TWU members must vote down this contract. It isn’t the contract we demanded at the mass rallies last year. It isn’t what we voted to strike for at the December 14 mass meetings. This is the contract that Giuliani and James want to stick us with so they can continue to screw us and the rest of the city’s workers.
Many transit workers recognize this and are voting “no,” but feel that our struggle has been completely defeated. Some who hate the proposed contract might even vote “yes,” in the belief that we’ll get something even worse if we vote it down.
The League for the Revolutionary Party, which raised the strike motion that passed at the December 14 meeting, thinks that transit workers can rebuild the transit strike movement. A victorious “no” vote will boost transit workers’ confidence, showing that Giuliani and James didn’t defeat us, and open the way to the ouster of the James Gang from leadership. And we have every reason to want to rebuild the strike movement. After all, hundreds of thousands of other city workers’ contracts expire soon, starting with DC 37 in March. If the bosses trembled at the TWU strike movement in December, imagine their fear of a united struggle of all city workers!
The James Gang did all they could to sabotage the strike movement. They tried to enforce Giuliani’s injunction in the mass meetings and sent their lawyers to court to delay challenges to it! While James Gang leaders tried to avoid reporting on negotiations at the mass meetings, Giuliani received constant updates ... from Willie James!
So with help from Giuliani, “Judas” James sold us out to the MTA. The vote on the contract has become a vote on Giuliani and James’s collaboration against the transit workers’ strike movement. A no vote is a vote against Giuliani and James. Defeating this rotten contract will show we’re not defeated and can struggle again and win!
If we vote down the contract, everything can change. Remember how the December strike movement started? Early on there were few signs of militancy and no one expected the militant struggle that followed. But the contract rallies at MTA headquarters gave transit workers a taste of their power and soon thousands were chanting “Strike!“ The problem was that we were saddled with a union leadership that was committed to derailing the struggle and selling us out. But if “Judas” James’s contract is voted down, the way can be cleared to a winning struggle.
A “no” vote would mean no confidence in the present leadership. It would expose the fact that James cannot claim to represent the members any more. It would constitute a mass membership demand for the resignation of James and his whole gang of sellouts. Voting “No” Means James Must Resign!
But if we vote no, who will lead the struggle to get rid of James? New Directions (ND) is calling for a “No” vote. ND’s leaders have long claimed to be the alternative to the sellouts who control the TWU, and many workers support them. Giuliani’s attack on ND as behind the recent strike movement has added to their militant reputation. But this reputation is undeserved.
On December 8, 12,000 workers were chanting “Strike” not because of ND but because they were fed up with sellouts and givebacks. At the time, ND declared that a strike under Willie James’ leadership “would be a disaster.”
At the December 14 meetings, transit workers voted to strike at midnight if the MTA didn’t concede our basic demands of a big pay raise, no workfare and no givebacks. This motion, put forward by the LRP, was to place the power to call a strike in the hands of the ranks at the mass meeting, not in the hands of the James’s Executive Board. The motion passed unanimously.
The ranks handed ND a chance to lead the strike. And with ND members elected leaders of many important divisions, they could have! But instead of letting the ranks decide and taking leadership of a strike, ND’s leaders tried to cheat the workers out of their decision. They introduced a motion to authorize the E. Board to call a strike. But workers knew they’d already voted for the motion they wanted, so the LRP’s motion to strike at midnight was read again, and for a second time, was voted for unanimously!
Then ND ignored the strike vote, showing that their claims to be for union democracy and militancy are bullshit. They went to the E. Board as they had planned, where most of them opposed James’ contract – and got outvoted, as we warned all along. They didn’t declare the E. Board vote unconstitutional because transit workers had already voted to reject such a contract and strike. Instead, ND surrendered, and accepted the E. Board vote.
Since then, ND have done nothing to encourage a mass mobilization against the contract. They filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to hold up contract balloting, and suggested that if we vote the contract down we wait till after Local 100 elections in December (!) to negotiate a new one.
Despite ND’s betrayal, many workers still look to ND to lead the fight against James and the proposed contract. If the proposed contract is voted down, militants will have to demand that ND mobilize to force the James Gang to resign, take leadership and organize a struggle to win a better contract.
We can do it again. While workers will have to demand that ND organize the fight against James and the MTA’s attacks, their failure in December shows that we can’t trust their leadership. After a successful “No” vote, we would urge militants inside and outside ND to form a Committee for a Fighting Contract Campaign to move the struggle forward. We would again argue for a strike as the only way forward. And we would try to convince other workers that such a committee should lead in organizing the struggle should there be a strike. We encourage all transit workers interested in being a part of such a committee to contact us.
The contract’s modest wage increases come with huge givebacks. The wage hikes of 5, 3 and 4% a year may seem high compared to the contracts from 1994 to ‘99. When added to those from ‘94 to ‘99, these raises put us just ahead of inflation, a little over 3% a year. Even this small raise was due to our strike vote; imagine if we had struck!
The promised reductions in pension contributions to 2% maximum depend on approval by the state legislature and Governor Pataki. Willie James says he can “guarantee” that the legislation will pass. But Pataki has vetoed almost every such bill in the past two years for everyone from transit workers to teachers. No wonder, after first announcing that there wouldn’t be a contract vote until after the pension legislation passed, James has rushed out contract ballots before the decision on pension contributions.
The MTA’s disciplinary system is the most repressive faced by municipal workers. All Local 100 Divisions made disciplinary reform a top contractual priority. But the proposed changes are largely cosmetic. Pre-disciplinary suspensions for “minor” infractions are supposed to end, but deciding what’s “minor” is left up to the TA, giving them plenty of leeway to suspend workers. Meanwhile, the hated “sick abuse” provisions remain.
One of the contract’s big givebacks is broad-banding and speedup among subway car maintainers and bus mechanics. Six different categories of subway car maintainers are to combine into one and the current team of 6 maintainers to repair each car is to become 5, with the same work load. Car Maintainers are to get $1/hour blood money for this.
The contract also merged bus mechanics’ tasks. But a rebellion in Bus Divisions, the traditional base of support for the union leadership, forced a re-negotiation for bus mechanics only. A rigged vote of the Executive Board postponed broad-banding in Bus Divisions pending a new deal between the MTA and the same Local 100 leaders who agreed to broad-banding in the first place! If this contract passes, bus mechanics will get screwed like the car maintainers.
The new contract continues Workfare (WEP), a vicious attack against welfare recipients. WEP encourages the MTA’s aggressive disciplines and new broad-banding attack. Management gets below-minimum wage workers with no rights, whom they can work as they like. It sets the standard for how management treats all of us. Proposed broad-banding expands TA Cleaners’ tasks to include some maintenance and thus allows the same for Workfare workers. We should fight to end Workfare and win full-time union jobs for all Workfare workers currently on TA property.
James’ contract provides for the merging of the two Bus Divisions, MABSTOA and TA Surface, to form a “Regional Bus Company” after discussion by a joint TWU-MTA panel. That is, we’re expected to vote for the merger without knowing the details. MABSTOA workers have weaker seniority rights, less vacation pay and fewer sick days than TA workers and no Civil Service Status. Management wants all new bus division hires and eventually all Bus workers under these conditions. The TWU’s leaders connived at exactly this with the previous merger of bus lines in Westchester. Further, the planned merger lays the basis for the James Gang’s long-rumored plan to split the Surface divisions away from Local 100 and form a whole new Local. This would set up Bus and Rapid Transit employees to scab on each other.
All these points make a resounding “No!“ vote necessary.