Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 62
Published by the League for the Revolutionary Party
November 15, 2016
Decades of Sellouts by Union Tops Helped Lead to Trump
Our Contract Struggle Can Win Gains
and Help Build a United Fightback!
The election of Donald Trump as president has shocked the country. The primary targets of his openly racist and sexist campaign – immigrants, Blacks and Latinos, and women – have the most to fear. The spate of violent racist attacks and white-supremacist rallies since Trump’s victory warn of the dangers that all people of color will face from thugs and racist police, who are eager to reassert their authority after being challenged by two years of Black Lives Matter protests. And along with Trump’s recent appointment of notorious white-supremacist and anti-Semite Stephen Bannon to a senior position in his White House, these attacks foretell the coming administration’s intention to mobilize racism with its legislative agenda.
Other targets of Trump’s White House and the Republican Congress are also clear. Once his Supreme Court is in place he has vowed to see women lose any constitutional right to choose to have a pregnancy terminated. And while Trump pretends to be a friend of the working class, we can expect his Administration to attack workers’ rights to organize in unions, such with the longstanding Republican plan to cripple public sector unions by banning their right to have dues automatically collected.
Since the election, mass protests have offered some desperately needed solidarity to the most vulnerable targets of Trump’s attacks, and they must continue and grow. But to do so they will have to ignore the Democrats’ appeals for calm. President Obama took the lead in welcoming Trump to the White House, declaring that “we are now all rooting for his success” and promising a “smooth” and “peaceful transition of power.” Hillary Clinton spoke similarly. Even the Democrats’ leading liberal voices, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, promised to “keep an open mind” and “work together” with Trump wherever possible.
But the politicians won’t suffer the consequences of a Trump presidency – it’s immigrants, Blacks, and Latinos especially, and the working-class and poor in general, that will, unless a powerful fightback through mass action is built to beat back the coming attacks. That’s why we can’t afford to wait and let Trump enjoy a “peaceful transition” to the most powerful office in the land and begin his attacks before we begin to mobilize.
Trump’s impending inauguration must be challenged by the biggest mobilizations of protest possible, both in the nation’s capital and in cities around the country, to send the message that Trump’s coming attacks will meet with a powerful fightback. Mass protests around slogans like Yes to Jobs and Social Services! No to Attacks on Muslims, Immigrants, Blacks and Latinos, Unions and Women’s Rights! can counter Trump’s racism as well as his phony posture as a friend of the working class and begin to build a powerful and united working-class struggle.
With our contract set to expire on January 15, just 5 days before Trump’s inauguration, Local 100 is uniquely positioned to both benefit from the rising protests against Trump and give the movement a powerful boost.
Seize the Moment to Turn Around Years of Retreat!
A majority of our members are people of color. Our labor every day moves this most populous city in the country, the financial capital of world, and we have the power to shut it down. Our union has the potential to be a mighty force in the struggle against racism and in defense of the working class. But right now, that’s far from the case.
Like unions across the country, however, Local 100’s membership has been demoralized by successive leaderships that have avoided organizing and mobilizing the ranks in struggle to defend their interests, insisting that supporting Democratic Party politicians and then begging them for favorable deals was the only practical way forward. Defeats and dirty backroom deals have inevitably followed. Workers’ hard-won wage-rates, health and retirement benefits, working conditions and rights on the job have been given away. The older have been set against the young by agreements that stick new hires with worse wages and benefits. The loss of traditions of genuine solidarity, of mass struggle and especially of the experience of going on strike, have led to demoralized feelings of powerlessness. And labor bureaucrats have encouraged the attitude that unions need only look after their members’ interests and not stand in solidarity with the struggles of the rest of the working-class and poor. As a result, they have set the unions up to be attacked as greedy and selfish by our enemies when we do fight back.
Such was the state that Local 100 and its members found itself in as this year’s contract negotiations approached. But the shock of Trump’s election is changing that. The Samuelsen leadership has yet to state any plan to organize against Trump after his victory and the threats it poses, let alone mobilize for protests. But rank-and-file members of Local 100 are already expressing the need to build a fightback, and many have already participated in demonstrations. This rising spirit of resistance can and must be expressed in Local 100’s contract struggle, with a fight to not only defend and improve Local 100 members’ wages and working conditions, but defend the rest of the working class as well.
We should demand that the state and city stop paying billions to the bloodsuckers on Wall Street for loans it has already effectively repaid while they continue to cut their taxes. Government should instead massively increase the funding of mass transit after years of cut backs: funding so that our wages, healthcare and pensions can begin to catch up with what we’ve lost; funding to reverse the fare increases that have functioned like an ever-rising tax on the city’s working class; and funding to hire of thousands more transit workers to cope with the massive increase in ridership that the system has experienced in recent years, ease the burden on current workers who face ever increasing pressure to work harder and faster, improve service and create new jobs that the working class needs.
Mass mobilizations like the November 15 contract rally can boost Local 100 members’ sense of militancy. More mass rallies leading up to our contract’s expiration can increase our sense of power further and help build toward the struggle against Trump’s coming attacks if Local 100 raises demands that are worth not just Local 100 members fighting for, but the rest of the working class too. If Local 100 raises demands that defend the interests of all working-class and oppressed people, publicizes its commitment to stand in active solidarity with all the targets of Trump’s coming attacks, and encourages the city’s other unions and community organizations to join the struggle, our contract rallies can swell, boosting our struggle as well as those of all working-class people.
Such a struggle would be an important break from vicious cycle of betrayals and retreats by the Democratic Party and its allies in the bureaucrats that control this country’s unions that culminated in the disaster of Trump’s election. But make no mistake, such a struggle will have to overcome the resistance of the Samuelsen leadership of Local 100, which shows every sign of remaining committed to such a course.
How the Democrats Paved the Way for Trump
The Democratic Party has offered less and less to the working class and oppressed people for decades, but never so little as Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency. Eight years after the outbreak of the financial crisis on Wall Street, with millions still suffering the effects of home foreclosures and job losses, her campaign offered not a single policy to address the plight of working-class people. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement of protest, Clinton pretended to care about Black people’s suffering at the hands of racist police, but she similarly refused to promise to do anything specific about it. She and the rest of the leadership of the Democratic Party hoped that Trump’s monstrous racism and sexism would scare so many people into voting for her that she would not have to offer the masses anything, thus making it easier for her to please her backers on Wall Street and the rest of the capitalist class.
The result of the Democrats’ strategy was that barely more than half of the country’s eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. Millions fewer Blacks and women voted for Clinton and the Democrats despite facing the most openly racist and sexist candidate in memory. This, and a shift of some votes to Trump by working-class and poor whites in the economically devastated “Rust Belt” states, delivered the White House to Trump.
At the same time, the leaders of this country’s unions increasingly avoided mobilizing working-class and poor people in mass protests and strikes to defend their interests, the way that the unions were built in the first place. Instead, they told workers that striking was too risky and instead they should elect Democrats and then lobby them for improvements. The result was a labor movement that grew smaller and weaker, lurching from one sellout to another.
We Must End Samuelsen’s Sellout Alliance with Cuomo
With the brief exception of our 2005 strike which then-president Roger Toussaint sold out after just three days without even having a contract agreement in place, Local 100 has been burdened for generations by leaders who pursued the strategy of avoiding mobilizing struggle. The result has been one contract after another featuring givebacks of hard-won gains.
The current Samuelsen leadership of Local 100 has continued to pursue that strategy, in recent years focusing on collaboration with Governor Cuomo. The results have been disastrous for Local 100 members as well as other unions and the rest of the working class.
In 2012, Cuomo was looking to pay Wall Street more than $30 billion in debt repayments and billions more in interest. He wanted the state’s workers to pay the price by agreeing to massive givebacks in their hard-won pension entitlements. Samuelsen rushed to help Cuomo, agreeing to the new Tier 6 pension that again hits new hires, tripling their pension deductions in what amounted to a massive cut in wages.
Then came Local 100’s last contract round. At the time, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) workers were preparing to strike after being forced to work without a contract for more than three years. A Federal mediator appointed by President Obama had found that the LIRR workers’ union leaders’ last contract offer was fair and that the MTA should accept it. But Cuomo, figuring that being tough with the unions would help win him ruling-class support for his presidential ambitions, pushed the MTA to reject the deal anyway. With the LIRR unions refusing to give in, the stage was set for a strike.
But Local 100’s contract was up for negotiation, and Cuomo turned to Samuelsen for help and got it. Our Local president agreed to a significantly worse deal including lower, beneath-inflation wage raises for all and even worse for new hires who would have to work an extra two years before reaching top pay. The LIRR workers were thus robbed of the threat of a united struggle, and with Cuomo and the MTA charging them for being greedy for wanting more, their leaders caved in. Local 100 union reps went around the transit system at the time, lying that Samuelsen’s sellout contract hadn’t undermined the LIRR workers. But it is now public record that the LIRR union leaders argued that our contract “did not warrant acknowledgment as a pattern or even as a worthy comparator.”
And Samuelsen is continuing his treacherous collaboration with Cuomo this time around. For some time now Cuomo has been working to oust Bill de Blasio from his position as mayor in favor of a Democratic Party flunkey who will support his ambitions. And again, Local 100s president is rushing to help him.
Last month Samuelsen had a big editorial published in the Daily News that attacked de Blasio for selling out the unions that supported him in the interests of advancing his political career. City unions, our president suggested, should therefore reject his attempts to win early endorsements for his re-election. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that finally, a union leader is taking a strong stand against Democratic Party politicians that stab workers in the back, but Samuelsen is really trying to trick us. Samuelsen is not holding Cuomo to the same standards and announcing that Local 100 is ending its support of him. On the contrary, following Cuomo’s demands for givebacks in our last contract and then for the massive Tier 6 pension concession, Samuelsen not only endorsed Cuomo in his last election but campaigned for him!
In reality, Samuelsen is really just doing a favor for Cuomo. By trying to weaken the mayor’s union support, he’s trying to make it easier for Cuomo’s handpicked flunkey to defeat de Blasio in the never Democratic mayoral primaries. Since the governor is the MTA’s top boss, Samuelsen hopes that by doing such dirty work for him, Cuomo will demand fewer concessions from Local 100 in its next contract.
Such dishonest maneuvers only deepen the divisions between unions and of the whole working class, inviting capitalist politicians to conquer us with worse attacks in the future. Along these lines, it is worth noting that while the examples that Samuelsen gave of de Blasio’s betrayals of unions were true, such as accepting the use of non-union labor in his housing plan, they were far from his worst crimes. Samuelsen avoided mentioning the terrible contracts that de Blasio forced on city workers’ unions since they were no worse than the deal Samuelsen helped Cuomo force on us. He didn’t mention the mayor’s support for real estate developers’ driving up of rents. And he certainly didn’t mention crimes like de Blasio’s appointment of the racist Bill Bratton as police chief and support of “Broken Windows” policing that made cops prioritize cracking down on misdemeanors in poor Black and Latino neighborhoods – the policy that infamously got Eric Garner choked to death by police in Staten Island. De Blasio has even promised to veto a city council bill banning cops from using choke holds and is currently fighting to reverse past city policy and keep cops’ disciplinary records a secret from the public!
In recent days, Cuomo has been criticizing Donald Trump, promising that New York State would be a sanctuary for victims of his racist and sexist attacks. But workers should not be fooled by this into ignoring Cuomo’s many attacks on the working class and poor. Cuomo merely wants to pose as an opponent of Trump to further advance his political ambitions – at our expense.
Moreover, workers should consider Cuomo’s dealings with Trump over the years. Until recently, for example, Cuomo enjoyed Trump’s support, receiving donations from him for his run for attorney general and then governor. Between 2001 and 2009, it is reported, Cuomo in fact received more donations from Trump than did any other New York State politician. Is it a coincidence then that during his time as attorney general, Cuomo chose not to take action against “Trump University” despite multiplying complaints of fraud against it? More recently, during the trial of Chris Christie’s aides in the Bridgegate scandal, a former Port Authority official testified that Cuomo directed him to “lay off” the inquiry into the closing of the George Washington Bridge. That move was widely believed to be the product of a deal between Christie and Cuomo under which Christie would not support a Republican challenger against Cuomo in the next gubernatorial election.
Local 100’s contract struggle is thus a perfect opportunity to end the disastrous alliance of unions with Democratic Party politicians that have led us from one defeat to another, all the way to Trump’s election.