US: Transit workers strike enters third day

Transit workers strike is a fight for every working family in New York

The Transit Workers Union faces fines of $1 million a day, an indication of the fact that the New York city bosses want to crush working class opposition to their big business policies. Below is the latest a leaflet produced by the ‘Socialist Alternative’ members in New York. This strike has the potential to act as a beacon for other struggles of US workers and youth who have seen their living standards plummet while the fat cats get richer by the minute.

Transit workers strike enters third day

Defying threats of fines, imprisonment and outright slanders by the mass media, the striking New York City transit workers are showing a heroic resistance against the city bosses, Wall Street and the rich. Every thinking worker can see that this strike is not just about the fight against the MTA, but it touches every worker in the city and the country.

Bloomberg, Pataki, Wall Street and their MTA flunkies’, vicious attack on the transit workers is part of their overall plan to roll back all the gains that workers and their unions have made in NYC in the past 70 years, especially on wages, pensions and work conditions. As for the transit system, the aim is to fund the MTA (an undemocratic organization run by unelected state and city political appointees to do the dirty bidding of their big business bosses) solely through fares and interest-bearing bonds rather than taxes on businesses and transit subsidies as it used to be in the past. This means more closings of stations, cuts in service, worse safety with one-person train operation, under-funding of working class areas, and more layoffs of transit and bus workers.

Billionaire Bloomberg, who spent $75 million of his own money to buy the mayoral election, slandered the strikers calling them "selfish" and "thugs." At the same time the mayor’s legal department is seeking an injunction that would impose huge additional fines on individual workers in addition to 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 could be jailed if there was a strike-clearly a threat to bust the union! So far, the courts have ordered Local 100 to pay one million in fines every day that remains on strike.

Responding, TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, correctly responded that "the thugs are not on this side of the podium. We are not thugs, we are not selfish and we are not greedy. We are hard-working New Yorkers, dignified men and women who have put in decades of service to keep this city moving. That’s not the behavior of thugs and selfish people." While the bosses’ mass media, are trying to orchestrate a campaign against the union, 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.

A strategy to defeat Taylor law

The coordinated attack using the Taylor Law against Local 100 must be stopped dead in its tracks. The transit and bus workers are already on strike and getting attacked with every weapon available by the administration, including Pataki’s rumored threat of using the National Guard to run the buses in the city. The city is threatening to arrest union leaders on Thursday because of their defiance.

The Metro North unions, who are working for years without a contract, should seize this opportunity to shut down rail operations and Local 100 should ask from the union workers of LIRR and the taxi workers union to take solidarity action. It is time to stand up and be counted! Such action would bring enormous pressure on the MTA, the city and state bosses to abandon their offensive against transit workers.

The unions that represent city workers (including AFSCME, SEIU, CWA, Teamsters) should organize mass demonstrations in every borough and in Wall Street, demanding that the city and the MTA stop its attacks on Local 100 and city workers, mobilizing and preparing their members for solidarity actions, including strike action if the attack of Local 100 intensifies. This would be the best way to launch a serious campaign to abolish the anti-labor 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.

The New York Central Labor Council, with 400 unions and over one million members in the city, must mobilize a serious campaign to educate the public about what is at stake and who is responsible. A mobilization of the resources of the union movement, including mass leafleting TV and radio ads, and mass rallies to support the strikers in central locations in every borough.

Furthermore, the campaign to defend the transit workers should be linked to a program to city to demand that banks, big business and the rich should pay for vital public services, 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. The MTA should be replaced by a democratic city transportation authority.Such a program would win the support of millions of low-paid workers, immigrants, and young people by explaining that the unions are fighting for every working family in the city.

Sadly, the greatest threat to the strike appears to have come from the Local 100 parent union, the TWU International, whose president Michael O’Brien, called the strike illegal and "unsanctioned." Astonishingly, O’Brien called on Local 100 to accept the MTA’s last offer and the TWU International website called on Local 100 to stop the strike. There are rumors that there may even be an attempt by the International TWU to take Local 100 into receivership (something that is usually done in cases of gross corruption) in an effort to break the strike.

The strike of the 34,000 transit workers in New York City, the financial capital of the world, is a direct challenge not only to Bloomberg and Pataki but also to corporate America and the Bush administration. The implications will be enormous for working people and the union movement as it could show an alternative to the failed policies of concession bargaining and givebacks that union leadership has pursued over the past decades. It could show that a determined struggle can defeat the corporate agenda of Bush, and Wall Street in the US. It could furthermore open the way for workers to build their own political party and to challenge the profit-addicted system that demands reductions of the living standards of working people.

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