Workers Vanguard No. 866
17 March 2006
NYC Transit Strike: "We Showed Our Power"
New York City
March 9, 2006
To Workers Vanguard:
Your newspapers coverage of the NYC transit strike told the truth about what was going on. My union, TWU Local 100, went on strike for the first time in 25 years in defiance of the Taylor Laws ban on public workers strikes. Most everyone knew we had to make a stand in defense of ourselves.
Since the strike ended and we voted down a proposed give-back contract by a slight margin at the end of January, the union leadership has left us in the dark, dangling in limbo. My workmates were infuriated when they heard that the MTA brass was pushing for binding arbitration and putting all their planned attacks on us back on the table. The MTA will do anything to undermine our power, from racist abuse on the work floor to calling on the cops and courts to beat us down.
The union leadership is divided between warring cliques loyal to either Local 100 president Toussaint or the TWU International leadership. This festering situation only creates cynicism among the membership. Workmates in my shop have been asking lately, why did we even bother going on strike? But the strike was not a mistake. It was the only way to back off the MTA demands for major givebacks. Our union flexed its muscles, showed its power and was watched by workers all over the world. The attacks on our union are part of a general assault on the living standards of all workers.
On the job, weve been discussing the good old days of past decades when workers thought that their children would naturally do better than themselves. The only way to turn around our degradation is through struggle against management. A recent New York Times article talks about the Caterpillar companys two-tier hiring system and the fact that newer workers have vastly lower wages and benefits than older workers. Multi-tier systems mean that as the older workers retire there is no higher tier left. Labor is being pushed back as the capitalists rake in greater profits. That is why our struggle is so important, because it could inspire millions of other workers to realize that they dont have to just take it from the bosses.
The third day of our strike, a Thursday before Christmas, just when we were putting the squeeze on the racist politicians and MTA straw bosses, Toussaint folded the strike, pouring water on a fire that was threatening to get out of control. For many of the picketers it was shocking and depressing. Our union shop chairman with bloodshot eyes and cracking voice told us to go home, it was over. Within an hour all that was left of our impressive picket line was a trash-strewn sidewalk and some picket signs.
There is a general feeling of powerlessness in getting the union leadership to fight and that frustration can lead to anti-union sentiment. Some workmates argue to sue the union. Five of the vice presidents who oppose Toussaint have a lawsuit pending against him. One argument you hear is that suing the union is bad but you have to do these things sometimes because it is the only way to fight. But I think your articles are right that such fights only weaken the union, because suing the union is calling on the same state that is attacking the union and enforcing the Taylor Law against us. Look at what happened to the Teamsters whose president, Ron Carey, was removed by the government after he led a strike against UPS. Carey rode into the leadership of the union through court suits and a government-run election. Then, the next time the feds intervened in the union they threw him out.
Some workers are so mad at the union leadership that they are indifferent to the bosses attacks on the union that are pending in court. Governor Pataki is calling for the jailing of Toussaint, and the government, through Public Employment Relations Board sanctions, is seeking to cancel the unions automatic dues check-off. When the judges and their cops go after the union leadership they are attacking all of us. So in defense of ourselves, we must fight to defend the union against the attacks on our elected officers and finances.
Our union shouldnt support the Democrats, Republicans or any other bosses politicians. It is NY attorney general Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic Partys leading candidate for Governor, who is in charge of the prosecution of our union for going on strike. Some of my workmates agree that the Democrats are no friends of working people but argue that the union must support the Democrats anyway because there is no alternative. This is wrong! Workers need union leaders who will stand for our interests in opposition to this whole system. We need a party of our own that will fight for a society run by the working class.
Many transit workers ask if we should continue the contract struggle and strike again if necessary. One said, Look at what we got when we went on strike in December, a giveback contract where well now have to start paying for healthcare. Why would we go on strike again under this leadership? Theyd just screw it up again. I told him, we showed our power in December, and to win we needed to stand firm and get the rest of labor behind us.
All of the NYC area union leaders insisted that the strike must be called off, because they were afraid of upsetting their many connections with the bosses politicians. The union leaders knew our strike had tremendous support throughout the ranks of labor, with many in the city wanting to come out to defend us and spread the strike. Judging from the many raised fists and honking horns from workers passing our picket lines throughout the city, that was a real possibility. But such a move would go completely against the politics of the union leadership, not only in NYC, but in this country as a whole. What the current TWU leaders are really about is supporting this rotten capitalist system.
During the three days of the strike, it was a different world. Black, white and immigrant workers together were fighting against the MTA, the politicians and the whole establishment with its anti-worker newspapers calling us selfish and unreasonable and hurling racist epithets at us. But the workers of New York were on our side and we were immensely popular with the countless nationalities that make up the colorful patchwork of our region. There were many conversations on the picket lines, from the job of cops as protectors of the bosses property to the history of workers struggles in the U.S. and around the world. We were fighting the bosses while the whole world was watching us. Our strike took place while there is simmering anger in this country over the bloody occupation of Iraq, the phony war on terror stomping on our civil rights and the racist specter of Hurricane Katrina which haunts and exposes this government.
I especially appreciated the campaign you wrote about to get unions internationally to defend TWU Local 100 and our strike. It shows that we are certainly not alone in our struggles. During the strike, transit workers in this city got a real taste of our potential and our power.
A WV reader