Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 45

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

September 29, 2009

Mass Union Fight-Back Needed Now

MTA: Hands Off Our Wage Increase!

Transit workers are mad as hell over the MTA’s attack on our wage hike. They are demanding a fight back. Many are saying we need a strike. A massive Transit workers’ turnout for today’s demonstration could turn it into a Militant Mass March during evening rush hour, and can start a real fight against these new attacks: Not a Cent Backward in Wages! But to do this, we must challenge the Toussaint leadership to mobilize the members continuously in the streets and on the job – till we win!

Toussaint & Co. called this demonstration for over a month after the MTA’s attacks on our wage hike. The picket last week drew up to 350 workers despite the inconvenient timing. This shows how angry transit workers are. After today’s demonstration, Toussaint wants transit workers to “stay tuned” for “Transit Wide Protests” – 2 weeks later on October 14. And that’s to be the “1st ‘Day of Outrage.’” The Local 100 leadership leaflet and phone blast for this rally denounces only one politician, Bloomberg. They hope to divert the workers’ mobilization into a campaign rally for Democratic candidate, Thompson. But the Republican mayor, the Democratic governor and the Republicans and Democrats altogether share responsibility for this and other attacks on workers.

Toussaint & Co’s calls to “Rock n Roll” and “Give [the bosses] a taste of Hell!” thus come across as bluster. They need transit workers to turn out, or the Toussaintites will look like punks. But they fear workers’ militant mass action. They prefer us to be obedient participants in passive protest.

The rally comes better late than never and could be the start of bigger protests and mobilizations. Instead of telling the ranks to wait around for orders from on high, the union should send big teams of elected union reps and other union personnel into the field. They should campaign in crew rooms and quarters, and on job sites for mass worker turnouts against the MTA’s lawsuit. They should make use of this campaign to organize transit workers to vigorously, continuously Enforce Safety Rules. Through such a campaign, the ranks of the union should become more involved with deciding and carrying out actions. And we need a General Membership Meeting in October, where all members can speak, raise motions from the floor and vote to decide the union’s actions.

We feel that serious preparation for self-defense must include Preparing to Strike, even if all we can do now is discuss and debate the question. It requires championing the cause of the rest of the working class: No fare hikes or service cuts! We must point out that the MTA bosses, Bloomberg, the Post and other capitalist liars who blame us for “bankrupting” the city enforce the donation of trillions of dollars of workers’ taxes to banks and other financial companies. They never talk about the billions of dollars the same banks and financiers get from MTA debt payments.

Defend the Contract, Despite Everything

RTW all along opposed the Toussaint leadership’s strategy in the past contract round, including the decision to accept binding arbitration. Arbitrators represent the state and government, which answer to the capitalists, not the workers. Their decisions force the workers’ union to accept the bosses’ plan. That’s the case even when there’s a union representative on the panel, as Toussaint was. As Management’s declared partner, Toussaint provided labor cover for the panel. The other two members were one Dall Forsythe for the MTA, and a “neutral,” the real estate ­millionaire John Zucotti. Zucotti has worked as an arbitrator in other MTA cases through the years. He’s a mainstay of the New York City capitalist ruling class, but presents himself as sympathetic to labor. The decision was made under color of “fairness.” There is no fairness where the masses of workers are held passive while cliques of bosses and union bureaucrats connive at our fate. Only workers’ mass action can win real gains.

This contract only looks adequate given the pounding that the rest of the working class is taking. It contains at least one major giveback, the new Station Maintainer Helper title, aimed at broad-banding skilled work. The delayed 2% per half-year raises in the first 2 years amount to significantly less than 4% per year. The long-delayed contract for MTA Bus (former Private Lines) establishes Regional Bus in all but name. (In a small concession to workers’ anger, the retiree health care deduction will be frozen at 1.5% and apply only to straight time.)

But given everything, it could have been worse. And that fact upset a whole faction of the New York City ­capitalist ruling class. They wanted a contract with tiny or no wage increases and big take-backs. The MTA’s ex-Executive Director Kalikow and interim chief Helena Williams, together with Mayor Bloomberg, sections of MTA management and the broader ruling class are howling against our supposedly “outrageous” wage hikes. Seconded by the Post and Daily News, they are campaigning to reverse the arbitrator’s decision. These racist enemies of all workers demagogically blame “lazy” transit workers’ relatively higher wages for the capitalists’ own attacks on poorer, especially non-union workers through fare hikes, service cuts, etc. The MTA and the capitalist class as a whole are determined to make workers pay for their crisis. If the MTA loses the lawsuit, they can still win a kind of victory by significantly delaying our wage hike (even more than the Contract itself does).

Toussaint Got Us into This Mess

The arbitrator’s decision came after Toussaint & Co. misled and defeated our strike and contract vote in 2005-6, disenfranchised half the Local members through their dues racket and attacked any union democracy, opposition or attempts at class struggle. He and his partners in MTA management then drew up the contract decision with no organized opposition or membership vote. An imposition of contracts through arbitration, with no worker fight-back sets us up for future attacks. Had we been organized under a union leadership that mobilizes our power in struggle, we could have done much better. Building that leadership requires fighting such contracts and the whole arbitration procedure.

The latest attack comes during a long period of setbacks and demoralization for transit workers and the whole working class. These setbacks follow from the policies of the pro-capitalist union leaders like Toussaint. When the capitalist economy is on the downswing, the union leaders work to hold down workers’ demands and struggle; and the current economic crisis makes massive attacks on workers’ living standards necessary for the bosses. The only “mobilization” the union leaders favor is voting, mostly for the capitalist Democratic Party. Democrats and other politicians give workers kind words, at most, while showering bankers, cops and the military with trillions of dollars.

The union’s foot-dragging, tepid response only emboldened the MTA. That Toussaint & Co. are building protests against the latest MTA attacks at all is largely due to the need to appease the ranks’ anger. But the union leadership is also genuinely upset that the MTA is blowing a hole in the well-laid sellout plans of the past contract round. The MTA is trashing a contract the union leaders have been braying about while baiting and distorting the arguments of union opponents (including RTW) who have been critical of the arbitrated decision. And the MTA is making a mockery of the arbitration procedure the union leaders point to as an alternative to real struggle. It invites union members to think: if the bosses disrespect their own rules, why shouldn’t we? This is not the sort of thinking that makes the union tops feel comfortable.

TBOU: Part of the Problem?

Responsibility for the situation we are in also lies with the Take Back Our Union caucus in Local 100. They have verbally opposed the contract arbitration and its result but have said and done little or nothing to build a fight. They mostly share Toussaint’s affection for the Democratic Party of workers’ enemies. The TBOU finally took the obvious step of endorsing a demonstration for demands they claim to support.

TBOU leader John Samuelsen and his running mates may well have won the Local election. They have major influence in the union. If they were serious about fighting for improvements, they shouldn’t wait for Toussaint, Tate & Co. to complete their wrecking job, only to inherit the rubble in December – which seems to be their plan now and was their approach in the run-up to the arbitration.

A serious union opposition would support and build the demonstration against the MTA lawsuit and try to turn it into a mass militant protest. They would go into the field and try to organize a fight-back, while also vigorously enforcing safety rules. They would fight for a Local Membership Meeting.

But TBOU doesn’t campaign in the field to get the ranks to turn out, except for union elections. Some TBOU supporters in Station Division, led by Marvin Holland, have brought some workers out against Station booth closings. But this was for public relations, not part of an attempt to build mass workers’ pressure. We don’t see them trying to build a showing against attacks on our wages, either. TBOU therefore is also responsible for the arbitration, the contract and the failure to fight the MTA’s new attacks.

Bosses, Not Workers, Must Pay for Capitalist Crisis

Workers’ mass action can turn back attacks. Toussaint Co will of course say that their “friends” among Democratic and Republican politicians (particularly Democrats) can hold off attacks. These are the same politicians who crumble before the health insurance companies in the health reform campaign – or join them – and who did and said nothing for us during months of arbitration. All those capitalist politicians are committed to enforcing the bosses’ interests against ours.

Nonetheless, we have to demand that the Toussaint crew mobilize the members for defense. An opportunity for a fight-back may exist now that the union leadership denied us during the contract round. Keep the pressure on, force the Toussaint crew forward – or out! The more widespread and deeper the struggle becomes, the more workers will see that the capitalist system itself is a mortal enemy that needs to be overthrown. The working class as a whole is starving for inspired struggle that a militant, organized and angry sector like transit workers can provide. And it is starving for a revolutionary political leadership that fights for taking power from the bosses altogether.

Return to RTW main page | Return to LRP Home Page | Write to the LRP