Workers Vanguard No. 863
3 February 2006
For United Labor Action to Smash the Taylor Law! Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!
Defiant NYC Transit Workers Reject Contract
JANUARY 30—Continuing to resist attacks on their livelihood, New York City transit workers who shut down public transport in the financial center of U.S. capitalism with a three-day strike in December have rejected the proposed new contract. The stage is now set for further battle against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bosses and the capitalist government, who are making no secret of their desire to exact vengeance for the strike, which defied the state Taylor Law banning strikes by public employees.
The first city-wide transit strike in 25 years was an impressive battle by the 33,700 members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, joined by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) locals 726 and 1056, against the MTAs attacks on pensions, wages and working conditions. But it was stopped after 60 hours by the Local 100 Executive Board under Roger Toussaint without a contract in hand and without winning amnesty from Taylor Law penalties. Strikers resentment at the squandering of their power grew as the terms of the proposed contract came out. While the strike beat back the MTAs demand that new-hires fork over 6 percent of their pay toward their pensions (workers currently pay 2 percent), the Toussaint leadership agreed to a major concession whereby workers would pay 1.5 percent of gross wages toward retiree health benefits. Despite an all-out ratification campaign by the union tops, the pact was rejected by a narrow margin of seven votes, out of more than 22,000 cast.
Enraged over the rejection of the pact, the MTA bosses, backed by city and state politicians and the capitalist media, have renewed the attack against the union. The MTA is provocatively demanding all of the massive givebacks that led to the strike, from the two-tier pension payments to eliminating train conductors and broadbanding (combining job duties) for cleaners and others. The MTA also announced it would take back an agreement, worth some $132 million, returning to union members extra money the workers had put into their retirement fund but which had been kept by the state. With a possible presidential campaign in mind, Republican governor George Pataki had declared that he would refuse to reward the workers for the illegal strike by returning their own money to them.
The MTAs demands are a serious threat that the union must counter by relying on the power it showed with the strike. The MTA has appealed to the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) for binding arbitration. Prior to the strike, the TWU leadership correctly opposed binding arbitration, which takes contract decisions out of the hands of the membership and puts them into the hands of a supposedly neutral board that is in fact on the side of the company. The PERB may also try to revoke the dues checkoff. It is crucial to repulse this attack on the unions finances. But this threat also shows the danger of letting the employer control dues collection through payroll deduction. Dues collections should be done by elected union officers, making them answerable to the membership.
Transit workers, who have already been docked pay, are threatened with heavy fines. The TWU and ATU locals and officials face their own penalties, including $3.4 million in fines and possible jail time. It is the duty of the entire labor movement to rally to the defense of the NYC transit unions (see article, page 11). The court date to contest these penalties has been postponed to March 3. But transit workers are still under the gun. The New York Post (28 January) rails that if the union is suicidal enough to think about striking again then the courts should toss Roger Toussaint and the rest of the TWU leaders behind bars.
The transit workers face a tough decision. They felt their power to turn back the tide of assaults on labor when they shut down subways and buses in December. But they are increasingly distrustful of a union leadership that, after calling them out on strike, did not finish the job and sweep all the givebacks off the table. The union bureaucracy then kept the membership atomized, with voting on the contract done by e-mail and by phone rather than at a mass meeting. Just such a mass meeting is needed now to remobilize the workers. Workers must be able to debate what to do and who should lead them through this battle. It was only by engaging in class struggle that they beat back the MTAs most onerous demands in December. Transit workers must now prepare to resume strike action if pushed to the wall by the MTA. That means critically reviewing the December strike and electing bargaining and strike committees responsible to the membership.
Labor Solidarity Is Key
The transit strike resonated with workers nationally and internationally. It galvanized broad support among New Yorks working people and poor, among blacks and Latinos, who cheered this powerful, integrated union for fighting the MTA bosses. Despite the inconveniences caused by the strike, working people recognized the transit workers struggle as their own. The strike intersected anger at the U.S. governments criminally negligent abandonment of the poor and black population of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the ever-widening gap between the obscenely rich capitalists and the mass of the population. The strike also intersected growing opposition to the U.S. rulers bloody neocolonial occupation of Iraq and their broad-gauge attacks on democratic rights in the name of the war on terror. The TWU could further strengthen its support in the city by reviving the historic union demand for free mass transit.
As Workers Vanguard has stressed from the beginning of the transit contract battle, key to smashing the Taylor Law is forging a fighting alliance of the transit unions and all of NYC labor at the head of the citys working masses and its ghetto and barrio poor. Mayor Bloomberg intends to foist the 1.5 percent health care concession on other municipal unions, some of which are working without contracts. What was needed in December and is needed now is solidarity action by all regional rail unions and city labor. But despite the broad public support, the transit workers were left high and dry by the city labor officialdom. Beholden to their capitalist political bosses in the Democratic and Republican parties, UFT teachers union president Randi Weingarten, SEIU 1199 head Dennis Rivera and the other union tops refused to even say that they supported the strike. For its part, the Local 100 leadership failed to spread the strike by throwing up pickets at regional rail locations, including at Metro-North where workers are on the job without a contract. One TWU member told WV on the picket line that some union officers encouraged probationary and provisional workers, who lack full union protection, to scab on the strike! A union leadership worth its salt would fight for all workers to have full union rights from the first day on the job.
The urgent need for hard class struggle against the MTA highlights the importance of fighting for labors political independence from the capitalist state and political parties. A New York Daily News (22 January) article, titled TWU Money Train for Pols, documents how the Local 100 leadership has doled out $3.7 million since 2001 to sleazy politicians—both Democrats and Republicans—in the city council, state legislature and federal government. The Local 100 and city labor tops are no different from the national AFL-CIO and Change to Win bureaucracies, whose class collaborationism is exemplified by their political support to the Democratic, and sometimes Republican, parties and by their America First chauvinism. What did this money buy? Empty promises and false friends.
The newspapers report that some in the union are weighing whether the union should drag out negotiations until after the November gubernatorial elections, when Democratic attorney general Eliot Spitzer hopes to replace the Republican Pataki. But Spitzer is the one who brought down Taylor Law injunctions against the union, not only last month but in 1999 and 2002 when TWU members voted to strike!
A Rotten Opposition
The kind of class-struggle leadership the TWU needs is not whats offered by the Vote No Coalition formed by various and sundry opponents of the Toussaint bureaucracy, most of whom were at one point members of the former New Directions (ND) group that propelled Toussaint into office. The left side of this lash-up, now called the Committee for a Better Contract, includes former NDers Steve Downs, who is supported by the fake-socialist Solidarity outfit, and Executive Board member Marty Goodman, who is supported by the reformist Socialist Action group. They are joined by Eric Josephson, who is hailed by the counterfeit Marxists of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). Occupying the right side of this opportunist alliance are Local 100 vice presidents and former NDers John Mooney, a vice president from the Stations division who urged workers to support Bloomberg in the last mayoral election, and Ainsley Stewart, who echoed the traitors of the TWU International by opposing the strike.
After the vote against the contract deal, Local 100 Secretary-Treasurer Ed Watt railed against some people whose only goal is to disrupt the union, who were working with the governors office and the MTA. This is from the same Ed Watt who sits on the MTA board—a living example of the TWU bureaucracys class-collaborationist program. Watt labeled the opposition campaign a COINTELPRO style of disinformation, essentially baiting his opponents as police agents. This really takes chutzpah. The Toussaint leadership has long touted Patrolmens Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch as a union ally. During the strike, Toussaint repeatedly invoked the cops as fellow workers. The Local 100 tops even put a photo and quote by Lynch, from a rally prior to the strike, in the January edition of the union newsletter under the headline, We Were Not Alone.
Make no mistake: The cops are the armed thugs of the capitalist state whose job is to repress labor, including by enforcing Taylor Law injunctions, and to terrorize minorities. Cops and security guards, whose job is to protect the bosses property, have no business in the unions: MTA Property Protection Agents out of the TWU! You wont hear this basic truth from the opposition blocs fake militants. In a January 21 television interview on New York 1, Goodman was asked about contract negotiations for teachers and police. He replied: We all deserve contract justice.
Class-struggle militants also oppose on principle bringing the courts into union affairs. The intervention by the courts, or any other agency of the capitalist state apparatus, is meant only to weaken the unions and reduce their capacity to struggle against the bosses, as the anti-strike injunctions and massive fines under the Taylor Law attest. Labor must clean its own house!
Stewart, Mooney and three other vice presidents brought a $3.3 million lawsuit against the union last year (although it was put in abeyance in the lead-up to the strike). This is not surprising, given that such suits were the stock in trade of New Directions when it was fighting the Old Guard Local 100 bureaucracy. Steve Downs openly supports such suits, while Goodman pretends to oppose them. But Goodman was a New Directions activist through Toussaints election in 2000, which was prepared by years of anti-union lawsuits. And no sooner had Toussaint become president than he tossed Goodman and the other servile militants aside, like so many squeezed lemons. Not one to learn from experience, Goodman, in an article he co-wrote in Socialist Action (January 2006), bemoans the demise of New Directions as leaving dissidents without a vehicle to challenge the Toussaint leadership. In fact, New Directions was always and only a vehicle to promote the careers of phony militants inside the TWU bureaucracy.
The rotten history of Toussaint and New Directions in suing their opponents in the TWU did not keep opportunist militant Eric Josephson from voting for New Directions and Toussaint in 2000 and urging other union members to do likewise. Josephson justifies this betrayal of class principle by saying he gave Toussaint critical support. How Josephson defines critical can be gleaned from an article on the transit strike in a special edition of the LRPs Proletarian Revolution (Winter 2006). The article includes not one word of criticism of Josephsons bloc partners—not on their history of supporting ND and suing the union, not on Stewarts opposition to the strike. Not only that, it calls for extending the united front, aiming for the unions elections this fall—i.e., they want a warmed-over version of New Directions.
At a January 27 Transit Workers Fightback event organized by Labor Notes, which has itself long supported court intervention into the Teamsters and other unions in the name of fighting corruption, Steve Downs, the principal speaker, barely gave lip service to the need for further strike action. From the floor, one transit worker noted that Downs never addressed the obstacle posed by the union leaderships ties to the Democrats. He continued by calling for a workers party—not a British Labour Party, but a fighting workers party.
That is exactly whats needed: a multiracial revolutionary workers party to lead all the exploited and oppressed in the struggle for a workers government, which will rip the tremendous wealth of this society out of the hands of the exploiters and create a planned, collectivized economy. This is the only road to providing a decent life for all.