Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has just announced a "breakthrough" on our Health Benefit Trust. He hopes to use the December 1 "General Membership Assembly" to sell his give-back scheme. The sellout is spelled out in a joint TWU Local 100/MTA "term sheet," a tentative agreement he has reached with management. In its defense, he says "There is no deal yet, but we are close enough... ." Any closer and they'll be sharing the same bed.
The near-deal is the same kind of sellout we got from Willie James, Sonny Hall and Co. Most members were sick of the TWU old guard leadership, who never fought and only gave back and "traded-off" to the bosses. They voted for Toussaint expecting him, in contrast, to lead a fight against the steadily increasing MTA attacks. Now Toussaint has openly betrayed us.
The MTA has been holding our health and that of our families hostage to extort more givebacks. As members know, the current contract allows the MTA to underfund the HBT: without greatly increased TA contributions, the Fund will be insolvent by Dec. 31. The contract calls for the Union to find "cost savings" (for example, in worker productivity) in return for increased funding. Members marched and protested by the thousands for full HBT funding and against benefit cuts and "cost savings." Many of us felt and still feel that we should strike rather than accept these attacks.
Now Toussaint is pushing very dangerous concessions in return for preserving our benefits till December 15, 2002. The term sheet embodying the proposed deal was dated September 21. It smelled so bad that apparently it was kept secret even from some Local 100 Executive Committee members, the top Local 100 officers, till early November! The most obvious givebacks are in the term sheet's clause 9): "Regional Bus: Forty-five days of negotiations to reach agreement on jointly supported legislation to create Regional Bus Company.... maintenance of existing Civil Service and NYCERS coverage for those who possess it; ... negotiation of a consolidated, separate collective bargaining agreement... ." (emphasis added -- RTW)
In other words, future hirees in what's now NYCT Surface will have no Civil Service status in the planned Regional Bus Company (RBC). Make no mistake; the MTA is hellbent on getting rid of Civil Service and this is another step in their drive.
The trade-away of future hirees' rights in return for allegedly maintaining benefits for current employees has been a particularly underhanded way to weaken us. How many of us remember that NYCTA jobs used to pay top rate from day one of employment, as opposed to after three years, as now? Management always uses less-protected workers to undermine the negotiating position of older workers. And, given the average age and length of service of the present workforce, the MTA can expect to have almost no bus workers with Civil Service status within 20 years. Further, the current MABSTOA and NYCT Surface division employees would have a separate contract from NYCT Subways in the RBC. This obviously aims at dividing the Local at contract time. The bosses will use bus workers to undermine even the threat of a subway strike, and vice-versa. When running for President, Toussaint correctly opposed Willie James's and MABSTOA VP Gil Rodriguez's plan to split Local 100 between subway and bus workers. Now, in office, Toussaint has opened the door to a divided workforce by other means.
Rodriguez, you'll recall, was the union official who tried to ram Giuliani's anti-strike gag order down our throats at the Dec. 15, 1999 General Membership meeting. Later, fearing that the members would throw him and the other boss-loving Surface bureaucrats out, they pushed to split Surface from Subways. In addition to dividing us at contract time, has Toussaint now made a backroom deal to let Rodriguez take one-third of our membership out of the Local? Inquiring minds want to know.
Toussaint, of course, denies that anything skanky is going on. His circular letter dated November 8, says, "for us the main thing is that any agreement will guarantee existing benefits. The Transit Authority commits to 'maintain the current level of benefits,' with the understanding there will be no reserve on 12/15/02." (emphasis in original -- RTW) But the members were given to understand at the demonstrations called by Toussaint that we would keep our benefits and give nothing back to the MTA. The fact that by contract expiration there will be no reserve in the HBT means that the fund will be insolvent right away, instead of after two years, as under the current rotten contract! The MTA has now been given the upper hand in slashing benefits and/or wringing further givebacks from us in the coming contract round.
Toussaint refers to the RBC as "a shell, in which we are not required to participate. No member will have their work rules, benefits, seniority, pick rights, etc. changed in any way. ... We are firmly committed to the idea that the membership must vote to ratify any agreement... ." (Original emphasis -- RTW)
There are a number of things wrong with this. First, how can such a total re-organization as the planned RBC not affect "seniority, pick rights, etc."? Note, also, that here Toussaint says nothing about Civil Service status, which would be abolished for new workers, and ultimately for all Surface employees. Toussaint's claim that "we are not required to participate" in any RBC is belied by the term sheet's agreement on "Forty-five days of negotiation" for "legislation to create" RBC. Term sheet clause 12) says further, "....If no ratified and approved MOU [Memorandum of Understanding: equivalent to a contract clause -- RTW], then arbitration." (our emphasis -- RTW). Toussaint says that the arbitration concerns only the union's claim that the MTA is contractually required to fund the HBT reserve. But if that's so, why would we need a ratification vote?
Toussaint exposes his own capitulation when he mentions in passing that "it was the threat of a strike authorization vote in August" that kept the MTA from cutting our benefits. At the time, Toussaint kept the strike threat secret from the membership and most of the Local officers. If a secret strike threat and an unmobilized membership backed the MTA down, think of what we could win with open, well-organized strike preparations! Instead, Toussaint prepares a retreat, without even testing our strength against the bosses. As RTW predicted, he has turned into everything he seemed to run against in the last Local 100 elections. He has the nerve to put out a Dec. 1 meeting announcement which just about pronounces him the re-incarnation of Mike Quill. Despite Quill's bureaucratic ways, initial pro-Stalinist games and later anti-communist purges, he actually led some strikes and won real gains.
President Toussaint wants no membership motions or votes at the December 1 meeting itself. The members will only be allowed an advisory vote on important topics, like the HBT, the 2002 Contract, the Pension refund, etc., at separate workshops, which will then report back to the Plenary (full) session. Toussaint said at a Local 100 Staff Meeting on Nov. 14, that there would be only "limited discussion" at the Plenary session. He fears a democratic meeting like that on the evening of Dec. 14, 1999, where 4000 members freely raised motions, debated and unanimously passed Bro. Eric Josephson's motion to strike.
The planned high points of the Dec. 1 meeting are diversions. We get to hear "Special Guest Speakers," that is, capitalist politicians coming to bullshit us that they're our friends. Meanwhile, they cut back on workers and shovel billions to the capitalists in the airlines, insurance, etc. industries. We'll get to hear Jesse Jackson, who last year browbeat Los Angeles transit workers into calling off their solid strike and accepting most of the givebacks that management wanted. However, the most special guest speaker will be Senator Hillary Clinton, who openly attacked our right to strike when Giuliani issued his injunction against us in Dec. '99. And Toussaint & Co. haven't even asked her to repudiate her attack on us, much less challenge her on future injunctions and the Taylor Law which she supports!
We don't need diversions, we need to have a real say in controlling our lives and preserving our livelihood. We have to fight to turn the Dec. 1 meeting into a real membership meeting.
Long-time New Directions leaders, including Recording Sec'y Noel Acevedo and RTO VP Tim Schermerhorn, have been on the outs with Toussaint since early this year. They finally put out a publication, the "Rank and File Advocate" in October which criticizes the regime's undemocratic functioning -- only nine months after Revolutionary Transit Worker did so. The "Advocate" also criticizes Toussaint for not organizing membership fightbacks to defend our HBT, such as working by the rules. A work-to-rule can be part of a fightback strategy. But many members already know that a serious fightback requires at least a strike mobilization and probably a strike itself. This argument is one of the number of urgent questions that we must discuss and vote on at the Dec. 1 Meeting. We won't be able to, however, unless we open that meeting up for the members to decide.
At the meeting, the "Advocate," to be honest with the members, should openly explain that to fight health benefit cuts or trade-offs, we'll have to strike. Given the MTA offensive against us, there is no alternative. Toussaint recognizes this: because he fears a strike, he capitulated. If we want to avoid surrender, we have to fight at the meeting for a real Local mobilization now. Frankly, given the past record of the "Advocate" leaders, RTW doesn't expect that they will lead such a struggle. They have been dodging this question since at least 1984. And, even now, when the crisis shows it can't be dodged anymore, we know that they will find a way.
However, we do challenge them to at least publicly and loudly demand a Real Membership Meeting -- Let the Members Decide! Real working class leaders risk immediate unpopularity. They lead by putting forward ideas and strategies that they believe are necessary and try to convince others. But, instead, the New Direction leaders who now publish the "Advocate" have a record of putting forward only proposals they think that many transit workers will already accept. (We also believe that they underestimate the level of understanding by the members.) They hide their lack of leadership by claiming to champion rank and file democracy -- let the members decide.
OK. It is time for the "Advocate" Executive Board "rank and file" leaders to put up or shut up! Will they lead in the fight to make the Dec. 1 meeting into a real rank-and-file-controlled meeting? So far, true to form, they have dodged the question. They never even raised motions on the EB for a democratic, decision-making meeting. Indeed, "Advocate" issue #1 only mentions the Dec. 1 Meeting as an event worth attending. RTW challenges the "Advocate" leaders to rally the ranks for a real membership meeting. We point out that not only the RTW, but many other transit workers would join them in a serious struggle against the growing Toussaint machine!
The MTA is screwing transit workers. We have to fight back. We can organize an effective fightback only if the membership openly discusses the challenges we face. Such a meeting can galvanize our ranks. United, transit workers have enormous power and strategic position in this city.
At such a meeting, Revolutionary Transit Worker will argue for strike preparation. We will also push for a city-wide working-class struggle against the massive cut-backs all the politicians are now launching -- mobilize all the unions! We will argue the need to cut loose from illusions in the capitalist politicians, Democratic and Republican. Capitalism is now going into a deep economic crisis and all the bosses, not only the MTA, are on the attack, trying to make the working class pay for it. To defend ourselves, we need a revolutionary workers' party and leaders who will really lead. That's what revolutionaries are.
At the meeting, other workers will certainly argue differently. And Toussaint and the dissident "Advocate" leaders will have to present and defend their strategies. Militants must fight to make December 1 a real membership meeting, not a bureaucratic spectacle.
Submitted by Eric Josephson, Vice-Chair, Track Div