Workers Vanguard No. 872
9 June 2006
Exchange on NYC Transit Strike
25 December 2005
Bouncing around things within my own small world is not conducive to clear thinking. This letter is written in the hopes I can gain some clarity and thereby be better able to carry forward with a correct revolutionary perspective.
In reading your recent leaflet directed to the striking transit workers of TWU Local 100 (20 December 2005) Im confused not by what is said but what is left unsaid. You rightly call for the ranks of labor to rally behind and with the TWU in a struggle to smash the capitalist Taylor Law and to lead a fight against the continuing attacks that are destroying our health and pension benefits and any job security we have left. You stridently point out the need for labor to break from the twin parties of racism and war and build a workers party that struggles for power.
What I find confusing is that you call for all of this while we know the leaders of TWU Local 100 and the rest of NYC labor are ensconced in the Democratic Party cesspool and for all I know Roger Toussaint, President of TWU Local 100, is a functionary in that party. Expecting types such as this to take on Wall Street and the bourgeois State is expecting a pig to fly because it faces the roasting pan.
For sure you point out the need for mass picket lines and elected strike committees but who is going to facilitate this? Now if someone in the union were putting out such a leaflet, this would make more sense. As it is one wonders who you expect to lead such actions?
In the present period, with the corporate media having blanket control of information to the masses, it is imperative that any transport union facing strike action in an urban area needs to prepare the masses in advance. Not possible you say? Well shouldnt you tell the membership that this is a requirement of leadership in the absence of a revolutionary workers party? With jail time and fines as a club Toussaint folded quicker than iron from a back yard furnace yet your leaflet makes no mention of this possibility. Again the need for TWU members to do something other than paying dues and agitating in the train stations and maintenance yards. Just my opinion of course.
Looking on the arena from 3,000 miles away Id say Toussaint and his cronies were forced to call a strike for fear that if they didnt they would be unable to control the ranks. Hell even the Democratic Party has to pose as a defender of the working stiff once in a while. Better to get in a fight knowing youre going to lose than be flat footed, sucker punched and look like a chump. Id even guess the MTA had similar thinking. The capitulation in Dec. 2002 by this same TWU leadership still rankled the ranks and the attempt by the MTA to eliminate conductors from trains and station agents from the booths threatened the rank and file and riding public directly yet you made no mention of this in the leaflet.
A steady user of the New York subway system is acutely aware that upgrading and refitting are desperately needed and this would take huge amounts of labor and time to do. The MTA is aware of this and knows that cuts will have to be made to allow this to just begin. Of course they expect the workers and the riding public to bear the costs of these burdens. In reality only a workers revolutionary government can correct and improve the mass transport system of New York City and most of the metro areas of this country. This fact needs to be hammered into the ranks minds as a practical reason for the need for a workers party.
As I said views within and from my narrow window are often restricted and unclear. I call on your experience and knowledge in the hopes to gain insight and wisdom.
Yours in struggle
Freedom Now For All Class War Prisoners & A Socialist World!
San Francisco, CA
WV replies: This letter was received shortly after the three-day strike by New York City transit workers had ended. It raises questions that merit consideration, at the heart of which is the relationship between our small revolutionary propaganda group and the trade unions. In belatedly printing this letter, we raise one important consideration in response.
The Spartacist League leaflet addressed questions of strategy and political program posed in the strike, raising in that regard criticisms of the policies of the union leadership. Our posture was to close ranks in defense of the union and its leadership against the bosses and the capitalist state, which were screaming for the head of TWU Local 100 president Roger Toussaint, the leader of the strike. The leaflet did not directly attack Toussaint. Since we could not point to an alternative leadership of the strike, to do so would only have served to weaken the strike. The leaflet and an article assessing the strike appear in WV No. 861 (6 January).