Three months before the MTA workers’ contract expires, all the Local 100 leadership’s words and actions suggest that they are preparing a sellout. Everyone knows that when negotiating, the union must make management as scared as possible of a big contract fight. But recently Toussaint and Co. have been tipping their hand to management, sending the message that they shouldn’t fear a fight from Local 100. First, they asked the bosses for early negotiations and an early settlement. This makes us seem weak and desperate. It also signals a willingness to give up a powerful weapon: the ability to tie the region up in December, during the Christmas/New Years shopping period.
Since then President Toussaint has been talking to the media, telling the bosses that they shouldn’t worry that he’ll support a strike. First the New York Times reported that Toussaint denied any intention of supporting a strike (Aug. 7). Since then Newsday ran an article, which can be found on the Local 100 website, headlined "Transit Union Averse to Strike: Leader Downplays Possibility" (Aug. 25). The article quotes Toussaint as promising that his leaders "will do everything within our power to avoid [a strike]." This is a shocking betrayal of the members’ interests.
Apparently Toussaint and Co.’s commitment to avoiding a strike means avoiding mobilizing the membership in demonstrations and other actions that show our power and militancy. Why else didn’t Toussaint and Co. mobilize the Local in even one big demonstration in solidarity with the Private Lines strike? Why else have Toussaint and Co. not called one membership mobilization since May 10?
Toussaint & Co. have no confidence in transit workers’ power to unite in struggle and defeat the bosses. They’re afraid that a militant struggle could threaten their bureaucratic power and privilege at the top of the union.
Thankfully, Toussaint and the other bureaucrats who run the Local aren’t the same as the tens of thousands of Local members. It is the ranks of transit workers who have the power to decide how to fight the contract struggle. We can force Toussaint & Co. to start leading the kind of fight we need in order to win a good contract. In the course of this struggle we can also build a new leadership for the union that can lead the struggle to victory.
The struggle to avoid a sellout and win a good contract begins now -- with the struggle over contract demands. Toussaint & Co. know that the ranks have a sense of their power and aren’t in a mood to compromise on their most important demands, like health care. So they’ve been taking only small, hesitant steps towards proposing sellout contract "solutions."
Under the guise of encouraging us to be "realistic," the leadership has dropped strong hints that we should lower our expectations. They suggest that we should not plan on fighting for big wage raises, and instead "prioritize" grievance/discipline improvements and health benefits.
As for our fight for fully funded, quality health care for all Local 100 members, they hint in a Local 100 Express article that the members should accept health benefits like the NYCT Supervisors’ "NYSHIP" plan. While they insist that they will fight for such a health care plan to cover retirees (which it should), the "NYSHIP" plan features hefty member paycheck deductions of almost $50 a month! (See Local 100 Express, August 1, 2002, p. 8). While the author of the article covers his ass by pointing out some problems with the "NYSHIP" plan, the article clearly hints that we should be ready to accept a trade off gaining coverage for retirees in return for increased payments out of our pockets. Such a "realistic" contract solution would cost the MTA little, but would cost us big time.
Damn it -- we already give our sweat and blood and the best hours of each working day to the MTA! That’s reason enough to get full health care for all Local 100 members, both active and retired, without any increased payments.
Right now the capitalists’ and politicians’ refusal to provide millions of working class people with health care coverage is a national scandal. If we take the lead in the struggle for healthcare we’ll gain massive public support.
Likewise, if we put our foot down and insist on no compromise on our other key demands, we’ll inspire respect and support from the rest of the working class. Revolutionary Transit Worker believes that transit workers have the power to win big improvements for ourselves this year. And our contract round will provide an example for rest of the working class: we can either continue the past 30 years of working-class retreat, or fight, win and show the rest of the working-class how to defend its interests.
Our contract demands have to begin with a statement of what transit workers need, and not with some false guess at what the MTA can afford. Our struggle for these demands will decide just how they can be achieved. So we urge our fellow transit workers to join us in fighting for the following key contract demands:
There are, of course, many other Local, Divisional and Safety demands that we must fight for. The above is simply a list of what we think are the most important demands that all transit workers can unite around in the coming contract struggle.
During the last contract struggle we saw transit workers confidence in their power grow quickly. At the beginning of the campaign few workers were in favor of a strike. But several mass membership rallies gave workers a sense of our tremendous fighting strength, and by the contract expiration date a majority were ready to strike. We need a similar series of mass mobilizations to build up the membership’s fighting spirit this time. Toussaint & Co. are currently talking about a membership mobilization of some sort happening on September 25th. We have to demand that this be the first of a series of mass mobilizations to back our contract demands.
Most importantly, we have to show management that we’re ready to go all the way in the struggle for a good contract. The whole Local must prepare to strike!
Simply preparing to strike will scare management, the politicians and the ruling class witless and quite possibly force them to offer all sorts of concessions. But RTW does not hide its opinion that we will almost certainly have to strike to win all our demands. And we are definitely in favor of striking. Transit workers have the power to shut this city down. With no subways and buses to get workers to work, profit making from Wall Street to Company Headquarters would be stopped in its tracks. That’s our power to force the MTA, State and City to give in to our demands as well as give us amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. And such a strike would gather massive support from the rest of the working class of the city who would rally at the chance to start a fightback against the years of givebacks and cutbacks.
In the course of this struggle there should be frequent, democratic General Membership Meetings, where all the members can raise and discuss motions and make binding decisions by majority vote. All major decisions should come from such meetings. And Contract Struggle Committees involving the largest possible number of workers should be formed to organize and democratically decide on the conduct of the struggle throughout the system.
Finally, RTW makes no secret of the fact that we have no confidence in the Toussaint leadership’s preparedness to lead a winning contract struggle. On the contrary, we are convinced that they are already preparing a sellout. To those workers who still hope that Toussaint & Co. will lead a winning struggle, we say that we are ready to join with you in a united campaign to push the Local leadership to do what it takes to lead the struggle to victory. We predict that they will betray. But we’ll let the struggle prove who’s right, and be ready to show the way forward in the event of an attempted sellout.
There is some organized opposition to the Toussaint leadership. "Militant" critics of Toussaint like the supporters of Rank and File Advocate will have to be challenged to put up or shut up: either use your positions on the Executive Board and Division Committees to oppose every sellout by the Toussaint leadership, or step aside for fighters who will. Other critics will also have to be challenged to put up a real fight against the Toussaint leadership.
In the course of this united struggle we will seek to win more workers to our viewpoint that we need a revolutionary socialist party leadership of the union that won’t compromise workers’ demands in the interests of the bosses’ system because it’s committed to that system’s overthrow.