Elections in Local 100 come at a hard time for transit workers and for the whole working class. The transit bosses threaten our jobs, wages and working conditions as they plan fare hikes and service cuts. The recent deal in Albany to fund the MTA only reduces these attacks, temporarily. Over half the Local members are disfranchised because they failed to pay their dues in full. Even paid-up members see the union leadership ignoring and overturning their votes, appointing cronies to do union work and refusing to recognize elected opposition officers.
President Roger Toussaint and his fellow union hacks refuse to lead a struggle against the MTA’s attacks. They deny us the right to decide on our own contract while conspiring with MTA management and the bosses’ government to force givebacks on us through arbitration. They even attack the 5-day, forty-hour work week. While they work with anti-worker MTA management, they sabotage and purge their Local opponents, tearing the union apart. They have the nerve to accuse their opponents of wrecking the union! Most Local 100 members are disgusted. They believe that no change is possible until we get rid of Toussaint, his successor Tate and the whole crew.
But these elections can be an opportunity to start fighting back. Revolutionary Transit Worker, with the support of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), is running candidates for Local 100 Division and Executive Board offices and for Delegate to the TWU International (TWUA) 2009 Convention.
The LRP stands for revolutionary socialism. It explains how the capitalist system brings economic depression and other attacks on working people. It shows how the fight against each boss requires a working-class fight against all the capitalist bosses, culminating in socialist revolution. That means that the working-class must overthrow the capitalist government of bankers and industrialists and replace it with a workers’ state to bring prosperity and peace for all workers.
The fight against the capitalists, private or public sector, like the MTA, requires a fight against their agents in the workers’ organizations, the union bureaucracy. For New York City transit workers, that means a struggle against the pro-capitalist leaders of TWU Local 100 and the TWUA, Roger Toussaint, Jimmy Little & Co. We believe that an RTW/LRP campaign is the best way to show how to unite workers to wage immediate struggles on the job, and to win the most class-conscious workers to the only lasting solution, socialist revolution.
Hundreds of transit workers have voted for RTW before. Most of them were not revolutionary socialists. But they knew that RTW supporters in office would publicize the workers’ demands and expose sell-out union leaders. They knew that we would publicize information that workers need to know, while the union bureaucrats lie. They knew we would keep the pressure on the union bureaucrats to try to stop their sell-outs. They knew we would work for mass mobilization against the bosses’ attacks, not compromise and acceptance.
Supporters of RTW and the LRP have been fighting the bosses and their union-officer buddies in Local 100 for over 22 years. We have built and led safety enforcement in Track and RTO. We saw how the dues crisis was tearing our union apart. Not to pay in full is wrong, whatever the reason. But Toussaint’s permanent denunciation of all in-arrears members as “scabs” only increases bitterness and disunity. That’s why RTW put forward a practical plan to immediately restore to good standing all in-arrears members who enroll and stay in a Dues Payment Plan. We have always defended the democratic and union rights of co-workers, whatever political disagreements we may have. We know that we need union democracy in order to defend ourselves against management attacks. Toussaint suppresses democracy so he can help his MTA management buddies. That’s why he and his flunkies bureaucratically attack RTW supporters.
RTW has fought against take-backs from Station Booth closings to fare hikes, and for full government funding of transit. We have fought to defend our job rights and gain what improvements we could. We oppose the current arbitration for a sellout contract. We urge our co-workers to oppose any contract we can’t vote on and which includes layoffs, cutbacks or tradeoffs. We believe that mass contract rejection should lead to strike preparations for a new contract.
We have pointed out that capitalism is in crisis and must attack workers’ jobs, wages and working conditions in order to save profits. The MTA’s debt to Wall Street and threatened cutbacks show this. The capitalists and their government shovel workers’ tax money into the banks which suck debt repayments out of the public sector. Saving transit and other infrastructure requires repudiating the debt to banks and corporations. The sick capitalist system is bringing us all down. A fight against its outrages must ultimately take on the system itself.
Today, RTW has few supporters. We wish that we could join a larger fight-back campaign. Such a campaign would increase the fighting spirit of a demoralized workforce. It would allow the workers to test in practice which leadership has a strategy to defend workers’ interests: those who work within the limits of the capitalist profit-system, or those who believe that ending capitalist attacks requires mass struggle, culminating in the system’s overthrow.
Right now there is no such fight-back campaign. It certainly hasn’t come from Toussaint and his goons. They’re too busy collaborating with the bosses and purging their opponents, including RTW supporters. Toussaint ignores even the bureaucratic TWU Constitution and By-Laws. He shuts the workers and even most other union leaders out of determining the Contract, using arbitration to disguise his dirty deals.
But Take Back Our Union (TBOU), the largest opposition group, has no campaign against the politicians’ and bosses’ attacks. TBOU is an unprincipled grouping of disparate forces, some of them old union bureaucrats. Their presidential candidate, John Samuelsen, speaks generally for mobilizing workers to fight the bosses – in the future. Some in TBOU advocate rule-book slowdowns; some have demonstrated against MTA fare hikes and service cuts, and RTW has joined with them. TBOU criticizes Toussaint for being “too soft” on management. In Train Operator Division, TBOU leaders raised a motion against contract arbitration, and RTW supporters backed it.
But TBOU has done nothing to fight for a decent contract. Despite public protests by some supporters, TBOU as an organization failed to mobilize most of their own supporters against MTA fare hikes and layoff threats. They won’t mention the word “strike.”
Many TBOU leaders previously supported Toussaint. As Track Division Chair in 2002, Samuelsen urged a “yes” vote for Toussaint’s first contract which gave away our no-layoff clause and froze wages for the first year. He hasn’t repudiated this stand.
TBOU’s message to the ranks of Local 100 is: don’t struggle now – vote for good guys like themselves. TBOU is trying to oust Toussaint & Co. and get many of its members back into union office without any program for class struggle. This is a formula for setbacks and demoralization.
Many Local 100 members who want to fight the bosses see no way to start until we get rid of the corrupt, dictatorial Toussaint/Tate clique. Anyone is better than the latter, they reason. They further fear that any “third-party” candidacy will draw enough votes from TBOU to allow the ruling clique to squeak through to victory once more.
Despite occasional in-print opposition to arbitration and support for a contract vote, TBOU has not called to stop arbitration. John Samuelsen absurdly claims that the anti-worker arbitration process could work for us: “As one of three Arbitrators, all Toussaint now has to do to get us a contract with good wage increases, no layoffs, no bus regionalization, no new reduced pension tiers and which restores our free health insurance is get one of the other two arbitrators to agree with him.” Though Samuelsen says that mobilizing the members is also necessary and that TBOU will do so “if elected,” TBOU in practice is letting contract arbitration slide through. So no matter who wins, we’d be stuck with a rotten contract without even putting up a fight. That will increase our demoralization and make fighting back harder, even if a TBOU regime is more democratic.
On fundamental questions, most of TBOU agrees with Toussaint and the rest of the union bureaucracy in the U.S. They accept the notion that working class political action should largely be confined to lobbying and voting. This mostly means voting for the Democratic Party which, even under Barack Obama, remains one of the two main parties of this country’s racist, war-mongering capitalist ruling class. Obama’s task is to save the capitalists from the mess they made over the past 50 years. His government shovels trillions of dollars to Wall Street while millions of workers lose their jobs. Obama also aims to preside over continued (if reduced) U.S. imperialist occupation in Iraq, expanded war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and backing for Israel against Palestine .
In New York State, liberal Democratic Governor David Patterson attacks the poorest workers with education, transit and hospital cut-backs. His fellow Democratic politicians go along or quibble, despite the votes and money they get from unions! Union notables beg him to reconsider the attacks on their particular sector only. We need leaders who openly organize against Patterson and his party as the enemies of the working class that they are!
Obama and the Democrats seem more sympathetic to workers than the Republicans. They cut back on social programs but slightly increase unemployment compensation and food stamps, and promise funding for jobs. This gives many workers hope in the Democrats and new life to the bureaucrats’ voting and lobbying. But it’s a set-up for far deeper attacks on workers and oppressed by the Democrats. Any union leaders or would-be leaders who trust the Democrats and capitalist elections in general cannot effectively defend workers’ against the bosses’ attacks. Workers need to break from the Democrats and all capitalist parties. Workers must rely on their own power to struggle to defend their interests.
The TWU Local 100 contract and elections fall during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The MTA has been in deepening debt for decades, as have many capitalist companies and governments. For over thirty years, the capitalists nibbled at workers’ living standards in imperialist countries, while stepping up horrible exploitation in the “third world.” The attacks are deepening here. U.S. workers are getting a foretaste of the devastation inflicted on African or Middle Eastern workers. Worse is to come–unless workers unite to fight back massively.
Until now, the U.S. capitalists attacked workers and oppressed people one sector at a time. They rolled their bills over until the next week or the next year. Now the bills are all falling due. But the capitalist system could not produce real goods worth a fraction of the paper value outstanding. Wall Street’s crisis was inevitable.
Workers are fighting back. This year there were two day-long near-general strikes in France. In Greece, tens of thousands of youths fought murderous police for a week and hundreds of thousands of workers struck for one day. In the majority-Black French Caribbean colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique, workers waged month-long general strikes for a living wage and wrenched gains in jobs and pay from the racist French imperialists. In Chicago, Republic Windows and Doors workers occupied their factory for a week and forced concessions from the bosses who suddenly laid them off. Transit workers can learn much from these struggles. They show that workers and oppressed people can fight back and win.
But often workers find the leaders of their own organizations holding them back or even supporting the other side. Many leaders of unions and other oppressed people’s organizations support the capitalist system. They betray working-class struggles, as Toussaint & Co. did to our strike in 2005. They act as go-betweens for the unions with capitalists and politicians. They live privileged, comfortable lives off our dues money. They are the capitalists’ representatives in workers’ organizations.
The union leaders’ strategy is to promote the capitalist government as a force to depend on, supposedly neutral between workers and bosses. They blame the corruption of politicians rather than the nature of the state itself for the bad treatment it gives the workers. Replace corrupt politicians and out-lobby the capitalists, they say, and the state will “once again” favor the working class. These strategies didn’t work when the system was treading water. Now that capitalism is in crisis, they would leave the workers defenseless against bosses far more determined to save themselves at the expense of the masses.
Workers need to mobilize in mass, not beg for favors from capitalist politicians, to defend ourselves. This includes strike action, from walkouts by individual unions to general strikes. And mass action should not only aim against individual bosses, but must place political demands on the capitalist state, like a program of mass public works. Toussaint’s betrayal of the 2005 strike demoralized so many TWU members that striking seems like a sick joke. TBOU has manipulated such feelings to limit struggle. But carefully prepared collective action, including striking, is the only way to fight the attacks.
Transit workers’ strategic place in the economy can show the way forward for the rest of the working class. When we strike, we shut the city down. As workers’ continue to lose jobs, working-class anger at the Wall Street bailout grows. If we struck for our own demands and against fare hikes and service cuts we could help the whole working class to fight back.
RTW seeks unity in action with all who want to fight the bosses. We have joined protests with TBOU and will again. We would support struggles led by the Toussaintites. But we know that the pro-capitalist bureaucrats in Local 100 are less willing than ever to pursue such action. We need to raise our independent solution. RTW has always said that the only way to end the attacks on our living standards is socialist revolution; the workers and oppressed rising up to take society into their hands and direct it in their interests. Struggles to defend our living and working standards can show workers our collective power and provide opportunities for socialists to show the necessity for the working class overthrow of capitalism – socialist revolution, the only road to a communist society of prosperity, peace and equality for all. Through common struggle, the most militant, far-sighted workers and others will come to join in building the revolutionary party which can lead the working class. We hope to hear from other workers how they think we can take the fight forward against the bosses; not just our bosses, but all of them.
The politicians and MTA management attack our jobs and working conditions. They also attack the working class with fare hikes and service cuts. Toussaint’s “United Invincible” leadership actively helps them. TBOU is not organizing a fight-back. Revolutionary Transit Worker fights for the following demands:
The TWU International (TWUA) represents some key sectors of the working class: transit in NYC, Philadelphia and San Francisco; Southwest and other airline employees; some interstate railroad workers; utilities workers. The TWUA should mobilize its own members and pressure other unions to fight the bosses’ attacks. As Delegates to the TWUA Convention, RTW’s candidates will oppose union leaders who “partner” with the bosses. They will fight for TWUA to:
Currently a Vice-Chair of Track Division, elected for the second time. Delegate to TWUA’s 2005 convention. Revolutionary socialist for over 40 years; participated in workers’ struggles against capitalism and imperialism in Europe and South America as well as the US. Organizer of the Revolutionary Steelworker Caucus at US Steel in Chicago from 1976 to ’79. Track worker for 24 years. Currently Dual Rate Track Walker. Proven fighter against bosses’ attacks. Long-time supporter of the League for the Revolutionary Party and a founder of Revolutionary Transit Worker. Helped lead the pro-strike movement of 1999: that year’s mass membership meeting unanimously approved his strike motion. Active in the 2005 strike, with near-daily RTW bulletins at picket lines. Helped lead successful struggles by trackworkers in 2005 and 2008 to keep weekend RDOs. Active in the struggle against the MTA’s and Toussaint’s 4-day week (pay-cut) scheme. In response to Eric’s and RTW’s efforts to unite and fight sellouts, Toussaint and Co suspended Eric from his Vice-Chair office from September 30, 2008 to April 1, 2009.
Train Conductor with NYCT since July 2006. Supporter of Revolutionary Transit Worker and the League for the Revolutionary Party. Active revolutionary socialist for over 14 years. Previously led a union organizing effort at Time-Warner Cable’s Queens call center; active in protests against U.S. military recruiters at CCNY as Office Assistant and member of DC 37. Active supporter of RTW ’s work in the 2005 NYC transit strike. Organized Local 100’s RTO Line Committee meetings on the # 1 Line. Bueaucratically removed as Shop Steward by Toussaint & Co. Helped organize RTO workers’ protest against NYCT closing of Van Cortlandt pick site. Proven fighter against bosses’ attacks and the Toussaint crew’s betrayals.
Started as IRT Conductor in March, 2006. Train Operator since April 2007. Supporter of RTW and the League for the Revolutionary Party; active revolutionary socialist for over 7 years. From 1993 to ’98 he was a leader in a union organizing drive among graduate student Teaching Assistants at University of California Santa Barbara (union recognition won in 1999); Picket Captain during 2-day recognition strike at UCSB in 1997. Leader of campus solidarity network at Ohio State University in support of CWA Local 4501’s strike in April 2000. Vice-Chair of the PSC-CUNY CCNY Chapter, 2002 to 2003. Played leading role in campaign to defend CCNY students and staff who were arrested for anti-war protests in 2005. Active supporter of RTW ’s efforts in the 2005 transit strike. Helped organize fightback against closing of Van Cortlandt pick location.