Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 63
Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party
January 7, 2017
Decades of Sellouts by Union Tops Helped Lead to Trump
Samuelsen’s Contract Strategy Is a Set-Up for Disaster!
Mass meetings for a union contract round should mobilize the ranks for a militant fight. This meeting in particular should be a springboard both for a fight against the hated MTA and a broader political struggle in unity with other workers. With our contract set to expire on January 15, just five days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Local 100 should be in a unique position to both benefit from the mass protests against Trump and to give that movement a powerful boost.
But President Samuelsen has never provided the leadership we need, and every indication is that he plans to have the union sit out a crucial battle in Washington while setting us up for betrayal in the contract round. This misleadership is a big reason why many workers feel passive and intimidated by the intensifying capitalist attack against workers and oppressed people.
Local 100’s uninspiring contract demands have kept us off combat footing. There are few if any calls for strike, though Samuelsen and TWUA President Lombardo vaguely and insincerely hint at the possibility. A strike normally requires serious preparation – something Samuelsen is not providing. If the union leaders are forced to call a strike vote, we would vote “yes” and solidarize with workers who want to demonstrate the power we really have as a mass organization of workers. We would fight within a strike for measures like elected strike committees to give practical leadership to the best fighters in the union. That is not now the situation before us, however.
Trump and Allies Planning Attacks on Whole Working Class
Donald Trump’s election shocked the world. The primary targets of his openly racist and sexist campaign are immigrants, Muslims, Blacks and Latinos, and women. The rise in violent racist attacks since Trump’s victory warns of the dangers facing all people of color from thugs and police. The latter are eager to reassert their authority after being challenged by years of Black Lives Matter protests. Trump has vowed that his Supreme Court will remove any constitutional right for women to choose to terminate a pregnancy.
Other targets of Trump’s White House and the Republican Congress are also clear – and public workers like us are high on that list. There is every reason to think that these reactionaries will also be committed to banning dues check-off for public-sector unions. Given the current state of the union movement nationally, that could be a death blow.
Beyond any specific measure, public workers have already been increasingly used as scapegoats for the failings of government. We’ve been pilloried in the media and by politicians as an example of what is wrong with the country. The Republican Party platform explicitly says that Federal workers are paid too much and need to be brought in line with lower-paid workers.
Trump’s rule will be autocratic and unstable. But it promises an acceleration of these attacks. When a union leader pointed out how Trump lied about how many jobs he ‘saved’ at the Carrier plant, Trump’s Twitter attacks on that leader led to an avalanche of death threats and other harassment.
Samuelsen Refuses to Protest Trump
In the face of these threats, Samuelsen has ignored the many protests against Trump. He has refused to build them and done nothing to commit the union’s resources to them. In contrast, supporters of the LRP have had success in putting forward motions in division meetings to mobilize the union against Trump – an indication that the sentiment to fight Trump exists in the union and can be tapped. Samuelsen & Co have restricted our contract fight to a public relations media campaign. Instead of emphasizing our potential power on the job, or with other workers and oppressed people in joint struggle, they present us as powerless victims.
Samuelsen says little about the MTA bosses’ plans and occasionally criticizes them, gently. He pals around with MTA chief Prendergast at the new Second Avenue Subway. Meanwhile, he calls for improvements in the Tier 6 Pension (technically up to the NYS government but in reality subject to bargaining), and in the progression to top wage rate for many members. But he bargained away these positions himself! Apparently he hopes we will forget that these take-backs were his doing.
Many of TWU Local 100’s demands deserve support, but Samuelsen shows no recognition that a massive struggle will be necessary to win them, preferring mildly pro-union editorials in the Daily News. But those won’t do anything for us against the reactionary and racist forces Trump is mobilizing.
Samuelsen’s Silence on the Fare Hikes Is a Trap
The union lists opposition to the fare hikes as an official contract demand. But when supporters of Revolutionary Transit Worker spoke against the fare hikes at MTA hearings this past fall, we didn’t see any union officials there. And we have seen nothing else from them on this issue.
When the cost of living in NYC is driving even union workers out of the city, to remain silent on an increase in the fare hikes is to cut us off from other workers and make us look like we’re only fighting for ourselves.
If we get a raise while everyone else gets slapped in the face, a year or two from now Trump or one of his flunkies will want to make an example of us as living high on the hog at taxpayers expense. That lie is going to find more fertile ground thanks to Samuelsen. An editorial from the Daily News won’t save us (and we probably won’t get it either). If we don’t build a united fight with all those under the gun, we will isolate ourselves and we will be set up for failure ourselves.
The Democratic Party Paved the Way for Trump
The Democratic Party has offered less and less to 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 from foreclosures and job losses, her campaign offered no real means to address the plight of working-class people. In response to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, Clinton looked concerned about Black people’s suffering at the hands of racist police, but refused to promise any specific response. She and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership 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, making it easier for her to please her backers on Wall Street and the rest of the capitalist class.
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: we 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.
Break 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, Local 100 has been burdened for generations by leaders who pursued the strategy of avoiding mobilizing for struggle. The result has been one contract after another featuring givebacks of hard-won gains. (In 2005, RTW fought for a powerful strike strategy that could have defeated the Taylor Law; see our account New York Transit Strike Shows Working-Class Power.)
The current Samuelsen leadership of Local 100 has continued to pursue that losing 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 hand Wall Street more than $30 billion in debt repayments and billions more in interest. He wanted NYS workers to pay the price with massive pension givebacks. Samuelsen rushed to help Cuomo, agreeing to the Tier 6 pension for new hires, tripling their pension deductions – really a massive wage cut. He even called this a “victory” because he got a deal to make it less-bad for us than other workers. But this is exactly the kind of divide-and-conquer strategy we should be fighting.
During Local 100’s last contract round, Long Island Rail Road 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 found that the MTA should accept the LIRR workers’ union leaders’ proposal. But Cuomo figured that being tough with the unions could win him ruling-class support for his presidential ambitions, so he pushed the MTA to reject the deal. With the LIRR unions refusing to give in, the stage was set for a strike.
Samuelsen again helped out. He agreed to a significantly worse deal for Local 100 including beneath-inflation wage raises for all, and an extra 2 years of work for new hires to reach top pay. So the LIRR workers were unable to threaten a united struggle with the TWU. Cuomo and the MTA charged them with greed for wanting more, and their leaders caved in. This is what Samuelsen is setting us up for under Trump.
Meanwhile, Samuelsen is continuing his treacherous collaboration with Cuomo. Cuomo has been working to replace Bill de Blasio as mayor with a complete flunkey. So Samuelsen had a big editorial in the Daily News that accurately attacked de Blasio for selling out unions that supported him to advance his political career. But Samuelsen did not hold Cuomo to the same standards, only attacking De Blasio for things Cuomo isn’t also guilty of. So in an editorial dealing with NYC working-class issues, Samuelsen said nothing about rising rents! Again, this is how we isolate ourselves and set up great defeats. If TWU Local 100 stood up against all the politicians presiding over astronomical rent increases, we’d not only be helping ourselves – we’d be setting an example of how to fight for everyone else and winning new allies.
Samuelsen Sitting out Fight Against Racist Police Brutality
Samuelsen certainly didn’t mention crimes like de Blasio’s appointment of the racist Bill Bratton as police chief and his support of “Broken Windows” policing. That’s the policy 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 promised to veto a city council bill banning cops from using choke holds and is fighting to keep cops’ disciplinary records secret from the public.
The most common cause for arrest in this city stems from the “Broken Windows”-linked policy of cops hiding in subway stations to arrest turnstile jumpers. With Trump’s election, limiting the cops’ power and excuses to brutalize and criminalize people is more important than ever. Yet Samuelsen has done nothing to mobilize our union with others against this policy.
What Must Be Done
While Trump’s election promises harsher attacks, Cuomo’s political maneuvering and an improved MTA budget could bring Samuelsen a contract deal that will look good compared to what we’re used to and what others are getting. We’ve argued above why even in that best-case scenario his strategy sets us up for disaster.
The main opposition caucus, Joseph Campbell’s “Transport Workers United,” is a shameful excuse for an alternative leadership. Their latest effort is an alliance with the podcast and Facebook group “Progressive Action,” whose leader, Tramell Thompson, promised the MTA he would organize scabbing if Samuelsen called a strike.
Given this balance of forces, those who see the need to change course, to start turning this union around as part of a broader fight against Trump and all he stands for must come together to discuss the way forward and get organized so that we can play a bigger role.