League for the Revolutionary Party Transit Workers Bulletin

November 16, 1999

Let’s Prepare to Strike

The following special bulletin from the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) on the coming contract fight in New York City Transit by Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 can be read in four parts:

Willie Said 10% – Let’s Win 10%!
No Slave-Labor WEP! No Givebacks! Let’s Prepare to Strike!

NYCT’s contract takeback “offer” is a deadly insult. The demands to freely assign personnel between NYCT Surface and MABSTOA would eliminate Busses’ seniority and pick rights. The “consolidated” job titles would bring massive broadbanding and speedup. The proposed “fair” wage increase, accompanied by cooked statistics, claims that our wages are ahead of inflation; thus a wage deal like that of ‘96-‘99 would be fair! The bosses can’t even keep their years straight; their hand-out claims that we got a 3.75% raise in 1997, the year we got only a “bonus” of one week’s pay! Whether NYCT expects to get all these takebacks or not, the only serious response to such an attack is: Prepare to Strike!

That NYCT makes these contemptuous demands shows they don’t take the TWU leadership seriously. Indeed, few workers trust James and his leadership. Since then-Local 100 Pres. John Lawe’s sabotage of the 1980 strike, transit workers have seen repeated sellouts by bureaucrats such as Sonny Hall and Willie James.

Given this history, many workers have been reluctant to strike. But history also shows that solid strikes can win and bust anti-worker laws like the Taylor Law. The Nov. 4 NYCT “offer” on top of past contracts shows that management won’t concede our demands unless they believe we are prepared to strike. Willie James’s response to this management provocation is to say that we have to get militant and strongly hint, again, that we may strike. But James & Co. didn’t bother telling the membership about the TWU rally planned for Nov. 17 until a week-and-a-half beforehand. A fighting union leader would learly and openly organize frequent mass mobilizations as rehearsals for a strike against takebacks.

The bureaucrats know that their grip over the union is shaky. Given the changing mood of the ranks and NYCT’s unprecedented demands, President Willie James is stepping up his strike talk. He may think he can get some small concession from NYCT and placate the ranks with some militant rhetoric and a few well-controlled demonstrations. But if NYCT remains intransigent, James and the ranks will have no choice. Militant workers must demand that the leadership take real steps to prepare a strike.

Don’t Wait, Prepare To Strike!

Despite James’s recent militant muttering, he is doing nothing to prepare the union to strike. The same is true of James’s opposition in New Directions, which holds many Executive Board and Division Committee positions. We must demand that James and the leadership appear before the ranks and explain their strategy to win a good contract.

A winning strike strategy comes from mass action and the mobilization of the ranks. We can’t leave control of this struggle to Willie James and Co., who act to keep members divided and feeling weak. We need City-Wide General Membership Meetings to decide contract demands and strategy. We would argue there for a strike strategy and for the election of a strike leadership to organize all aspects of the contract fight.

Time To Turn Anger Into Action

We now have a better opportunity to beat the bosses and win gains than in many years. And we are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of city workers are outraged over the rigging of the last DC 37 contract vote. Thanks to pattern bargaining, DC 37 leaders helped Giuliani to stick all city workers with “double-zero” contracts. Willie James says that major labor leaders support us. We should demand that these union leaders from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on down provide more than nice speeches: bring out the hundreds of thousands of union members to support city workers’ struggles!

With transit and city worker contracts up for negotiation, workers have a chance to get back what has been lost. The anger for a fightback is there. Everyone knows we got stiffed with the last contract. The question is whether this anger can be turned into strike action that will break the cycle of defeat and demoralization that has plagued city workers.

Willie Said 10%–Let’s Win 10%!

We have a great chance to win big improvements in the contract struggle. Willie James has talked about winning a 10% per-year wage hike. We should hold him to his word: Willie Said 10% – Let’s Win 10%! And we should oppose any givebacks.

Fight Slave Labor WEP!

But transit and other city workers could blow this chance to break out of the giveback cycle if we allow the bosses to maintain WEP (Workfare) slave labor. James’s and Sonny Hall’s support for WEP is criminal. Giuliani (and Pres. Clinton’s) Workfare programs get valuable public service from workers earning below minimum wage–whom they then toss out and replace with new WEP workers after 90 days.

WEP workers now make up three-quarters of the NYC Parks work force, replacing thousands of union jobs. James & Co said that transit workers need have no fear of this because NYCT management has sworn not to replace union jobs with WEP workers. But the NYC Parks Department made the same promise and look what they did!

James and his crew have said that making WEP workers toil under NYCT management will instill a “good work ethic”. This only spreads the lies of Giuliani and others who want us to believe that WEP is designed to help people on welfare when in reality it is a vicious, racist, attack that exploits fellow workers as slave labor. Every day we see more examples of NYCT’s unfair disciplining of TWU members. How much worse will the bosses treat vulnerable, WEP workers who have no union protection?!

We must not abandon our brother and sister workers on workfare. We must demand an end to workfare, and that all workfare workers now working for NYCT be given union jobs at full pay. Same Job – Same Pay and Protection! End Workfare!

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James’ and Rogers’ “Fat Cat” Flop

At the August 19 special Executive Board meeting, Pres. Willie James unilaterally, against the majority and the union constitution and by-laws, approved Local 100’s hiring of Ray Rogers’s Corporate Campaign to run a publicity drive for our contract. Rogers, a supposed advocate of union democracy, cheerfully carried out James’s orders. It was obvious that the James/Rogers leafleting drive was not meant to organize any kind of mass contract fight, but only to beg for sympathy. For these reasons, militant workers had to oppose the campaign, although New Directions actually participated in it.

If this campaign was so important that James had to trample union rules and democracy to get it, you’d think he’d organize it seriously. Think again. The Local mailed out a few copies of the leaflet (called the “fat cat” leaflet for its gentle criticism of big business and accompanying graphic of a cigar-smoking cat in a suit) to each member. A cover letter suggested we give them to friends and neighbors and noted the union would have public distributions we could attend. This was the sole “membership outreach.” Not surprisingly, few members and not even many bureaucrats showed up to leaflet, eliciting a yawn from the riding public.

The lackadaisical organization of the campaign reflected the unseriousness of the leaflet itself. It didn’t even mention that we have a contract coming up soon. It goes pretty easy on NYCT management, and the only support action it suggests to riders is to write letters begging labor-hating big business politicians Giuliani and Pataki to fund transit instead of big business.

This is typical of James’s strategy of hiding our power as workers to fight and win a good contract, and instead makes transit workers look like victims deserving of a better deal. It’s also typical that James and Co. can’t even organize a program they initiated, let alone a fighting working-class strategy.

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New Directions Adrift

Over the years, many militant transit workers have looked to New Directions to provide a fighting alternative to the bureaucracy that has controlled TWU Local 100. However, ND rarely attempts to mobilize members for anything except voting its candidates into union office. They have sometimes hinted that they favor a strike, but they never seriously build for it. They raised motions for a general membership meeting, but instead of campaigning for it among the ranks, they just argued for it on the Executive Board, where the James Gang’s majority voted it down. Faced with James’s outrageous, undemocratic hiring of Rogers, ND complained but organized no counter-attack. When James, contrary to the TWU Constitution and By-laws, excluded ND elected officials from the negotiations, ND members filed a lawsuit to force James to include them. As in the past, ND relies on the anti-worker courts and government to change the workers’ union.

No Real Contract Strategy

To date ND has proposed no concrete strategy to win a good contract. New Directions members supported James’s major initiative, the “Fat Cat” leaflet distribution, with the lame justification that the leaflet makes some criticisms of big business! The major difference now between ND and James on our contract fight is that James openly says we may have to strike, and ND doesn’t!

ND acts as a wing of the union bureaucracy. Instead of working for mass membership action to oust the Gang, ND tries to use its gradually increasing vote totals to pressure James & Co. to let them in.

Divisions In New Directions

There are divisions in ND between the old leadership around Steve Downs and Tim Schermerhorn, and a circle of ND associates around Roger Toussaint. Currently, all of New Directions has the same contract strategy: to raise a number of demands without explaining that these demands can only be won through a militant strike. Job actions can be part of a winning struggle, especially if they lead to a solid strike. But Toussaint’s hints about on-the-job solidarity demonstrations, with no hint of a follow-up, will not prepare the members for the big struggles to come. Even their call for a march across the Brooklyn Bridge on December 15, the date for the expiration of the current contract, avoids any discussion of the question of a strike. While a march against givebacks and slave-labor WEP is certainly a good idea, it’s not a substitute for a strategy that will force management to give us what we demand.

A Strike Led By James?

ND has stated that a strike led by James would be a disaster. This is a defeatist perspective, not a militant approach. It would effectively abandon the members to James’s tender mercies and reinforce the fear many members have of mass militant action.

Of course we place no trust in James. But James remains in control of the union: we cannot just wish him away. A fighting perspective means placing demands on the leadership to expose James’ unwillingness to fight the bosses. This opens the way to challenging James by showing the need for a leadership with a strategy to win the contract fight.

Strategy of Mass Action

The League for the Revolutionary Party has consistently fought for a strategy of mass action. Unlike ND, we have not shied away from telling the truth: that a decent contract will only be won by a strike that mobilizes the entire membership. ND’s failure to put forward a fighting contract strategy allows the Hall/James leadership to retain the initiative, and thus the ability to stick us with another sellout contract. That would be criminal when there are now so many opportunities for mass workers’ struggle in New York.

The LRP will continue to work for united mass action. We urge our union brothers and sisters to come out to the TWU rallies at the MTA offices at 44th and Madison at 4:00 pm on Nov. 17 and Dec. 8, as well as the New Directions-supported rally and Brooklyn Bridge march on the afternoon and evening of Dec. 15. Come with chants and placards demanding: Willie Said 10% – Let’s Win 10%! No Slave-Labor WEP! No Givebacks! Or Strike! In these and other mobilizations we hope to educate the largest possible number of fellow militants to join us in building a revolutionary party to lead the huge struggles to come.

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Can a Transit Strike Win?

A TWU strike would have huge power and potential. Shutting down the transit system would both knock NYCT management back and threaten Giuliani and profit-gouging bosses throughout the city. The bosses would stand to lose millions in profits, and the strike would be a rallying point for hundreds of thousands of other city workers looking to win back stolen gains.

By shutting the city down, a transit strike would raise the question: Why don’t all the unions strike together and win some really big gains? If the TWU struck, shut down the city and built massive support from the rest of the working class the capitalists would be faced with the threat of a General Strike.

This would scare the hell out of the ruling class. Like all bullies, Giuliani and the MTA bosses act tough till someone stands up to them. By taking a stand, saying, No more lousy contracts! a transit strike would end the lie that we workers are too weak to fight back. Hundreds of thousands of other workers could be ready to act if we are bold enough to take the lead.

A powerful transit strike, especially if it builds fighting support throughout the working class would be a major step to reversing the years of defeat New York City workers have endured, and win improvements in our living and working conditions. As revolutionary socialists, we believe that the working class must recognize its ability to fight for political power and create a new society that meets the needs of all workers and oppressed people. We believe that once workers recognize the power they possess, many will join with us in creating a revolutionary working-class party to get rid of the racist, reactionary capitalist system.

Such a revolutionary party leadership of workers needs to be built in all the unions to challenge and replace the pro-capitalist bureaucrats who sell us out. Similarly, a revolutionary party needs to be built to lead all workers’ struggles, in the unions and workplaces, and on the streets in our communities, to challenge the Republican and Democratic parties and lead struggles around issues like budget cuts, police brutality and all other anti-working class attacks. Workers interested in discussing these ideas more should contact us.

League for the Revolutionary Party, November 16, 1999

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