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:
Once again, transit workers are under attack. NYCT management has put forward a contract with only a 9¼% wage increase over 4 years. The rotten proposal also features the continuation of Workfare slave labor.
NYCT says this is the best they can offer – unless we accept givebacks. At the same time they’ve launched a scare campaign, threatening us with mass firings if we strike. Their idea of negotiation is to try to intimidate us and offer less than crumbs! They are proving that, surplus or no surplus, we’ll get nothing without a fight. NYCT’s attitude so far gives us no choice but to strike.
A while back, Local 100 President Willie James was trying to sound militant. He called for a 10% yearly raise and threatened to back it up with a strike. But since then, James has backed off the demand for a big wage increase. Last week James told the press that he isn’t even preparing to lead a strike. Since then, pressure from the ranks forced the Executive Board to vote to retract the statement. Nonetheless, James’ earlier statement is the signal that he is planning to stick us with another sellout contract. And to do that he is joining with management in an effort to scare us out of considering a strike.
Since the TWU leaders of the time betrayed the 1980 transit strike, the bosses and union leaders have continued to use the threat of Taylor Law penalties to stop us from even thinking about striking. But this time around, workers are so fed up that the usual scare tactics aren’t working so well.
In fact, it’s the bosses who are scared, scared that a transit strike will cost them millions in profits during the Christmas-New Year’s season. That’s why they’re pulling out all the stops, escalating their threats to include firings.
And James is scared of us too. Just look how quickly he dropped his phony militant rhetoric after the last demonstration on November 17. James heard the chants of “shut it down,” and “no contract, no work.” Thousands of transit workers let management know that they are ready to fight for a decent contract – even if James and the leadership want to back down. With the ranks really talking strike, James was quick to end the demonstration and tell everyone to go home. Now, he’s running scared, doing his best to put the lid on any militancy.
Many transit workers already favor a strike, others aren’t yet so sure. But we’re all talking about it, and with good reason – now’s the best chance for a winning strike in decades.
The bosses know that a transit strike during the holiday season will cripple their profit-making. Further, the millennium celebrations are expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists for a big party, to be broadcast worldwide. A transit strike at contract expiration would pressure all New York’s bosses to want a quick settlement. If we wait till after the holiday period, the bosses won’t be so vulnerable.
The bosses and politicians also know that other workers throughout the city are fed up. Hundreds of thousands of city workers are furious that they had “double-zero” contracts forced down their throats by Giuliani and the union leaders last time. Their contracts are up for negotiation early next year.
And what a time for us to get Workfare out of transit, when Giuliani is continuing his rampage against the poor by trying to jail the homeless – just before Christmas!
ith other city workers looking for a fightback and Giuliani hated by many, a transit strike could win massive popular support.
But what about the Taylor Law? Bad laws are made to be broken. Like segregation laws in the South, anti-union laws must and can be smashed. Indeed many unions have fought such laws and won, including Local 100. It struck against a similar law in 1966 and won, without fines or dismissals.
Further, the mood of rank-and-file transit workers is the best it’s been in a long time. Many transit workers used to think that if you strike, you lose. But one bad contract after another has taught a different lesson: if you don’t strike, you lose.
The November 17th rally was a victory for the membership. James and his fellow boss-loving bureaucrats wanted a pep rally, not a demonstration of militancy. But transit workers arrived in a fighting mood.
At the rally, workers grabbed up our leaflets and placards saying, “Willie Said 10%, Let’s Win 10%! No Workfare Slave Labor! No Givebacks, No Concessions! – Or Strike!“ By reminding everyone that James promised to fight for a big wage gain, our slogans aimed to keep the pressure on the leadership and to prepare the ranks to fight any attempt to sell us out.
Let’s be clear. We cannot trust James. If we leave things up to him, he will sell us out like he did last time when he accepted a deal that featured no pay raise and put workfare into the contract. On December 8 we must let James know that if he tries to impose another sellout he’ll have a real fight on his hands.
On December 8 we also need to let the bosses and our union leaders know that when we say “No contract, no work!“ we mean it. Loud threats or rallies with no follow-up will not move NYCT management. To achieve anything we must be prepared to conduct a solid, well-organized strike.
What do we mean by “Prepare to Strike?”
It means we need the mass mobilization of the ranks. Pressure from November 17 has already forced James and the Executive Board to vote to hold a mass membership meeting. Now we must hold James’ feet to the fire and make sure that meeting takes place and that we use it to discuss and vote on a strike.
Prepare to strike” means creating elected strike committees to organize mass picketing. It means mobilizing support and actions involving the entire working class in New York. We need to turn the December 15 march across the Brooklyn Bridge into a city-wide mass labor action involving tens of thousands of workers. We can do this by demanding that the Local leadership and Executive Board call on other city unions to back the rally and bring their members.
Prepare to strike” means a commitment to fight for a settlement that includes complete amnesty from any Taylor law firings or fines.
In the struggle for a winning strike, militant workers can’t expect Willie James or even New Directions to take the lead. But with an approach like the one we suggest, militants can unite to win the support of their fellow workers and put the greatest amount of pressure on the union leaders not to sell us out.
On December 8, unlike the lousy “Fat Cat” placards handed out by the union bureaucrats and their hired “PR” guys, we will be distributing placards with the slogans “No Contract, No Work!“ “No Sellout!“ and “Prepare to Strike!“ This can be an important step in letting the union leaders and bosses know that we mean business. Pick up a placard from us and bring it to future rallies and meetings as well. And contact us to discuss more ways of organizing to take the campaign forward.
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In pushing his sellout contract in 1995, James boasted that WEP (workfare) was one of the greatest union gains in recent years. In reality, workfare is a vicious attack on the poor and represents a tremendous union-busting weapon in the hands of the bosses. Giuliani and NYCT force WEP workers to do union jobs at sub-minimum wages. This is a shameful attack on the most vulnerable workers and a crippling blow to the union’s strength.
WEP workers now make up 4/5 of the NYC Parks workforce, 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 forced into workfare by the bosses. NYCT Must Not Be a Plantation! Don’t allow the bosses to use the threat of more slave labor WEP to undercut our jobs. We must demand that workfare end, and that all workfare workers now working for NYCT be given union jobs at full pay. Same Job – Same Pay and Protection! End Workfare!
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On December 15, the date of the contract expiration, a demonstration and march across the Brooklyn Bridge is scheduled to take place. Originally called by some members of New Directions, the march is now endorsed by the TWU.
ND members initiated the march. But as the largest opposition with many Executive Board and other union positions, ND has failed to offer clear and decisive leadership in the contract struggle. ND failed to offer any alternative to James on November 17 – they didn’t even bother to raise signs and slogans or give any leadership to their own supporters. Even now, they have failed to take a clear-cut position on whether workers should strike or not. Their December 15 call doesn’t even mention the word “strike.”
This is playing into James’ hands. Avoiding the strike question has allowed James to endorse the march in a way that could also allow him to kill it. James and his cronies unilaterally and undemocratically decreed that if he comes in with a deal, which given his history is going to be a sellout, the march will be cancelled. Thus James is hoping to both sell us out and shut down any opposition at the same time.
We can’t let this happen. We must demand that the Executive Board carry out its motions for a mass membership meeting on December 14 and the Brooklyn Bridge march on December 15 no matter what. We must build December 15 as a mass city-wide labor action to fight for a decent contract. We can do this by demanding that the Local leadership and Executive Board call on other city unions to back the rally and bring their members. We must connect the march to the decisive question facing us right now – either we get a decent contract or we are prepared to strike and shut the city down.
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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 just by a transit strike alone.
Because of the powerful position of transit workers at the heart of New York’s economy, a transit strike is a winning proposition in and of itself. But this is only true if the strike is waged to win, not the way the 1980 strike was run. That strike was just beginning to hurt the city badly – but the union leaders caved in and settled, accepting big fines.
A winning strike must mean that from the very beginning the union makes it clear that it will not settle without full amnesty for all of us, meaning no penalties and no firings. Does anyone really think that this city can afford to fire all of its transit workers? No, it can’t. But it will try divide and conquer, anytime it can. So it will take a bold declaration from the beginning, not only “No Contract, No Work!“ but “No Full Amnesty, No Work!“
Although a transit strike in itself would be extremely powerful, we think transit workers shouldn’t confine or limit their strategy in the traditional way. A transit strike, especially if it takes on the Taylor Law which is keeping all city workers down, could be a rallying point for hundreds of thousands of other city workers looking to win back stolen gains. It would raise the question: Why don’t all the unions strike together?
If the TWU struck, there is no reason why at the same time we shouldn’t be building massive support from the rest of the working class and advocating a general strike against rotten contracts and the union-busting Taylor Law. Then the capitalists would be faced with the threat of a General Strike which would really scare the hell out of them.
This leaflet has argued that transit workers need to build a united fightback in order to win a decent contract. In fact there has been an increase in economic and political attacks – including the rise of racist police brutality, cutbacks in social services and the deterioration of communities – which affects the entire working class, especially Blacks and Latinos.
In struggling for better union contracts, and on many other issues, workers see the need to join together in common action. But workers meet a lot of obstacles. A big barrier to building a united defense has been pro-capitalist leadership, of which Willie James is just one example. In the course of struggle we want to convince our fellow workers that a new leadership must be built – for union struggles and all other struggles as well.
Once workers are able to see the power our class possesses, through actions such as big strikes that win victories, revolutionary socialist ideas will make sense to more workers. Numbers will join with us in creating a new leadership for our class, a revolutionary working class party. The revolutionary socialist party will stand as a real alternative to the Republicans and Democrats and will fight on every issue related to racist and anti-worker attacks. If you are interested in discussing these ideas further, contact us.
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