This bulletin was produced by revolutionary socialist workers who support the organization called the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). As its name indicates, the LRP believes that the working class needs its own revolutionary political party that fights against capitalism and for the goal of replacing the system of exploitation with socialism. The LRP includes members of 32BJ and other unions in New York.
The 32BJ struggle is very important, and we hope to join together with other workers who agree on basic elements of a fighting strategy to win this struggle, to the benefit of the working class, regardless of other political differences. We also believe that in the course of struggles in the unions and in other arenas, over time more workers will become convinced of the need to reject the capitalist system and the capitalist parties in favor of building a revolutionary party.
On December 1, several thousand office building workers, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, showed up for a strike authorization meeting in Manhattan, creating an overflow crowd outside the Sheraton Hotel. They voted unanimously to give the right to authorize a strike to the union leadership, dependent on the course of contract negotiations with the hated Realty Advisory Board (RAB). The RAB represents the owners of most office buildings in New York City. These tycoons are intimately tied to the parasitic bankers and other financiers whose speculation triggered the Wall Street crash and who are trying to make the working class everywhere pay for the huge economic crisis of the capitalist system.
After the vote on December 1, large numbers of Local 32BJ workers also participated in a big march called by the Central Labor Council, which represents all the unions in New York. At today’s rally, workers need to further consider what is necessary to win a decent contract at this point, and what is necessary to build unity in the Local and in the working class in general, so that we all can begin to turn around the bad situation that the working class, poor people and youth have been subjected to with the economic crisis.
The union flyer for today’s rally (December 14) stated that employers want to “Cut jobs and hours, and increase workloads, whenever they want,” “cut paid holidays, vacation and sick days,” and make “big and permanent cuts to pay and benefits for new hires.” At this point workers have not been provided with much more detail about what the bosses are demanding – beyond what it says on the flyer and what was said at the December 1 meeting, which was also vague. Obviously workers must have access to more information. But even with the little we know, it is obvious that the bosses are moving ahead with a big attack against 32BJ workers with this contract opening.
It is important to understand that the worst of the RAB’s threats right now focus on future hires. But the creation of any lower tiers within the workforce endangers the whole workforce. Management will try to fire older workers or force them out and replace them with super-exploited new hires. As we pointed out in LRP Bulletin No. 1, workers should join together to defeat the bosses’ demands for new tiers that create another underclass of workers with less wages, benefits and rights. And taking a stance against the bosses’ attempt to create a new tier can also be a step toward opposing and eradicating the divisions that have already existed for years.
In the climate of economic crisis of the past few years, union leaders all across the country have been telling workers that they have to sacrifice so that their bosses can continue to make profits. The Local 32BJ union leaders from President Fishman down have already negotiated quite a number of sellout contracts since they have been in office. So the real estate bosses would expect to be able to get away with a new contract that imposes more suffering on working people. Already cleaners, porters, elevator operators and other workers who belong to 32BJ are working harder and longer than ever while struggling more to pay their bills. The union leaders have also accepted untold numbers of layoffs in the past few years, while more and more of our fellow workers are unemployed. And they have done little to oppose management’s increased harassment of workers on the job.
But the bosses’ demands for our next contract are so terrible that Fishman & Co. feel pressured to object to them. They’ve gone so far as to call for the vote to authorize strike action and they have organized a series of protests to push back against the RAB bosses. 32BJ workers have to take this opportunity to turn around the trend of workers sacrificing for the bosses’ profits. 32BJ workers must unite and beat back the bosses’ attacks!
President Fishman has made some statements indicating that he will not let the bosses push back our pay, benefits and rights on the job. But there is nothing in his record as a union leader that should make workers trust him. Since Fishman and the others have sold out before, all workers have to guard against them selling out again. As well President Fishman and the other leaders in 32BJ are notorious for their opposition to basic union democracy. For example, they have opposed calls for workers to elect their delegates (as is done in many unions); Fishman & Co. prefer to hand-pick individuals loyal to them. These anti-democratic practices make sense for the leaders since allowing members to have democratic control over their own struggle could interfere with the leaders’ particular way of making deals with the real estate bosses that don’t serve the interests of the working class.
In order to fight to turn this situation around, the LRP has been advocating some basic ideas that could constitute a serious strike strategy. The proposals below are not an exhaustive listing of the issues and tactics that will have to be addressed. But we do think that Local 32B workers have to start making demands on their union leaders – in order to force them to use the resources of the union that they control to carry out a serious struggle against the bosses.
The union leaders will only act on behalf of the workers if they are under a lot of pressure. We think the proposals below would make a solid start to the kind of united defense that is needed. And we hope that militant workers who agree with our proposals will circulate them among their fellow workers and also get in touch with us so we can go further in carving out a plan of action.
1. Wage the Fight in the Media Before a Strike Begins! 32BJ is strong at Rockefeller Center, home of NBC, CNBC and MSNBC. Nationally known pro-union commentators like Rachel Maddow and Ed Shultz broadcast from there. Those hosts should welcome the chance to interview union leaders and workers before contract expiration, to help their viewers understand the issues. They and other pro-labor broadcasters should recognize that they should not cross picket lines if we strike. So our union must reach out to them now to bring workers onto their shows so that we can educate the public about struggle before it begins.
Our union can also use the media by running full page ads in papers like the Daily News and El Diario publicizing our cause to the whole working class in New York. As well, we need to have workers on radio shows representing all the languages spoken in our union, which represents the multi-lingual character of our city as well.
2. Build Militant Mass Picket Lines To Keep Out the Scabs – Shut Buildings Down! If we strike, we can’t let the bosses’ operations go on uninterrupted. To avoid this danger a policy of mass, militant picket lines to keep out any scabs will be necessary from the start. In building picketlines, 32BJ workers do not need to stand alone. Last month, when Mayor Bloomberg first sent the police to evict “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, the AFL-CIO unions sent urgent text messages, e-mails and tweets to all their members calling on them to rush downtown. By 6a.m., thousands of union members had gathered at the park, forcing Bloomberg and the police to back off at that time.
If 32BJ calls on other union members as well as “Occupy Wall Street” and other protesters to join us on our first day of strike picketing, we can start off with picket lines of thousands shutting down the biggest buildings in the city like Rockefeller Center, the Empire State and MetLife. Also, our union leadership must demand that other unions order their members not to cross our picket lines, and our union must make appeals calling on all other workers to do the same.
32BJ workers who understand the importance of this approach are going to have to push hard to make this happen. So far, all the signs from the union leadership suggest that their plan, if we strike, is to just pull workers off the job and have them stand outside on powerless pickets that do not try to shut buildings down. But if buildings continue to function, the bosses won’t feel pressure to agree to our demands. As veterans of 32BJ’s 1996 strike can testify, picket lines that don’t stop strike-breaking scabs will only encourage the bosses to stick to their demands and leave us out in the cold winter weather.
3. No Compromise on Basic Demands! The union leaders have said that they will not let the bosses push back our pay, benefits and rights on the job. Militant workers must hold them to this. If 32BJ goes on strike, there should be no return to work until there is an agreement that includes:
4. Elected Strike Leaders and Mass Meetings! The Fishman leadership claims to have appointed Contract Action Teams (CATs) in every building and strike captains responsible for groups of 20-40 buildings representing 300-400 workers. President Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer Hector Figueroa and the rest of these officials have a record of opposing workers’ right to elect fellow workers who they know and trust to be part of the leadership of the union, rather than having them appointed from the top. CAT Team members, Strike Captains and Shop Stewards should not be controlled from the top – they should be elected and accountable to the membership. But the union officials want to control who is chosen for these positions so that they can keep the rest of the rank and file submissive to any bad deal that they may want to push through. This has happened in the past. So workers will have to look for opportunities to change the current way that the union leaders have set things up for the strike, and to demand and get more information and much more say in how the strike is going to be run.
If we strike, there should be regular mass meetings of 32BJ workers to receive reports on the strike’s progress, debate how to strengthen our struggle and vote on the way forward.
The current set-up threatens to leave workers in the dark and powerless over the course of the struggle, which is very similar to what happened during the 1996 strike run by former President Gus Bevona: workers were kept isolated from each other, as well as from other unions and workers. They were forced by the union leaders to accept a demoralizing defeat after more than a month out. This time workers should demand that they are kept informed and are able to have their say at every step of the struggle. In the course of fighting for a militant strategy to win the strike and to ensure that the bosses aren’t allowed to push workers back further, 32BJ members can also take big steps forward in achieving democracy and accountability in this Local.
5. Appeal for the Solidarity of New York’s Unions! Win the Support of Workers Everywhere! 32BJ commercial building workers are part of a Local which also includes our brothers and sisters in the residential sector. It would seem to be common sense for the 32BJ leadership to mobilize the entire Local behind a struggle by any sector of the Local. As well, since 32BJ is an important part of the SEIU, our leadership must demand that all of SEIU back our fight. This would include appealing to the healthcare workers of 1199 and to other members of SEIU in the area to join our picket lines and demonstrations. Similarly 32BJ should call on all the other city unions, including their umbrella organization, the Central Labor Council to mobilize their members in great numbers to win this battle.
Importantly, New York’s subway and bus workers in TWU Local 100 have a contract that expires shortly after 32BJ’s. If we are forced to strike, they in particular should be encouraged to join our picket lines. United in action, 32BJ and transit workers – and others – could be on the way to winning an amazing victory and turning around the class struggle in New York!
President Fishman and the other 32BJ leaders, like many other union leaders, see no alternative to the capitalist system which is the source of the misery of low wage jobs and unemployment, imperialist wars, and growing poverty in the U.S. and worse around the world. That is basically why the union leaders sell out. Because they support the capitalist system, they have a tendency to betray workers’ interests which clash with the capitalist bosses. Moreover, many union officials make six-figure salaries – dollars taken out of workers’ dues. No wonder these bureaucrats are committed to tying workers to capitalism.
Like many capitalists, Fishman & Co. are big supporters of the Democratic Party, as is the whole SEIU. The Democratic Party, like the Republicans, has repeatedly confirmed that it is no friend of the working class. In the states and on the Federal level, the Democrats have joined the Republicans in bailing out the banks and corporations with billions of taxpayers’ dollars. They have initiated and gone along with big budget cuts that hurt the working class and the poor the most. Senator Schumer and Governor Cuomo are big backers of Wall Street, a dominant capitalist force in New York politics. President Obama has overseen a great escalation in the deportation of immigrant workers. These are just some examples of the injustices perpetrated by the pro-capitalist Democratic Party, along with the Republican Party.
The privileged positions of the union leaders stem from their role as negotiators or brokers between the bosses and the workers. In this role, they have done a good job of pacifying many workers for the past few decades, which has helped out the bosses enormously. This is going to change and the working class is going to see that when united our class has tremendous power. When more workers reach this understanding, they will also see that the building of a revolutionary party, to lead the struggles of the workers and the poor forward to socialist revolution, is not a dream, but rather is possible and necessary.
Right now though, obviously the majority of workers don’t agree with the revolutionary socialist perspective. But that is not an obstacle to building a united defense against the bosses. In fact, that is why we make proposals for united action, where workers of different political persuasions can join together against the attacks coming from RAB.
At the same time, right now, workers who do already see the need for revolutionary goals, have to come together to build the revolutionary political party. The longer the working class is saddled with pro-capitalist leaders like the union officials and the politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, the harder life will be for all of us. Thus, we encourage every worker interested in our ideas to contact us. There isn’t any time to waste!