Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 52

Supported by the League for the Revolutionary Party

March 3, 2011

Public Workers and Services Under Attack:

Wisconsin Workers
Start Fightback!

Transit workers have had a bad time of it. The MTA is holding up our raise and healthcare payment reduction. Hundreds of our Local 100 brothers and sisters were laid off this year – some are back at work, but not nearly all of them. The MTA is promising attacks for the January 2012 contract. But we are hardly alone, or the worst hit. The attacks on transit workers are part of a more general attack. Virtually every public worker union in the city, state and country is under the gun, as are the services they maintain and perform. These attacks are an increasingly important front in the war waged by the capitalist class on the working class as a whole. While the capitalists and their politicians have been eroding workers’ gains for decades, now some of them are going for the kill. Led by Governors Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio and politicians in many states, they aim to wipe out basic union rights won by workers in past struggles.

Battleground Wisconsin

The flashpoint for these attacks is in Wisconsin, where newly-elected Republican “Tea Party” Governor Scott Walker has declared war on public unions. He is trying to ram a bill through the state legislature which increases pension and health insurance contributions from workers. Most importantly, it aims to effectively scuttle collective bargaining rights for public employees. Similar attacks are underway in Indiana and Tennessee. However, Walker & Co. are running into inspired mass workers’ resistance. That resistance must affect the union action planned for Albany, as we will discuss later on.

In New York, Democratic Governor Cuomo is planning big budget cuts. He wants to slash Medicaid and local school aid by $2.85 billion – a figure which will more than double with the cuts in matching federal funds. This budget also includes proposed “state workforce savings” of $450 million either through union concessions or as many as 9000 layoffs. There is no question that the cuts would disproportionately affect Black and Latino workers and the poor.

These attacks are international, especially affecting workers in the countries worst hit by the financial crises of recent years. Greek and Irish workers, for example, have suffered massive cutbacks as the “solution” to broken government budgets. The pattern is cruel: make workers and poor the scapegoats by blaming the crisis on supposedly “generous” pay, workplace protections and services; use loans from lending agencies to bail out the banks who got themselves into trouble; and make deep cuts in the government services as a condition for those loans.

The financial and general economic crises are very real: government treasuries are hemorrhaging money, and public debt is high. But this is a crisis of capitalism – the bosses’ system – and workers, poor and oppressed people shouldn’t have to pay for it. Beyond that, it is a convenient opportunity for the bosses to go after a tempting section of workers, even while throwing trillions of dollars at the bankers.

This is certainly the case in the U.S., where public workers are a growing proportion of the workforce, are far more unionized than private sector employees, and have thus far avoided the brunt of the layoffs and slashes in wages and benefits. Already a big target, most public worker unions lack the extensive militant history and industrial strength of Local 100. The well-funded enemies of public workers are trying to whip up animosity against us among capitalists and middle class elements, and to tap the resentments of hard-hit but confused elements in the working class itself.

There has been a rising tide of demands by bosses and their media that governments must reduce their spending at all levels; and that public workers have it too good in pay, benefits and workplace rights, and are too inefficient. This propaganda campaign has ushered in cutbacks in employment and services, privatization of public agencies and harassment of public employee unions.

Those bosses and politicians most identified with this campaign tend to be Republicans, especially Tea Party types. But the Democrats are behind the attacks too, even if they are less open about it, and may not want to go as far. In Governor Cuomo they have a man who relishes taking on the unions and slashing services in the most unionized state in the country.

Fightback Needed

Transit workers are not the hardest hit section of the workforce and population. But Local 100 is in the best position to lead a fightback. Our union and our very jobs unite the tens of thousands of us in a vital and centralized service. This gives us a particular ability to force events and attract other workers, unions and poor people to a united struggle. But that has hardly been our union leaders’ strategy.

RTW has analyzed the struggle against layoffs. We showed how Samuelsen, in the spirit of Toussaint and other union bureaucrats, subordinated that struggle to business-as-usual deals with politicians that got us nowhere, that did not save a single job. RTW said: “Billions for the bankers-Layoffs for the workers? Hell No!” Anger at the banks was a key element in the recent massive French, Portuguese, Greek, and other struggles.

Local 100 could have organized to bring pressure from below and from above on other union leaders to mobilize as part of this fight. The Local could have organized committees of members facing layoffs, along with other militants, to travel to MTA work locations and other public worker unions, and distributed leaflets at turnstiles to campaign against the layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts. Local 100 could have built toward mass actions of workers to stop the attacks, standing up for good jobs for all, not worse jobs for fewer and fewer. Mass rallies and marches here could have given all workers a sense of our potential unity and prepared for broader actions in the future.

Instead, Samuelsen built fake coalitions with vague and soft demands – the official flyer for the main rally last spring did not even say “Stop the layoffs”! Then the leadership boycotted the protest at the MTA’s final public fare hike hearing so they could campaign for the Democratic Party which is stabbing us in the back.

And now with more attacks coming – announced in advance – what is the plan, what is being done? More (less) of the same! Has Samuelsen, or for that matter other city and state union leaders, called a meeting of city and state workers to plan a united, militant response? Have they developed a plan for fighting back and put it forward for discussion in the ranks like RTW does? No. What they are planning is a hook-up with other union hacks, “transit advocacy” and community groups at an even bigger Lobby Day in Albany on March 29.

Local 100’s official Lobby Day slogans (“Transport Workers e-alert,” 02/25/11) don’t name Cuomo or any of our assailants, or mention that the Governor is demanding a 20% reduction in public services, including transport. We support all the Lobby Day slogans, but they aim at TWU members only, except for one demand to maintain NYS’s “millionaires tax.” A militant mobilization to stop all job, wage and service cuts could bring out masses of public and private sector workers and poor people. But Samuelsen’s slogans by themselves serve to isolate transit workers from the rest of the working class.

The union misleaders may throw out a few militant phrases, criticize the Republicans, even a few Democrats like Cuomo, and hold a few rallies. But in the end they play the same old game with the anti-worker Democrats. With workers everywhere taking hits, any union would have found it difficult to mount a successful defense against layoffs. But this strategy ties our hands from the start and guarantees failure.

Roots of Fight To Lose

This fight-to-lose strategy doesn’t come from Samuelsen’s individual weaknesses. The union bureaucracy of the whole country has tied unions to the capitalist system. In boom times, like after World War 2, employers and their state facing militant workers’ struggles could concede benefits, while limiting workers’ power on the job by law and by contract. The end of the boom in the 70’s brought waves of attacks, with little break and with no sustained improvements in living standards since. The 2008 recession accelerated those attacks, limiting the ability of unions to bargain “as usual,” bringing a further decline in living standards.

Union leaders derive their pay and privileges from their social position as brokers between their mass base and the powers-that-be. Even though their own position is threatened by the capitalist attacks, they believe their own “seat at the table” and the attendant privileges are better preserved by keeping the members quiet. But the decline in the standard of living of all workers – union and non-union – in this country since the end of the post-war boom certainly demonstrates that the pro-capitalist, “don’t rock the boat” strategy cannot work for us. The reliance on “friendly” politicians comes at a time when such a strategy is increasingly incapable of being anything more than a cruel illusion and detour.

Change of Course Needed: Wisconsin Workers’ Action Shows the Way!

What workers and the poor desperately need is a new leadership as well as a new strategy. But as part of the change of course we can demand now that the labor bureaucrats begin a serious defense of our rights and interests. It can be done. Workers and others in Tunisia and Egypt have shown that when the masses swing into action, things that were considered impossible one month – like bringing down dictators – become fact the next.

We can take special inspiration and guidance from the reaction to Wisconsin Governor Walker. Tens of thousands of unionized public workers, especially teachers, plus private sector workers and students occupied the state capitol grounds – and Capitol Building – in Madison. They served notice that workers there will no longer take the attacks lying down! The mass mobilization at the very site of the planned attacks is a tactic that we and other workers must take seriously. And within that mobilization has been a buzz, even among some union leaders, for a general strike to meet Walker’s plan. This is indeed the direction the struggle should go; all of organized labor in Wisconsin preparing for an indefinite general strike until Walker’s bill is defeated.

But we can’t ignore the fact that the union bureaucrats do not want to use the mobilization to form a systematic defense of workers’ interests. Rather, they try to use it as a bargaining chip. They have announced their willingness to concede every wage, benefit and pension takeback Governor Walker is demanding. Collective bargaining is their line in the sand, which to them means maintenance of their own privileged positions. Nor can we ignore that Democratic politicians, including President Obama, “support” the workers while presenting modified cuts and posing as the workers’ friends. They not only want to win our votes, but are nervous about the struggle getting out of hand, and appear as friends in large part to control and derail it.

We have indicated what kind of fight Samuelsen & Co. could have mounted when the layoffs hit. We can and must still fight, given Cuomo’s plans. We need to reach out to victims of MTA cuts, and to the workers and poor who will suffer terribly from school and Medicaid cuts. We need a genuine attempt to mobilize the ranks; reach out to the poor, hard-pressed victims of service cuts; lead an alliance of city unions; march under banners that defend our interests, and attack the capitalist alliance of bankers, bosses and politicians.

A good time and place to focus this fightback is shaping up in Albany on March 29. We should take a page from the Wisconsin events and turn this planned day of begging into a militant occupation of the state capitol grounds with tens of thousands of workers demonstrating in defense of their interests. Such a demonstration under the slogans: “No Layoffs, Public School Closings or other Service Cuts! No Fare/Fee/Tuition Hikes! No Attacks on Union Rights!” could attract masses of workers, youth and poor people from all over the state.

Local 100 leaders are supporting the Wisconsin demonstrations against attacks imposed by a Republican administration. They have a chance in this state to mobilize resistance against a Governor who even Samuelsen has labeled a “Tea Party Democrat.” It’s an opportunity that should not be missed by those who claim to represent the workers’ interests.

Such a fightback will bring many workers to more far-reaching actions and demands on the system. Why shouldn’t every person willing and able to work have a decent and productive job that contributes to the maintenance and development of society? Why not have a program of public works to guarantee such jobs and accomplish needed social goals? This is of course just the opposite of what the ruling class wants to do. We will argue that this society is not going to allow for any serious completion of such a program, but that we want to go through such a struggle with the working masses to win concessions and prove we need a new society.

Many workers expect little from the union leaders and the union itself. But a growing number of workers are expressing the desire to start fighting back. Demanding that our current misleaders fight for our interests, whether by an immediate rally or with far-reaching demands on the capitalist state, is an important way to expose these leaderships and through struggles embolden the ranks to building a leadership that will truly fight for their interests.

For Workers’ Revolution!

RTW says that the only solution to the capitalist nightmare is to overthrow the system: those who work must rule! That means workers’ socialist revolution. From layoffs to racist police brutality to the vicious scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims, all these attacks are part of the nature of the capitalist system, not just of a few greedy bosses or faulty laws. The interests of the capitalists and the workers are opposed: a gain for one is a loss for the other. So while the world’s workers could together produce more than enough for all, private ownership and private profit leave factories idle and workers jobless and impoverished. Not only does the system have trouble creating enough useful production and employment, but the bosses want a lot of workers unemployed to use as a hammer against those still working.

From Egypt to Europe to the U.S., the only solution is for the workers and oppressed to overthrow the capitalist state that defends the profit system, and to take the direction of society into our hands through workers’ socialist revolution. A workers’ state would take over the banks and productive enterprises, organizing people to work to produce what we need: houses, schools, better mass transit, etc., while reducing the amount of work needed and dividing it among all to reduce the work week.

To get there, workers, youth and oppressed people who see the need for revolution must work together today to start building the international working-class party of revolution. Anchored in revolutionary Marxism, that party can show the way forward in today’s struggles. Our revolutionary approach looks to the power of the workers and oppressed united in action to change the world.

We need a leadership that fights for the interests of all workers and oppressed and has a plan to confront the challenges of a world in crisis. The League for the Revolutionary Party/Revolutionary Transit Worker is dedicated to the task of organizing revolutionary-minded workers, all those fighting oppression and the revolutionary-minded youth as political leaders of our class. We urge all those interested to contact us and discuss these issues as we fight together for a better life.

Contact RTW

Sign up to receive free RTWs! ...
and get a button that says,
Billions for Bankers? – Layoffs for Workers? Hell No!

Button: “Billions for Bankers? – Layoffs for Workers? Hell No! Workers Mass Actions Can Stop the Cutbacks!”