Workers Vanguard No. 932

13 March 2009


New York City Transit

LRP Squirms Over Its “Critical” Support to Toussaint

In the article “TWU Local 100 Tops Sign No-Strike Pledge” (WV No. 926, 5 December 2008), we drew attention to the class collaboration practiced by various left-talking labor fakers in Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, especially the supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), who distribute Revolutionary Transit Worker (RTW). Despite their occasional militant posturing, these self-described socialists practice rank trade-union opportunism. Squealing like stuck pigs because we exposed their accommodation to the union tops’ fealty to the Democratic Party and other betrayals, the LRP posted online a “Response to Spartacist Slanders about RTW” (2 January).

The LRP/RTW hides the fact that in 2000 it urged transit workers to vote for Roger Toussaint in his successful bid for local president on the New Directions (ND) “opposition” slate. Their support for Toussaint, albeit with some empty criticisms, reflects an underlying programmatic agreement with the trade-union bureaucracy, which chains workers to the capitalist system, largely by preaching reliance on the Democrats. That’s why LRP/RTW supporter Eric Josephson ran for a mid-level local union post last spring on a program that did not breathe a word against the Democratic Party, much less the union’s endorsement of Barack Obama. The TWU bureaucracy was pulling out all the stops to get out the vote for the Democrats at the time.

The counterfeit “Marxists” of the LRP and sundry reformists make a practice of braintrusting and giving left cover to one or another wing of the trade-union bureaucracy, thereby further strengthening the hold of the Democratic Party on the working class. The LRP’s backing of the union-suing, pro-capitalist ND caucus is one glaring example. When he was pushing votes for Toussaint, Josephson acknowledged in a 19 October 2000 leaflet that “the program which ND is really enthusiastic about is, of course, filing lawsuits.” But Josephson and the LRP concluded: “Despite our differences with ND, we stand with our co-workers’ desire for a new Local leadership. We will support ND.”

For the LRP, bringing the capitalist courts into the unions is not a matter of principle. In typical slimy fashion, they have asserted: “Revolutionaries cannot absolutely rule out that there may arise exceptional and extreme situations under which using the courts in a union struggle may be necessary” (Proletarian Revolution, Summer/Fall 1998). It is class treason to use the courts or other government agencies against rivals in the union. Doing so only serves to shackle the power of the union and place it under the thumb of the capitalist state. Labor must clean its own house!

This same appetite was revealed following the 2005 strike, when Josephson enthusiastically helped build a “Vote No Coalition” of all manner of Toussaint’s opponents, most of whom were onetime ND members and Toussaint supporters. Addressing the LRP’s strike article in Proletarian Revolution (Winter 2006), we wrote: “The article includes not one word of criticism of Josephson’s bloc partners—not on their history of supporting ND and suing the union, not on [then-Local 100 executive board member Ainsley] Stewart’s opposition to the strike. Not only that, it calls for extending the ‘united front,’ aiming for the union’s elections this fall—i.e., they want a warmed-over version of New Directions” (WV No. 863, 3 February 2006).

Before, during and after the strike, WV denounced the policies of the Local 100 leadership as a whole and put forward a class-struggle strategy. The leaflet that we distributed to striking workers called for a fighting alliance of all the unions at the head of the oppressed, combated illusions in the Democrats, cops and courts, and urged the organization of elected strike committees as against the policies of both the Local 100 and the TWU International tops (see “Victory to the Transit Workers Strike!” WV No. 861, 6 January 2006).

So why does the LRP howl that we “failed to criticize Toussaint’s mishandling of the 2005 strike while it was going on” and claim that we now give the Local 100 president “backhanded support, in the name of defending the union”? Like typical trade-union opportunists, the LRP fixates on Toussaint as an individual, rather than the class-collaborationist program that he represents, in order to bloc with anti-Toussaint bureaucrats who share the same politics. During the strike, the LRP joined a chorus of disgruntled elements in going after Toussaint, who was the main target of the capitalist rulers’ attempt to divide and isolate the union through racist vilification of its elected leader. We did not denounce Toussaint by name in the midst of this class battle, even as we counterposed a class-struggle program to the class collaboration of the local leadership.

The LRP was playing to the same “anti-Toussaint” elements with its “amnesty” plan to grant full union and voting rights to backward workers who had stopped paying union dues. The capitalist rulers’ vengeful effort to bankrupt the union in the wake of the strike by levying heavy fines against the union and its members and by taking away dues checkoff did in fact inflict real hardship on the union and its membership. But the answer to that is not to coddle backward workers or to appeal to the employers to retake control of dues collection.

The LRP quotes from a 22 August letter to the Chief-Leader by RTW supporters calling on Toussaint to “publicly, loudly, urgently and continuously wage the legal case for restoration” of dues checkoff, which was revoked by the capitalist courts in retaliation for the 2005 strike. Earth to LRP: dues checkoff means the bosses control union finances. For the labor bureaucrats, dues checkoff reflects a desire to live in “harmony” with the class enemy and allows them to evade the responsibility of facing the membership to collect dues. The logic of making the bosses the union’s banker is to undermine the capacity of the union to strike. In fact, dues checkoff was restored last November after Toussaint pledged never to strike again. As we wrote in our December 2008 article, “With Toussaint’s no-strike pledge, RTW got what it wanted.”

The dues checkoff is an example of the tendency for trade unions in the absence of revolutionary leadership to become entwined with the capitalist state. In NYC transit, dues checkoff originated with a rotten deal between TWU leader Mike Quill and Democratic Party mayor Mike O’Dwyer in 1948. Facing a restive membership after enforcing a World War II no-strike pledge, Quill disavowed the union’s historic opposition to transit fare hikes in return for a backroom deal granting modest wage hikes and dues checkoff.

We oppose dues checkoff and advocate union control of finances and dues collection by elected union reps. However, we opposed the state’s use of the slave-labor Taylor Law to take away dues checkoff—we defend the unions against all capitalist attacks. It falls on the union membership to get rid of dues checkoff as part of the fight for a class-struggle union leadership.

The Toussaint leadership used the post-strike dues crisis to silence its opponents and critics within the union, removing a number of elected officers based on trumped-up charges. In late September, for example, Eric Josephson was bureaucratically removed from his post as a Track Division Vice Chair. The class-collaborationist TWU tops can aim such attacks against any worker who gets “out of line.” We demand Josephson’s reinstatement and defend victimized union members against bureaucratic attacks and violations of workers democracy.

Having repudiated the union’s right to strike, Toussaint voluntarily submitted the Local 100 contract to binding arbitration just days before its January 15 expiration this year. The arbitration panel is not “neutral” but rather is a tool of the bosses and stacked against labor’s interests. Transit workers can rely only on their own independent strength and organization and must oppose traps like arbitration. These are tough times for the working class. But not fighting will only ensure greater misery in the future. It is necessary to mobilize union power to fight for your jobs and your livelihoods, to stop attacks on pensions and health care, to oppose service cuts and fare hikes.

Time and again, the LRP tramples on the elementary principle of complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions from the bosses and the agencies of the capitalist state. Pandering to illusions in the new U.S. imperialist Commander-in-Chief, the LRP looks forward to “struggles to put Obama to the test of demands that he address the working class’s needs” in a flyer distributed to a large NYC union rally on March 5. In fact, the Obama administration has already moved to break the power of the United Auto Workers through the so-called bailout package and is gearing up to impose savage austerity on workers, blacks, minorities, immigrants and the poor.

This whitewashing of the representatives of the class enemy goes hand in hand with the LRP’s lining up against the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states from the Cold War to the present. This outfit cheered capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR. Just as we defend the unions, despite their pro-capitalist misleaders, against the employers, genuine Marxists defended the Soviet Union, and today we defend the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam, despite their Stalinist misleaders, against imperialist attack and capitalist restoration. In spitting on the workers states, which embody historic victories of the international proletariat abroad, the LRP is in no position to defend the organizational gains of workers struggle at home: the trade unions. Our task is to break the working class from the “lesser evil” Democratic Party of racist U.S. imperialism, to forge a class-struggle union leadership, and to build a revolutionary workers party capable of leading the working class in a struggle for power.