of course transit workers have to be concerned with our own particular situation. The transit bosses and the banks, corporations and capitalist politicians behind them will be going after us in this contract in a way they haven’t before. The local leadership has a responsibility to defend our standard of living – we can’t stand up for others if we’re caving in to the bosses’ attacks. This means in particular resisting any healthcare concessions and work rule changes which divide one title against another. It also means holding the line against cuts in real wages.
We need the backing of other workers and allies in this fight. But if Local 100 asks others to support our contract struggle, we must make a serious effort on behalf of all those hit by the crisis. To do otherwise would trivialize their suffering, risk isolating us and lose an opportunity to build the strong working class movement we all need. We have a chance to make a strong stand against the cuts in transit service and the fare hikes. We can demand that they reopen and rebuild station booths. We do not want any deals with the MTA that blunt the worst of its attacks on us, only to have them diverted to other working class sisters and brothers. We can and should use the contract fight as a means to build a fight-back against the broader capitalist attacks.
One way to address these issues and build a fighting spirit would be for Local 100 to join and build the December 14 rally called by SEIU 32BJ, commercial buildings workers. 32BJ members face an even graver contract fight than ours. Its members have just authorized the union to strike, and they will likely be fired up. We will likewise be gearing up for our contract fight.
It would be good if at least these two unions got together over their immediate struggles. But it should go further: it would be a chance to demonstrate against the more general attacks by inviting other union workers (especially Verizon workers, who were forced back to work without a contract deal), and also non-unionized workers, the poor, organizations of Blacks and Latinos, militant youth. Union staff, shop stewards and activists could go to workplaces and neighborhoods throughout the city. They could use all available media to proclaim a mass demonstration against the attacks and for a real jobs-for-all program: “Billions for bankers, layoffs for workers? Hell No! We won’t take it anymore!”
But taking advantage of these opportunities will require an end to business-as-usual. It will require a hard course change. And while we must demand such a change from the union leadership we have, we can hold no illusions that they will willingly undertake something that rubs so hard against their habits and interests.
Samuelsen & Co., like other labor bureaucrats, have continued to tie our union to the Democratic Party and impose an electoral/lobbying strategy on us rather than conduct serious mass struggle. For all their squabbling, the Democrats agree with the Republicans that the workers, youth and poor should pay for the crisis. The Democrats have a long and treacherous history of involvement in popular movements, to keep us passively voting and to prevent us from challenging the bosses’ attacks. Just recall the powerful protest movement against Republican union-busting in Wisconsin earlier this year. It raised the possibility of a general strike. But then the union leaders called off the protests, occupations and pickets and concentrated on a vote-Democratic strategy that led straight to defeat. Union leaders like Samuelsen flew in to offer “solidarity,” and offered no criticisms or alternatives while the Wisconsin public employee union bureaucrats and the Democrats prepared defeat.
Samuelsen and some other labor tops grumble about the Democrats, but they still maintain their disastrous allegiance. The arrangements of years past with bosses and capitalist politicians gave the labor bureaucrats a relatively cozy position of privilege and power. And even while that arrangement is shredding, they are still loath to endanger their positions by undertaking to build a movement that will seriously threaten and anger those same capitalists.
Begging for scraps from capitalist politicians rather than waging a real fight is the background for the particular failures of the Samuselsen leadership during the MTA’s ramped-up attacks in the past period:
We saw the endorsement of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests and recent labor demos by the Local 100 leadership as a little breath of fresh air into the terrible isolation of unions from themselves and from others; but we have a clear-eyed view of the motives and the character of the participation. This was no dramatic change. The weight of the local has not been thrown into an all-out effort to build a mass struggle. Instead, the leaders send union staffers out, and take minimal steps to alert union members. It is basically an attempt to safely register objections to the attacks and cover the bureaucrats’ asses than to really start fighting back. The latest example of such a demo, the Central Labor Council sponsored protest this week, was a pale shadow of the proposal that LRP supporters and others put before the CLC in the precious month for a mass militant march.
No, the course change will not be easy. Against a stubborn bureaucracy, it requires a militant and sustained upsurge of the rank and file – and there is a good deal of demoralization and fear in the ranks of Local 100. This is largely the product of a long, long period of retreat, sellouts and isolation within organized labor. We cannot say for sure that greater attempts at mobilization would have brought out masses of TWU members to the recent spate of demonstrations and protests, or that it will draw a huge number of other workers to future joint mass demos. But it has a fighting chance of success, and should be tried. We can say for sure that if the ranks are not mobilized in such fashion, transit and other workers will be facing a cruel setback, sooner rather than later.
Given the unfolding economic crisis and increasing attacks on the workers and poor, it is more important than ever to consider the fundamental way forward for the working class.
Capitalism is indeed sliding into crisis, both here and abroad. All the economic signs point downward, and that means pointing to even deeper attacks. Even more basic necessities like Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block.
But capitalism has laid the basis for its own overthrow. By developing a world economy with great productive powers, capitalism has created the technological and social basis for producing an abundance of everything humanity needs. There no longer need be haves and have-nots, exploiters and exploited. A world of plenty and freedom is possible.
The problem is that ownership of the economy remains in the hands of the capitalists who limit production to only what will profit them. The capitalist classes of each country rule the workers with the help of their armed states of cops and soldiers.
To end capitalism’s string of depressions and wars, the working class will have to rise up, overthrow the capitalists and seize state power for itself. Then the working class will be able to set about building a classless, socialist society – a world of abundance and freedom for all. Such genuine socialism would have nothing to do with the oppressive Stalinist states that ruled the workers in the name of socialism but exploited them as in Western countries.
As the capitalists’ attacks intensify, greater mass struggles by the workers and oppressed are inevitable. Those struggles, like our contract fight, can beat back the attacks for a time and even win gains. But most importantly, through those struggles the working class will regain a sense of its tremendous power. With this, more and more workers will see that socialist revolution is not a pipedream, but both possible and necessary. And the most far-seeing, class conscious workers will see the wisdom of coming together to build a revolutionary political party alternative to pro-capitalist mis-leaders, an alternative that can lead our struggles to victory and point the way to the solution of workers’ socialist revolution.
Even now such workers exist and are looking for genuine revolutionists to join. We want them to find us. We encourage every worker interested in our ideas to contact us – there isn’t a moment to waste!