US: Indefinite transport strike in New York

Support Transit Workers’ Fight for a Decent Contract!

Over 35,000 members of the Transport Workers Union in New York are now on indefinite strike. The strike, over wages, health care and pension costs is the biggest strike in 25 years. New York state law prohibits public sector workers from taking strike action. Now the union is faced with the threat of massive fines and the prospect of the anti-union Taylor Act being used against the workers.

Below is a leaflet produced by the ‘Socialist Alternative’ members in New York. A fuller article and report will be published shortly.

Indefinite transport strike in New York

While negotiations continued between the 38,000 bus and subway workers represented by Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 and the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (as of 12/17/05) the two sides were reported to be far apart on a number of very important issues. With a deadline looming, Transit workers are clearly angered by the repeated provocations of the MTA and city bosses who are demanding drastic concessions.

On the eve of the negotiations, the MTA provocatively voted to squander $1 billion in surplus funds to make sure that there would be no money for pay increases or health and pension benefits for the workers. By Friday night, the MTA final proposal called for below inflation wage increases, pension and work rule givebacks and for new TWU members to pay 1% of their salary for health benefits!

Bloomberg’s administration intervened in the negotiations in an attempt to intimidate and threaten the transit workers with retaliation and use of the anti-labor Taylor Law. The mayor’s legal department has gone to court seeking an injunction that would impose huge additional fines on individual workers as well as the penalties on the Taylor Law against the members of Local 100. The MTA is threatening that not only union officials but also rank and file workers would be jailed if there was a strike-clearly a threat to bust the union!

Bloomberg, Pataki, Wall Street and the MTA bosses clearly have decided to viciously attack the transit workers as part of the overall plan to roll back the gains that workers and their unions have made in NYC in the past 70 years. As for the transit system, the aim is to fund the MTA solely through fares and interest-bearing bonds rather than taxes on businesses and transit subsidies as it used to be in the past.

Furthermore, the attack on TWU on pensions (for retirement at 62 after 30 years rather than after 25 years as is now) will open the door for what is intended to be a gutting of the public employee pensions and health benefits – with billions of dollars being funneled into the pockets of big business. Another attack is the demand for "broadbanding" (forcing workers to do additional tasks) which opens the way for the future destruction of thousands of jobs.

The transit dispute has touched a raw nerve among working people in the city who sense that this dispute is about the growing attacks on living standards, working conditions and the basic democratic rights of workers in the most unionized city in the country. Millions of workers in New York face a rising cost of living at a time when wages and benefits are under attack. It is disgusting to observe the big business media portray transit workers (or teachers, government employees or any union workers) as "overpaid" and "under-worked" while the billionaires and financial lords of the city are growing richer and richer.

In the 25 years since the last transit workers strike, when the system was shut down for 11 days, workers in New York City and across the country have seen the loss of millions of good jobs and a steady decline in wages and benefits.

The union movement-shackled by a bureaucratic leadership that prefers to give concessions to the bosses rather than organize a fight back-has proven incapable to stop these attacks despite heroic efforts by rank and file workers across the country in strikes and mobilizations.

A transit workers strike, in direct defiance of the dictates of Wall Street, would demonstrate the power of the working class and would win powerful support among workers in New York and across the country. However, to be successful, a strike against the MTA, the city and state, would pose the need for the TWU Local 100, city unions and the Central Labor Council to organize support, and solidarity actions to defend the transit workers against the Taylor Law and the courts. The TWU Local 100 and the other municipal unions should launch a serious campaign to abolish the Taylor Law.

Just as Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement were prepared to defy unjust laws with civil disobedience, the unions should also challenge laws that blatantly violate the rights of workers.Rather than any reliance on Democratic politicians — like war-monger Hillary Clinton — the leaders of the TWU Local 100 should call for mass rallies in every borough with the support of other unions and an appeal to win the support of low-paid workers, immigrants, and young people by explaining that the unions are fighting for every working family in the city.

The TWU leadership – in preparing to defend its members and provide for a good contract – should call for mass rallies across the city to demand that banks, big business and the rich should pay for vital public services.

There should be a call to roll back the fare to $1 as a step toward a free transit system and for a program of massive investment to upgrade the entire transit system – paid for by taxes on the rich and big business. This should be part of a program and movement that campaigns to put the needs of working people (healthcare, childcare, education, transportation, housing, a clean environment,) before war and corporate profits.

A clash with the 38,000 transit workers in New York City, the financial capital of the world, would not only pit MTA and Bloomberg but also corporate America and the Bush administration against working people in this country. The implications would be enormous as it could be seen as a way for all workers to resist against the corporate agenda of Bush and Wall Street in the US and internationally and could open the way for workers to build their own political party to challenge the dictatorship of big business.

This leaflet was produced by New York Socialist Alternative.

We are a multiracial organization of workers and youth fighting in our communities, workplaces and campuses against war, poverty, racism and injustice. We argue that working people need their own political party and to end the dictatorship of big business and for a democratic socialist society.

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December 2005