First printed in Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 15.
The transit workers’ struggle must become the start of a fight by all the unions and the entire working class. Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposal includes demands for $600 million more in concessions from union workers: longer workdays, fewer vacation days, new health care payments and increased pension payments out of workers’ pockets. He has the nerve to denounce the transit workers for “life-threatening” gridlock while he proposes closing fire houses and defunding ambulance services. Accepting a sellout contract for transit workers will weaken the entire fightback, since transit has been set up as the opening battle for this whole round of struggle.
Today’s rally in defense of TWU Local 100, the CWA, DC 37 and DC 1707 workers can be a first big step in a successful struggle. But first any transit sellout has to be denounced. And then we will have to make the fight broader, more militant to make the government and bosses back down. In doing so we will have to challenge the pro-capitalist union leaders who prefer to cooperate with our enemies rather than fight them.
In the private sector, Verizon has already gone from the threat to the execution in their attacks on CWA workers. They have cut 4,400 jobs in New York, and they are planning even more layoffs here and elsewhere, even though the CWA-Verizon contract prohibits layoffs! Isn’t this just further evidence that “legality” is only enforced against us, not them?
The anti-worker campaign is nation wide. Under the cover of solving the budget crises, they are enforcing mass layoffs, demanding huge concessions and threatening worse. At the same time, the big capitalists get enormous tax cuts and government subsidies. When corporations have been set to go bankrupt, they’ve stolen workers’ pension funds and committed stock fraud. Still they are demanding billions more profits, which they plan to make on the back of the working class.
We, the working class has suffered loss of jobs, threats of more layoffs, rapidly rising health care costs, loss of pension rights, growing debts, diminishing public services, worsening job conditions and more. We are depicted as the problem in order to make us sacrifice more to enhance their ability to make profits. In many cases, the capitalists are crying about our situation – all the way to the bank! Yet in fact it is the capitalist system, not the working class, which has generated the economic crisis.
Over Thanksgiving President Bush invoked a “state of national emergency” to order that federal workers not receive their standard cost-of-living adjustment this January. This means singling out workers in major cities for attack. The government is refusing to extend unemployment benefits, as laid-off workers become more and more desperate. Unemployment is at an 8 year high. Republicans and Democrats connive to push still more poor workers into sub-minimum wage slave labor – which further undermines all of our wage rates. The National Governors’ Association has warned that all states face “the worst financial crisis since World War II,” which is sure to be a signal for more attacks. Meanwhile, the bosses are demanding even more tax breaks.
At the same time, the capitalists are launching a war against the people of Iraq in order to gain a chokehold over Iraq’s oil supply and profits. Who is going to pay for the war in blood and increased taxes? Not them. In fact, they will also use this war against Iraq to intimidate masses of restless workers in other parts of the world, who also need and want to fight back against capitalist imperialism and its offensive against workers and oppressed people.
The bosses and the government are counting on spineless acquiescence from the unions. In New York we see leaders of our unions doing their best to cave in, offering to cooperatively negotiate only over crumbs. We have pointed to Roger Toussaint’s moves to sell out transit workers and also to the refusal of the Central Labor Council to back a strike call. The CWA has so far relied on an advertising campaign which paints Verizon workers only as victims – instead of putting forward a plan of mass action to stop the layoffs. The DC 37 newspaper continues to rely on electoral and legislative attempts to defend the public service workforces that are on the chopping block.
Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers and chair of the Municipal Labor Committee, summed up the predominant attitude of all the union bureaucrats. She said: “You are detecting correctly that the climate is different, because the mayor, instead of going right after labor or services, has really tried to share the pain by calling for tax revenues. Even though we are very leery of contributions by people who shoulder a lot during a budget crisis, we recognize that there is a budget problem and there is a willingness to sit down and explore solutions” (New York Times, Nov. 16).
The lie is blatant. Bloomberg is not trying to “share the pain” – this hypocritical multi-billionaire wants the working class alone to pay. Bloomberg’s commuter tax proposal and the real estate tax hike the Democratic City Council passed are meant to convince workers that the rich will shoulder much of the burden, but that is a deception. The property tax hike will hurt plenty of working-class homeowners and lead to higher rent for millions of workers. And the commuter tax is a cover for the mayor’s plan to cut income taxes on the richest New Yorkers.
Worse is the fact that Weingarten, like the other union leaders, are more than willing to sit down with the bosses to “explore solutions.” What is needed is an independent working class solution, because the bosses’ solutions are always more attacks on us. New York City currently pays $2.3 billion a year to service its debts to Wall Street. The public debt at every level is in fact the source of a vast income stream, a vital artery of the U.S. financial system. Laws proclaim that debt payment is the highest obligation of government budgets, ahead of even the most essential services like health care and fire protection. For the capitalists, paying off interest to the brokers and the banks takes precedence over our jobs, wages, pensions and lives. After all, if the capitalists threaten to strike, i.e. not lend the city more money, the city immediately gives them the interest payments they demand. If we threaten to strike for our families to survive, we are labeled “terrorists.”
The politicians insist that budgets are in deficit and therefore workers must pay. As we have pointed out, the bosses and politicians are greedy liars. We have a right to be enraged about this. But these characteristics are really only symptoms of a deeper truth. The fundamental problem, the fundamental reason for the increasing war against the working class, stems from the nature of the capitalist system itself. Since the end of the post-World War II economic boom three decades ago, the capitalist profit rate has been generally falling; it has risen at times only to the extent that the imperialist ruling class has succeeded in squeezing higher profits out of workers at home and abroad. It is the underlying crisis of the system which forces greater attacks on the working class at home and abroad. And it is for this reason that working class resistance to the attacks, and the ability of the working class to find its own solutions, is so vital.
The main slogan for today’s labor rally – “We Did Not Share in the Wealth! We Will Not Share the Pain!” – points to the class divide between those who profit, the ruling class, and those who are exploited, the working class. But while the rally’s sponsors demand no cuts and no transit fare hike, they don’t say what solution the working class should fight for. That’s because they have no plan for mass mobilization to stop the attacks. At today’s rally they’ll let workers let off steam, but beyond that the union bureaucracy would plans to go back to their business as usual. The union leaders do not want the class conflict to be posed too sharply. They fear that workers could turn further mass mobilizations into an all-out fight against the capitalist system. This is the same reason that Toussaint has wanted to avoid a transit strike.
Only mass working-class action can stop the attacks. First, the transit workers, for their own sake, must go on to strike. All working-class people should demand strike support from the leaders of our organizations. This means the unions, as well as Black, Latino and immigrant community groups. We need to fight for a general strike by all workers to defend the transit workers and, for all our sakes, to turn around the class war in this city.
A general strike can force Wall Street and the mayor to halt their decades-long war against the working class. During the 1980 transit strike, then-Mayor Ed Koch commented that a general strike was labor’s “nuclear weapon,” too devastating to ever be used. That’s exactly the fear a fighting working-class leadership would instill in the ruling class. A general strike could mobilize not just union members but also non-union workers and the unemployed. It could forge unity between labor’s struggles and the fight against police brutality and other racist attacks. And a general strike would also show the working class the power that it has not just to defeat the rulers but also to run society in the interests of the vast majority of society, the working people.
We in the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) do not hide our view that the prospect under capitalism will get even grimmer in the future. We believe that depression is on the horizon and that workers in the relatively near future will be asked to accept vastly greater unemployment, low wages, no pensions and little health care. We believe that along with increased economic attacks there will inevitably be escalating racism and anti-immigrant hostility and attacks. In our view, the only real alternative is socialist revolution. However, all workers, regardless of their views on capitalism, the coming imperialist war and other vital questions can join together to build a common defense today – a general strike to stop the attacks!
The capitalist politicians hate to levy taxes on their masters in the ruling class. But they are the ones who own the money the cities, states and federal government need. So instead they borrow from the banks and corporations – that is, pay the capitalists for the use of their money, in contrast to the taxes they take from the working class. If New York workers, for example, were to simply raise the demand to “tax the rich,” the capitalists would easily find ways to move their assets out of whatever jurisdiction tries to soak them.
To make the capitalists pay for the economic crisis, the debts that are squeezing our livelihood, we must fight for the state to renounce them. Such a demand is vital and is a necessity for working class survival. A united general strike would have the clout to raise such a demand, along with more immediate demands to stop the budget cuts, layoffs, and anti-union attacks.
The true class allegiance of the Democrats and Republicans should be crystal clear at this juncture. Bloomberg, a liberal Republican, is leading the attacks. Attorney-General Spitzer, a Democrat, is busy invoking the draconian Taylor Law penalties against the TWU. Senator Hillary Clinton, who has hypocritically appeared on many union platforms, supported invoking the Taylor Law against the TWU in 1999 and would do so again in a minute.
The working class needs to organize its own independent class party to confront the Republicans and Democrats, which are both parties of the capitalists. We in the LRP believe that that party should be a revolutionary party. In the course of a united fight, we would try to convince our fellow workers of this necessity.
Mass working-class struggles against the capitalist attacks are inevitable. Through such struggles more and more workers will learn that our class has the power to not just beat back the attacks but to overthrow the capitalist system. Our class has the potential to do away with capitalism’s exploitation, oppression and wars and build a classless society of abundance and freedom: a socialist society. In the course of the current struggles, the League for the Revolutionary Party is meeting other workers who are thinking along these lines. Together we can not only play a decisive role in the current battles. By joining to build a revolutionary socialist party we can help lead the immediate struggles to victory and prepare to lead even bigger struggles in the future.