On Wednesday afternoon, December 21, Local 100 President Roger Toussaint finally got some media time. Racist Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg had commanded the airwaves for two days. Toussaint had some strong words for the Mayor, rejecting his hypocritical attacks on transit workers.
Local 100 members were to glad to hear from their leader – it had been too long in coming. Indeed the strike so far has received little direction from the top. Rank-and-file members took the lead in setting up picket lines throughout the system. But Local 100 officials have made few appearances at them. Almost no news from union headquarters has reached strikers. In fact many strikers got their only updates from Revolutionary Transit Worker!
But President Toussaint also announced that if the MTA takes their pension demands off the table, transit workers might go back to work while he and the MTA return to negotiations. Some workers may find temporary relief in the idea that the strike will be over soon. But Toussaint’s proposal is in fact very wrong and very dangerous.
First, Toussaint talked about us going back to work without mentioning the need for us to receive amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. RTW has stressed that if Mike Quill’s Local 100 could demand and win amnesty from anti-strike-law penalties in its victorious illegal 1966 strike, so should we. Who could reasonably argue that this is not our right, since the MTA’s attacks forced this strike in the first place?
Every indication, however, is that Toussaint plans on accepting Taylor Law fines. He just hopes that the final contract will mitigate their effect. This is defeatist.
Local 100 members have been willing to strike despite the threat of fines, but there’s no need to accept them, and we shouldn’t. The bosses know that the threat of growing fines is going to wear on workers’ morale and create pressure to accept a bad deal. That is why we must fight for the Local leadership to demand amnesty from all Taylor Law penalties as a condition for any return to work, along with meeting our other needs for a good contract. Local 100 members should raise the call: Amnesty From Taylor Law Fines – We Won’t Go Back to Work Without It!
The other glaring omission from President Toussaint’s remarks concerns what the union would do if the MTA doesn’t withdraw their pension demands. Nor was there any response to the courts’ threats to imprison our elected leaders. The implication was that the strike would just go on as it has so far. This is weak.
Our strike will either grow stronger and hit the bosses harder, or it will risk becoming weaker. The only thing that will force the MTA and politicians to back down is the threat of an even more powerful struggle. It’s time that we demand that the Local leadership up the ante. In RTW 27 we outlined clear steps to do just that, including calling for solidarity strikes from LIRR and MetroNorth workers and calling on the NYC Central Labor Council to back a strike by all public sector unions. We must demand that Local 100’s leaders take up these demands, and begin to raise them ourselves, starting with placards on our picket lines.
Without the threat of a growing struggle it is extremely unlikely that the MTA would withdraw their pension demands. Nonetheless, Toussaint’s suggestion that we would go back to work if they simply agreed to this is dangerous. First, we’ve got to defeat these pension attacks now, while we are on strike, and not simply demand that the MTA “take them off the table.” If they withdraw their demand it will surely be because they plan to have the State legislature hit us with the same attacks down the road – when we’re not already on strike and it would be far more difficult for us to defeat them. Our strike is our main weapon to fight these attacks and now is the best time to do it.
Second, acting as if the MTA’s pension attacks are the only issue leaves us open to getting hit with demands for all sorts other givebacks. Ending our strike without a contract is almost an invitation to the MTA and their politicians to inflict their damages on us.
The ranks have built an inspiring, powerful strike movement. We have showed the world the power we have as workers. We have won great sympathy from the rest of the working class. To trade that for negotiations about who-knows-what would be poor repayment for great effort. And it would be contrary to Toussaint’s own previous insistence that we not work under an expired contract.
Indeed any contract which Toussaint negotiated after calling off the strike would certainly contain major givebacks. We already know that in pre-strike negotiations he lowered our wage raise demand from 8% a year to 6% in return for a promise that management would file fewer disciplinary charges against us. You can bet he will go even lower if he is not under pressure from the ranks. He also said he would accept some of the MTA’s rotten broadbanding demands. He probably offered other givebacks. He should not have made these concessions in the first place. Continuing with them now, during our strike, only makes us look weak.
Militant workers should oppose any move to send us back to work without a contract. We must demand that Toussaint withdraw all offers of concessions. Now that we are on strike it only makes sense to stick to our guns and for once actually win what we deserve. The main demands that RTW has been championing since we hit the streets are still the minimal demands we must stick to in order to win:
RTW is already working with other transit workers to spread these ideas for struggle. We urge all militant workers interested taking them forward to contact us. Together we can make a huge difference to the outcome of this strike.
RTW wants to become a voice for all transit workers. So let us know what’s happening in your division, either in the union or on the job. If we think your letter raises issues that are important for all transit workers to read, we’ll publish it in RTW.
Let us know what you think of our views. If you agree, let us know. If you disagree, let’s discuss it.
Write to us at:
RTW, P.O. Box 1936
Murray Hill Station
New York, NY 10156
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