The following article appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 52 (Summer 1996).
Since February, the top leadership of Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York has been forced to reshuffle itself. Local president Damaso Seda was kicked upstairs into a made-up position in the International. Sonny Hall, former local head and current International president, organized the sacrifice of his protege Seda in order to save the rest of his team – equally responsible for the 1994 contract sellout.
As a result of the bureaucratic shuffle, Secretary-Treasurer Willie James became the first Local 100 Black president – a reward not for the Black majority membership but for James’ over 20 years of loyal hack service. Similar undemocratic reshuffling followed in several divisions, with promotions going to some hated and discredited officials.
Management, as we have reported, is starting to impose unprecedented takebacks, including mass contracting-out of work, layoffs and One-Person Train Operation (OPTO) – eliminating train conductors, a very dangerous and unpopular change. The old-line leadership’s hopes that cosmetic changes will enable them to continue to give up past gains to the growing management offensive and keep their posts.
The Hall/James bureaucracy is devoted to the electoral charade. They spend much of their time and the members’ money lobbying capitalist politicians and getting out the vote for Democrats (and some Republicans), but in the past they hardly informed the membership about it. This year they have festooned the union hall with posters of Clinton and Gore and flooded the members with leaflets about all their lobbying before the legislature. This effort is in line with the new leadership of the AFL-CIO, desperate to detour growing working-class anger into capitalist electoralism.
Though the James Gang intends to hang on to every post they can, they have almost openly admitted that they expect a sweep in next year’s local elections by the reform-bureaucratic opposition, New Directions. ND, despite its claims to represent the rank and file, has functioned as a wing of the bureaucracy. They and their allies have held the leadership of several divisions, including the all-important train operators, for almost five years in some cases.
New Directions recently went further to prove their bureaucratic trustworthiness to the old-liners: although they nominally oppose OPTO, they uncomplainingly helped organize testimony for a blue-ribbon panel to “consider” (i.e., rubber-stamp) it – as if the panel was not an obvious charade. As we predicted (see PR 50), the panel has decided in favor of OPTO on some lines. So ND came up with the bright idea of sending a busload of members of the divisions they lead to Albany to lobby the legislature to reconsider OPTO – the same bankrupt approach as the old-liners.
The various misleaderships have managed to convince many transit workers that they are weak, but workers have actually shown potential strength in the past year. It was their discontent that forced Seda out. In fact, transit workers have the power to start a fight-back against concessions and clean out the entire leadership.
The LRP is always seeking ways to unite the greatest number in struggle where revolutionaries can show the way forward to our fellow workers. In this regard Track Division shop steward Eric Josephson moved for a Local 100 demonstration against management attacks on jobs and on leading union oppositionists. James & Co. felt forced to call a demonstration on March 20, attended by approximately 4000 local members. As the LRP warned in our leaflet (available to readers on request), James stage-managed the rally into a non-fighting, pro-Democratic event.
The response to our leaflet and militant spirit of many attendees shows the potential for action that exists. As the LRP leaflet pointed out, a Local 100 strike against takebacks and anti-strike legislation could start the fight of all workers and show the way to a general strike. This would open the way for many workers to see the need to help build the revolutionary party, ousting and replacing all pro-capitalist leaderships, reformist or otherwise.