Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 43 -- Supplement

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

August 27, 2008

As Contract ’09 Approaches...

Resolve the Dues Crisis!

Since the government took our dues check-off away, our union has been tearing itself apart. As of today, barely half the Local’s members are in good standing as a result of failure to pay dues, leaving the ranks divided and the union financially crippled. With our contract set to expire and MTA management demanding big contract give-backs, we must unite the Local to fightback. Instead of discussing and organizing to fight the bosses for a better contract, we’re savaging each other. This must delight the bosses and union leaders who collaborate with them.

Revolutionary Transit Worker has insisted that all members pay their dues on time and in full, or lose union rights. Local 100, like every union, was built with the blood, sweat and tears of generations of workers. Even when it is led by sellouts, our union is the only organization we have to defend ourselves against the bosses -- without it, we would be at their mercy. Full, up-to-date dues payment is our working-class duty. But Toussaint & Co.’s main collection tactic has been to scold the members. It isn’t working.

We must recognize that many members in arrears are not pro-management. They are not scabs. Sure, some don’t pay dues because they are selfish. Others have fallen behind as rising prices and other factors have taken a toll on their finances. Still others who have wanted to pay have been unable to because of complicated automatic bank payment arrangements and by the failure of union officers to collect dues in the field. But many have been discouraged by our union leaders’ betrayals. They saw our 2005 strike get sold out and Toussaint’s sellout contract forced on us despite the original majority “No” vote. They know that real scabs, who crossed our picket lines in December, 2005, face no union sanctions. Their union voice and vote seem meaningless. Feeling powerless to fight collectively, they resist individually and passively, and protest this state of affairs by not paying their dues. Their approach is wrong and self-defeating, but it’s not motivated by treason to the working class and unions.

Many paid-up members accuse non-payers of wanting the benefits of union membership without the obligations. They feel that restoring non-payers back to good standing would seem like rewarding them for bumming off the union. They’ve got a point. But we can’t afford to let the Local fall any further apart.

Our Proposal

Continued insistence that in-arrears brothers and sisters pay up right now or get nothing will only embitter them more. A complete amnesty for non-dues payers would be rejected by many members who have remained paid-up in spite of Toussaint & Co.’s betrayals. We need to find a compromise that offers another path to membership-in-good-standing, while not letting them off the hook. We suggest a Provisional Dues Amnesty, with immediate restoration of good standing, contingent on consistent progress to payment-in-full.

It would work like this: members in arrears would have to pledge and pay full current monthly dues, plus say, an extra $20 minimum per month. They would have to continue this every month till payment-in-full. In return, they would immediately return to good standing, with full membership rights to vote, attend meetings, etc. Any who missed a month would fall back into bad standing.

To make this work, union officers would have to mount a genuine dues collection drive in the field, motivating members to pay dues in order to fund our union so it can resist the bosses. They would have to circulate constantly, taking members’ dues and giving receipts, and signing up members in arrears for amnesty. As a result, rather than hiding in their offices they would have to face the members in the field, where they could be held more accountable by the ranks questions and demands for representation.

Toussaint & Co. also have to fight vigorously for the restoration of our legal right to dues check-off. The court case has stalled since January. Many members draw the conclusion that Toussaint wants half the membership to be in bad standing and disenfranchised, reasoning that these members would be more likely to oppose him. To counter this widespread suspicion, the union leadership would have to publicly, loudly, urgently and continuously wage the legal case for restoration and back it up with membership mobilization, such as demonstrations, mass meetings, etc. Failure to do so would prove the members’ suspicions correct.

When he first took office, Toussaint and the Executive Board correctly declared full amnesty and dues forgiveness for members in arrears since the 1980 strike. This time Toussaint & Co. may object to any suggestions like ours. If they do so they will only further confirm that their priority is not the members’ interests but the preservation of their own privileged bureaucratic positions.

We are not wedded to this suggestion. If someone has a better idea, please raise it! But to go on as we are now will only make unity harder to gain in the future. We risk the existence of the union! But right now, with another contract struggle fast approaching, transit workers have no choice but to fight with the leadership and union they have. We must make the best of a bad situation. We have to organize against the bosses ourselves, whenever we can. But we must also demand that Toussaint & Co. take every possible step to unite the Local against management’s attacks and demand that the would-be alternative leaders in the Local do the same. Let’s come together on dues and membership restoration so that we can debate, discuss and fight the coming contract as a united union.

Also in this Supplement: Defeat the Bosses’ RDO Attack!

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