January 2, 2009

Response to Spartacist Slanders about RTW

The Spartacist League has awakened briefly from hibernation in the workers’ movement. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to their continued existence with a blast of slanders, lies and just plain stupidity against the League for the Revolutionary Party and our newsletter in Transport Workers Union Local 100 (TWU), Revolutionary Transit Worker.

The focal point for the SL’s charges is our role in the issue of dues payments that has roiled the union. New York State courts took away TWU Local 100’s dues checkoff as punishment for the illegal 2005 New York transit strike. This lasted 18 months. Members had to pay dues voluntarily during this time. Over half did not pay full dues, and up to one-sixth paid none at all. Many in-arrears members were just deadbeats, but many were bitter with Local 100 President Roger Toussaint’s betrayal of the strike. They were wrong not to pay in full and on time, but they were not motivated by anti-unionism. This did not stop Toussaint from launching a virtual civil war against union members who didn’t pay every dime, even as he celebrated his “partnership” with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

RTW has consistently urged members to pay their dues in a timely fashion. But after many months, RTW proposed a conditional dues amnesty or payment plan to place members back in good standing on their commitment to pay current dues and a chunk of back dues every month. It was a practical and serious proposal to address a worsening mess. As we said,

“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.” (Revolutionary Transit Worker No. 43 Supplement, August 27, 2008).

Toussaint’s response was to forbid even any discussion of alternate dues plans. He purged many opposition Local 100 officers, including LRP and RTW supporter Eric Josephson, on trumped-up charges. In so doing, he expanded his cynical campaign against union members on another front.

The Spartacists’ Workers Vanguard says that RTW’s dues proposal was “a thinly veiled attempt to garner votes by pandering to backward workers who didn’t pay their dues, undermining the union.” The silliness of this becomes clear enough when you consider, as the SL’s supporters in Local 100 ought to know, that non-dues-payers can’t even vote in the union! But it’s a slander on a more basic level to claim that the LRP and RTW are somehow about forging a kind of electoral machine out of the union’s conservative elements. Our goal is to recruit the most revolutionary-minded workers to our banner, and to do so we have actively advanced a political program that we realize the large majority of workers are not currently convinced of. The fact that we address immediate burning questions in the union is not counterposed to the fight for revolutionary politics but a component of that struggle.

But WV does not stop here. It selectively quotes from RTW No. 43 Supplement: “ ‘Toussaint & Co. also have to fight vigorously for the restoration of our legal right to dues check-off,’ “ and concludes: “With Toussaint’s no-strike pledge, RTW got what it wanted.”

This smear is as pathetic as it is blatant. Here’s what our Supplement actually said:

“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.”

And we followed up. RTW No. 44, Nov. 15, 2008 said on the front page:

“We denounce Roger Toussaint’s repudiation of our right to strike in return for restoration of dues check-off. It’s a hard blow to our ability to fight the MTA’s plans for wholesale cut-backs. It’s a blow, as well, to other workers: when they see us folding, they’ll feel discouraged from fighting the bosses’ attacks. All Toussaint’s bluster about never giving up the right to strike was revealed as another lie. His hints that the union statement leaves the strike option open insult our intelligence. The capitalist state had no right to take our dues check-off away, but Toussaint’s abject surrender was not the way to get it back.”

In the years we have been active in the Local, our supporters have been the been the most consistent advocates not only for the right to strike but also for employing the strike weapon in important confrontations with the transit bosses. The SL feels obliged to slander the kind of work they do not do themselves.

The SL’s newspaper, Workers Vanguard, calls LRP and RTW supporter Eric Josephson among others, a “reformist” who has shown “little opposition ...to the union’s fealty to the Democratic Party.” A glance at any issue of RTW or a brief listen to anything Josephson says easily refutes this. But more important than this or the other SL lies is the political position that those lies could serve to cover. The SL offers no practical suggestion other than “thou shalt pay dues,” when the situation screamed for something more and different and Toussaint continues to carry out his miserable attacks. The SL squarely stands with Toussaint against “backward workers;” Toussaint, of course, puts every union resource at the disposal of the Democratic Party, loudly proclaims partnership with management and undermines union power. But from the SL’s vantage point, he’s got an advanced view on the question.

In June 2006 the SL admitted in print that they failed to criticized Toussaint’s mishandling of the 2005 strike while it was going on. Now again they’re giving him backhanded support, in the name of defending the union. No wonder they’re never to be heard from in struggles within the union.

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