The following special bulletin from the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) on the coming contract fight in New York City Transit by Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 can be read in four parts:
Transit workers are fed up with lousy contracts and givebacks. As a result, for the first time in many years, growing numbers of TWU Local 100 members are seriously thinking about the need to strike to win a good contract. Because of this, even Willie James is threatening a strike.
It’s not that transit workers want to strike. We don’t take striking lightly, especially given the threat of Taylor Law penalties. Few workers trust James and his leadership. Since then-Local 100 Pres. John Lawe’s sabotage of the 1980 strike, transit workers have seen repeated sellouts by bureaucrats such as Sonny Hall and Willie James. Given this history, many workers have been reluctant to strike.
Past contracts have shown that management won’t concede our demands if they don’t believe that we are prepared to strike. But the actions of the James leadership so far have given them no reason to think that we are serious. Case in point: just before the contract round, NYCT got the Civil Service Board to make the title of Train Operator open competitive instead of promotional. James’s response to this provocative management attack was to grumble and carry on business as usual, rather than holding even one demonstration. And rather than rallying the ranks around some key contract demands, he has blandly proposed a laundry list of demands most of which everyone expects him to throw away soon.
The bureaucrats know that their grip over the union is shaky. Recognizing the changing mood of the ranks, President Willie James is now saying we may have to strike. He may think he can placate the ranks with some militant rhetoric and a few well-controlled demonstrations. But in talking strike and hiring supposedly left-wing union publicist Ray Rogers to run a militant-sounding “Corporate Campaign”–without even the pretense of an Executive Board vote–James may be unleashing forces he cannot control. He has opened the door to strike action, and militant workers have the opportunity to demand that the leadership take real steps to prepare a strike.
James talks about a strike but does nothing to prepare the union for one. The same is true of James’s opposition in New Directions, which holds many Executive Board and Division Committee positions. We must demand that James and the leadership appear before the ranks and explain their strategy to win a good contract.
In our view, a winning strike strategy must be based on mass action and the mobilization of the ranks. We can’t leave control of this struggle to Willie James and Co.–they act to keep the members divided and feeling weak. To mobilize the union for the contract struggle, we need City-Wide General Membership Meetings to discuss and decide on contract demands and strategy. Different groups and individuals would argue there for different strategies. We would argue for a strike strategy and for the election of a strike leadership to organize all aspects of the contract fight.
To bring pressure for this, we initiated a petition campaign for a mass membership meeting. We believe that the petition can help to rally transit workers who want to fight. All those, like New Directions, who claim to want a general membership meeting should take up the petition campaign. For copies of the petition, call (212) 330-9017 or write PO Box 3573, NY, NY 10008.
We now have a better opportunity to beat the bosses and win gains than in many years. And we are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of city workers are outraged over the rigging of the last DC 37 contract vote. Thanks to pattern bargaining, DC 37 leaders helped Giuliani to stick all city workers with “double-zero” contracts.
With transit and city worker contracts up for negotiation, workers have a chance to get back what has been lost. The anger for a fightback is there. Everyone knows we got stiffed with the last contract. The question is whether this anger can be turned into strike action that will break the cycle of defeat and demoralization that has plagued city workers.
We have a great chance to win big improvements in the contract struggle. Willie James has talked about winning a 10% per-year wage hike. We should hold him to his word: Willie Said 10% – Let’s Win 10%! And we should oppose any givebacks.
But transit and other city workers could blow this chance to break out of the giveback cycle if we allow the bosses to maintain WEP (Workfare) slave labor. James’s and Sonny Hall’s support for WEP is criminal. Giuliani (and Pres. Clinton’s) Workfare programs get valuable public service from workers earning below minimum wage–whom they then toss out and replace with new WEP workers after 90 days.
WEP workers now make up three-quarters of the NYC Parks work force, replacing thousands of union jobs. James & Co said that transit workers need have no fear of this because NYCT management has sworn not to replace union jobs with WEP workers. But the NYC Parks Department made the same promise and look what they did!
James and his crew have said that making WEP workers toil under NYCT management will instill a “good work ethic”. This only spreads the lies of Giuliani and others who want us to believe that WEP is designed to help people on welfare when in reality it is a vicious, racist, attack that exploits fellow workers as slave labor. Every day we see more examples of NYCT’s unfair disciplining of TWU members. How much worse will the bosses treat vulnerable, WEP workers who have no union protection?!
We must not abandon our brother and sister workers on workfare. We must demand an end to workfare, and that all workfare workers now working for NYCT be given union jobs at full pay. Same Job–Same Pay and Protection! End Workfare!
Return to top
Over the years, many militant transit workers have looked to New Directions to provide a fighting alternative to the bureaucracy that has controlled TWU Local 100. However, ND rarely attempts to mobilize members for anything except voting its candidates into union office. They hint that they favor a strike, but they don’t seriously build for it. They raise motions for a general membership meeting, but instead of campaigning for it among the ranks, they just argue for it on the Executive Board, where the James Gang’s majority votes it down. Faced with James’s outrageous, undemocratic hiring of Rogers, ND complains, but organizes no counter-attack. To date ND has proposed no concrete strategy to win a good contract.
This is due to ND’s acting as a wing of the union bureaucracy. Instead of working for mass membership action to oust the Gang, ND tries to use its gradually increasing vote totals to pressure James & Co. to let them in.
It’s no secret that ND is internally divided. Many of its associates think they are more militant than the old leadership around Steve Downs and Tim Schermerhorn. But this loose circle of ND members, who look to Roger Toussaint for leadership, have failed to show that they can better challenge James and put forward a winning contract strategy.
Toussaint and his co-thinkers have floated some good contract demands and held contract demonstrations and forums. But these events have so far been sparsely attended: they have found no resonance among broader layers of Transit workers. That’s partly because these ND’ers have presented no clear alternative either within ND or to the Divisions where they have union posts (especially in Track but also some in Car Maintenance and Stations, for example).
Indeed, Toussaint and other ND associates have stated that a strike led by James would be a disaster. This is a defeatist perspective, not a militant approach. It would effectively abandon the members to James’s tender mercies and reinforce the fear many members have of mass militant action.
Of course we place no trust in James. But James remains in control of the union: we cannot just wish him away. A fighting perspective means placing demands on the leadership to expose James’ unwillingness to fight the bosses. This opens the way to challenging James by showing the need for a leadership with a strategy to win the contract fight.
The League for the Revolutionary Party has consistently fought for a strategy of mass action. We have put forward a petition campaign calling for a membership meeting of all divisions to hammer out contract demands and a strategy to win a decent contract. Unlike ND, we have not shied away from telling the truth: that a decent contract will only be won by a strike that mobilizes the entire membership. ND’s failure to put forward a fighting contract strategy allows the Hall/James leadership to retain the initiative, and thus the ability to stick us with another sellout contract. That would be criminal when there are now so many opportunities for mass workers’ struggle in New York.
The LRP will continue to work for united mass action. In the course of the fight to win a decent contract we hope to educate the largest possible number of fellow militants on the need to build a revolutionary party that is needed to lead the huge struggles that are bound to come.
Return to top
At the August 19 special Executive Board meeting, Pres. Willie James unilaterally and against the majority, approved Local 100’s hiring of Ray Rogers’s “Corporate Campaign” to run a publicity drive for our contract. For over 20 years Rogers has been doing publicity for various union contract fights, always talking about “union democracy” and “rank-and-file mobilization.” What kind of union democrat would hire on under such undemocratic conditions? And what kind of working-class fighter would work for a notorious proponent of WEP slave labor like Willie James? These facts are reason enough to oppose the hiring of Rogers.
What Rogers intends for our contract round is mass leafleting by TWU members to expose the vast sums of money going from the MTA to big business, subsidized by TWU Local 100’s concessions. This is supposed to show the riding public that big business, not transit workers, are bleeding mass transit dry.
These are important points, and mass leafleting is necessary. But Rogers’s leaflet doesn’t even mention that we’re now in a contract fight, that we might have to strike, or that hundreds of thousands of other city workers will soon be in the same boat! And though it mentions MTA management, it goes pretty easy on them–as though almost every worker in the city doesn’t hate them! The only support action that Rogers’s leaflet suggests is to write letters begging labor-hating big business politicians Giuliani and Pataki to fund transit instead of big business!
This is consistent with Willie James’ strategy of hiding our power as workers to fight and win a good contract, and instead makes transit workers look like victims deserving of a better deal.
In over twenty years of activity for several unions, Rogers’s approach has led to many defeats and has proved no answer to the crisis facing the trade unions. This is because his strategy is not to organize militant united working class mobilization: it is to foster sympathetic public opinion to shame the bosses into treating the workers fairly. But the bosses have no shame. They know very well that it’s precisely the takebacks of the past two decades that brought about their profits and budget surpluses.
But Rogers believes that a campaign for public sympathy is a better strategy than strike action (though he may admit that strikes have a use). His whole bent is to lead us away from the massive strike struggles the working class needs just to hold on to what we still have, let alone make new gains.
If the members can’t force the Local bureaucrats to rescind the hiring of Rogers, militants should go to his events and put forward the demands and strategy we need: 10% Wage Hike Each 12 Months! Same Job, Same Pay–No WEP! No Concessions! Strike to Win! Militant transit workers should bring their own literature, banners, placards and chants to Rogers’s events and win over the participants to these slogans and tactics. We can and should take these events away from Willie James and his hired hack, Ray Rogers.
Return to top
A TWU strike would have huge power and potential. Shutting down the transit system would both knock NYCT management back and threaten Giuliani and profit-gouging bosses throughout the city. The bosses would stand to lose millions in profits, and the strike would be a rallying point for hundreds of thousands of other city workers looking to win back stolen gains.
By shutting the city down, a transit strike would raise the question: Why don’t all the unions strike together and win some really big gains? If the TWU struck, shut down the city and built massive support from the rest of the working class the capitalists would be faced with the threat of a General Strike.
This would scare the hell out of the ruling class. Like all bullies, Giuliani and the MTA bosses act tough till someone stands up to them. By taking a stand, saying, No more lousy contracts! a transit strike would end the lie that we workers are too weak to fight back. Hundreds of thousands of other workers could be ready to act if we are bold enough to take the lead.
A powerful transit strike, especially if it builds fighting support throughout the working class would be a major step to reversing the years of defeat New York City workers have endured, and win improvements in our living and working conditions. As revolutionary socialists, we believe that the working class must recognize its ability to fight for political power and create a new society that meets the needs of all workers and oppressed people. We believe that once workers recognize the power they possess, many will join with us in creating a revolutionary working-class party to get rid of the racist, reactionary capitalist system.
Such a revolutionary party leadership of workers needs to be built in all the unions to challenge and replace the pro-capitalist bureaucrats who sell us out. Similarly, a revolutionary party needs to be built to lead all workers’ struggles, in the unions and workplaces, and on the streets in our communities, to challenge the Republican and Democratic parties and lead struggles around issues like budget cuts, police brutality and all other anti-working class attacks. Workers interested in discussing these ideas more should contact us.
Return to top