The pressure on 32BJ President Mike Fishman and the rest of the Local leadership continues to rise. He sold us out in the last two contract deals without organizing a strike, agreeing to the bosses’ demands for low wages and other concessions. As a result, our wages have fallen further and further behind the rising cost of living. But now more and more 32BJ workers are saying they won’t take it any more and are demanding a big wage raise.
Last week, thousands of 32BJ cleaners and janitors rallying in midtown Manhattan showed they are ready to fight the bosses and win a decent contract. Fishman’s request for authorization to call a strike if necessary received support from many of the workers at the rally. But many still remember the defeat of our last strike in 1996 and have no confidence in Fishman & Co. leading a winning strike.
Indeed Fishman’s record shows that he has no intention of calling a strike and every intention of selling us out again. After all, he has received authorization to call a strike during the negotiation of the last two contracts and surrendered to the bosses without a fight each time.
That’s why supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party joined with other 32BJ workers to promote a motion at the rally that would have forced Fishman & Co. to call a strike to win our demands. To avoid such a motion, as well as any democratic discussion by the members, Fishman chose to hold his phony strike “vote” at a rally in the street rather than in a mass meeting. Now only pressure from the members that makes Fishman & Co. fear losing their privileged position atop the Local can possibly force him to organize more of a struggle this time.
At the beginning of this contract round Fishman declared:
The time has come to bring workers’ wages back into line with the rising cost of living in New York ... With New York City’s commercial real estate industry booming, there is no excuse for holding back on the real wage increases that these hard working men and women deserve and need to get by in New York. (32BJ Press Release, Oct. 24)
No excuse indeed!
The problem is that Fishman said the same thing at the beginning of the 32BJ residential workers’ contract negotiations last year, only to surrender to the RAB’s demands for below-inflation wage “raises.” Without even trying to organize a winning strike, Fishman stuck the workers with a six month wage freeze and “raises” averaging 2.1% a year – less than half the 4.8% increase in the cost of living in New York the previous year (New York Times, April 22 and June 15, 2006).
Attempting to cover up his sellout, Fishman claimed that additional funding by the bosses of the workers’ healthcare fund meant that workers’ compensation was improved overall. But the truth was that the bosses were already supposed to fund the workers’ healthcare, no matter how much it increased in cost. The contract’s most important new feature was a massive concession by the union: for the first time there would be a cap on how much the bosses would have to contribute to the workers’ healthcare.
If that’s how Fishman sold out the residential workers last year, why should we expect any different from him now?
The truth is that Fishman & Co. have hit us with one bad contract after another. While union leaders should be fighting to improve workers’ wages and conditions, Fishman & Co. have accepted cuts in real wages in every contract they’ve negotiated. They have also agreed to contract changes that make it easier for the bosses to layoff or fire workers, and they approved new “background checks” by the bosses that threaten undocumented immigrants with the loss of their jobs.
In fact Fishman is already signaling his willingness to sell us out again. As the New York Times (Dec. 11) reported:
The union ... has inserted a big question mark into the bargaining by announcing that it will not tell management negotiators how large a raise it wants until Dec. 27, five days before the contract deadline.
There is no good reason for Fishman & Co. to keep their wage demand secret. If they were only concerned with fighting for what we workers need, they would already have announced our wage demand and be rallying the ranks of 32BJ to win it.
The only reason Fishman & Co. are not announcing a wage demand is because they are already planning on selling us out. They are just not sure how bad it is going to be – they need to talk to the bosses behind closed doors to try to work that out. Fishman & Co. hope to secretly work out the basics of a contract deal with the bosses before announcing a phony wage demand. That way they hope to announce a contract deal at the last moment with a wage “raise” close to what they called for and say that it was the best they could have won while avoiding a strike.
We can’t let Fishman sell us out again! We’ll have to remind him of his own words: there’s no excuse for holding back on real wage raises. And if the RAB bosses don’t agree to give us a big wage raise above the rate of inflation, by the time our contract expires, there’s no excuse for not calling a strike!
To resist such a sellout, we must demand that Fishman & Co. commit themselves to a specific wage demand now and we must be clear: anything less than a 5% wage raise each year means a cut in real wages, according to the official inflation figures for New York City. For a Big Wage Raise Above Inflation! In fact, recognizing that the cost of living threatens to rise much more in the coming years, we should call for the union to fight for and win a Real Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that automatically raises our wages in step with inflation. That way, for every 1% increase in the cost of living our wages would increase by 1%. We already have a COLA but it only takes effect when inflation rises above 6% and then it only compensates us for a tiny fraction of lost real wages.
Fishman is hoping to trade other concessions for a wage raise he can get us to accept. We must demand: No Givebacks or Concessions! We must also demand an end to the three tier system of lower wages, weaker job protections and less benefits for new workers – End Three Tier Slavery! We should call for an end to the background checks that target undocumented immigrants. And we should fight for a no-layoff clause as well as for improved healthcare and pension benefits with no increases in worker payments!
One weapon Fishman & Co. use to get us to accept their lousy contracts is the memory of the 1996 strike. All of us who went through that strike remember the pain of its defeat. But we didn’t have to lose the 1996 strike – that was the fault of the bureaucratic leadership headed by then-32BJ President Gus Bevona. If we learn the lessons of the 1996 strike, we can strike again and win!
In 1996 Bevona & Co. called the strike without any preparation. Then they literally abandoned us. But we stood strong, walking the picket lines in freezing weather and confronting attacks by the cops who beat-up and arrested strikers and who escorted herds of scabs into buildings.
We could have spread the struggle to other workers. Had our union leaders appealed to other unions to join our struggle, massive protests could have pointed the way to a general strike for better wages, jobs and working conditions for all. That would have terrified the bosses and politicians!
But instead, Bevona & Co. kept us isolated. Against the odds, we kept fighting for more than a month until they finally surrendered. They agreed to a rotten contract with massive givebacks, including setting up newly hired workers as super-exploited second-class workers with lower wages, less job protections and a much longer waiting period for benefits.
Since then we have seen our wages and working conditions get worse without us striking. It’s time for us to turn around from a decade of defeats and prepare to strike back and win!
United in struggle, the 26,000 cleaners, janitors and elevator operators of Local 32BJ can strike and win a big wage raise, well above inflation, as well as other improvements, with no givebacks or concessions.
Most importantly, the rest of the New York City working class is feeling the strain of lower wages and tougher working conditions and would be sure to support 32BJ if it struck against the bosses. If our union made real efforts to spread our strike to other sectors of the working class, the bosses could give in to our demands quickly.
But the most militant workers will have to start coming together immediately to prepare to oppose any attempt by Fishman & Co. to sell us out. In the course of that struggle, we will have to discuss what sort of new leadership our union and the working class needs.
After selling us out in 1996, Bevona & Co. were widely hated by the ranks. That hatred only deepened as their outrageous financial corruption was exposed. This meant that neither the SEIU International leaders, nor the RAB bosses, could rely on Bevona & Co. to keep control of the 32BJ ranks. So the International union took over the local, but not before Bevona and his top lieutenants were given millions in final payouts from our dues money!
Fishman was ultimately installed as Local President by SEIU International President Andy Stern. Fishman isn’t as outrageously corrupt as Bevona. No, he and his cronies are “just” corrupt in the way that is typical of union bureaucrats in this country.
Rejecting calls for union leaders to make no more than the workers they represent, Fishman & Co. make sure they get paid handsomely with salaries close to, or more than, $200,000, as well as many side benefits. But most important is the fact that their power and privilege stems from their position negotiating between the workers and the bosses. An uncompromising struggle for the workers’ interests regardless of the profit-motives of the bosses would therefore threaten the union bureaucrats’ positions. Instead, they rely on keeping us down and compromising with management.
In this way, union bureaucrats like Fishman & Co. are tied to the capitalist system that we workers are the victims of. Thus they oppose any demand or struggle that would threaten the system. That’s why the bureaucrats are always willing to sell out the interests of the workers when the bosses are in trouble.
Right now the RAB bosses are recording big profits from the New York City real estate boom. So Fishman & Co. feel under more pressure to talk about wanting wage raises above inflation. But like the rest of the trade union bureaucracy, they are also aware that the rest of the capitalist class is not doing nearly as well and cannot afford a massive upsurge of workers’ struggles.
Indeed the RAB bosses themselves are nervous about the future. As the New York Times (Dec. 11) reported, RAB counsel Paul Salvatore cited “Wall Street’s troubles, the subprime mortgage crisis and the country’s economic jitters” as evidence for how the bosses “could be facing a very stormy, choppy period” and would have to resist calls for higher wages. Fishman & Co., like the rest of the trade union bureaucracy, see no alternative to the capitalist system of exploitation and profiteering. So they will inevitably betray our interests whenever they clash with the capitalists. The problem is that the working class’s interests always clash with the capitalists and that will only get worse as the crisis of capitalism deepens.
The only workers’ leadership that can be relied on to take forward our struggles regardless of the consequences for the capitalists is one that is committed to the overthrow of capitalism.
Capitalism is indeed sliding deeper into crisis, both here and abroad. The subprime mortgage crisis and the threatened collapse of the stock market are symptoms of an overall crisis of profit-making. In response, the capitalists are looking to intensify their exploitation of workers everywhere. This is behind the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq to secure that country’s great oil wealth and further dominate the Middle East. And it is behind the increasing attacks on workers here in the U.S., both economically and in the form of rising racist attacks on Blacks, Latinos and immigrants.
But capitalism has laid the basis for its own overthrow. By developing a world economy with great productive powers, capitalism has created the technological basis for producing an abundance of everything humanity needs. There no longer need be haves and have-nots, exploiters and exploited. A world of plenty and freedom is possible.
The problem is that ownership of the economy remains in the hands of the capitalists who limit production to only what will profit them. Thus the capitalist classes of each country rule the workers with the help of their armed states of cops and soldiers.
To end capitalism’s cycle of depressions and wars, the working class will have to rise up, overthrow the capitalists and seize state power for themselves. Then the working class will be able to set about building a classless, socialist society. Such genuine socialism would have nothing to do with the oppressive Stalinist states that ruled the workers in the name of socialism but exploited them just like the Western capitalists.
As the capitalists’ attacks intensify, ever greater mass struggles by the workers and oppressed are inevitable. Those struggles, like our contract struggle, can beat back the attacks for a time, and even win gains. But most importantly, through those struggles the working class will regain a sense of its tremendous power. With this, more and more workers will see that socialist revolution is not a dream, but possible and necessary.
But right now the most far-seeing, class conscious workers must come together to build a revolutionary political party that can lead our immediate struggles to victory and point the way to what is ultimately the only solution: workers’ socialist revolution. We encourage every worker interested in our ideas to contact us – there isn’t a moment to waste!