US: Transit Workers Reject Concessions

Workers show their militancy

Following the Transport Workers Union strike (TWU) on the New York transit system just before Christmas, a vote was taken on a deal agreed between union leaders and management. The deal was rejected by a wafer-thin majority. This votes indicates the class consciousness of the workers and their militancy. We reproduce below a leaflet which has been distribute by Socialist Alternative in New York

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Transit workers reject concessions

Mobilize for decent health care and defeat the anti-worker Taylor law!

In an incredible show of defiance of the business and political establishment, the membership of Local 100, Transit Workers’ Union, rejected the proposed contract that had the endorsement of Roger Toussaint. Serious observers of the New York labor movement commented that the rejection of the concessionary contract (that demanded that workers pay an indexed 1.5% premium of their annual wages for their health benefits) reflected how deep militancy and discontent was among the rank and file.

Although the contract was rejected by only seven votes out of 22,461, it clearly reflected the determination of transit workers (who defied the corporate media and the political establishment in a three-day strike) not to accept the meager wage increases, health care concessions and the loss of over $1,500 per worker in fines for striking because of the Taylor Law. Furthermore, workers were angered by statements by Governor Pataki that he might veto the $130 million pension refund to 20,000 workers. The defiance and determination of the rank and file was evident at the large membership meetings organized by the leadership before the vote in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens as the opposition mobilized to challenge the concessions agreed upon by Toussaint.

It is significant to remember that despite the attacks of the mass media on the “greedy” workers, a large section of workers supported the strike and the union. This was because the transit workers’ struggle over pensions, declining living standards and healthcare finds an echo among millions of workers in New York as well as the rest of the country who are facing the same problems. The transit workers dispute is unfolding as General Motors and Ford have demanded huge health care cuts and announced new rounds of massive layoffs and IBM announced that it could end its pension system with 401(k) plans. Nation-wide wages declined by over 0.5% while The New York Times reported that real wages in New York outside of Manhattan fell by 2.9%.

The rejection of the contract creates a new situation. Already the mass media have started a huge propaganda campaign to weaken the union and break the resolve of the rank and file. The charge was led by NY Post columnist John Podhoretz who reflects the sentiment of a growing section of the big business establishment in New York: “If New York’s transit workers dare to strike again, they should be arrested by the thousands and fired en masse.” His views reflect the class war that big business is prepared to conduct in order to continue with its program to make workers pay for public services and to take away any gains working people have made in the past. The New York MTA, as well as NY City and State agencies owe billions of dollars to Wall Street bondholders and the city bosses are determined to make the workers pay! But such a plan has the potential to backfire and have serious consequences in New York.

The TWU has so far, rejected the demand of the MTA (Metropolitan Transport Authority), the New York Times, for binding arbitration which would not allow the workers to ratify the contract. Also the MTA has returned to “negotiations” with a considerably harsher proposed contract, presumably to pressure the union leadership to accept arbitration. The MTA and the TWU will be returning to negotiations in the next few days.

However, it is unlikely that the MTA will make any further concessions without a credible threat that the union is determined to again bring the city to a standstill. Roger Toussaint should not have ended the strike without consulting the members. Now that the contract has been rejected, it is crucial that no time is lost to mobilize and prepare the 34,000 transit workers to win a better contract. This should be done with the election of democratic committees to mobilize the rank and file.

Amnesty from Taylor law!

Local 100 should call on every union, community organization and supporters to mobilize and organize demonstrations for an uncondi-tional amnesty from the anti-worker Taylor Law. The Taylor Law was enacted after the 1966 transit strike and prevents workers from mobilizing and striking while allowing the employers to violate the rights of workers and refuse to negotiate in good faith.

No health care premiums!

The union should demand no change in the health benefits for transit workers and should organize a campaign for a national health care plan to cover all workers.

Open the MTA’s books!

The unelected MTA bosses have discredited themselves by keeping two sets of books on the finances of the authority, and squandering the recent $2 billion surplus. The only way to find out what is really going on is by opening the books of the MTA by the labor movement. As political appointees, the MTA brass are not truly accountable to the people of New York and they should be replaced by elected representatives of the city, the riding public and the workers.

A fighting program

 The TWU needs to link the fight against concessions to a program to demand that banks, big business and the rich should pay for vital public services in the city, including a free transit system and for a program of massive investment to upgrade the entire tran-sportation system – paid for by taxes on the rich and big business. This should be part of a program and a movement that campaigns to put the needs of working people (healthcare, childcare, education, transportation, housing, a clean environ-ment,) before war and corporate profits.

Mass demonstrations

 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, if the attack of Local 100 intensifies. The Metro North unions, who are working for years without a contract, LIRR and taxi workers should coordinate future solidarity actions with Local 100. 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.

A political alternative to big business

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. The struggle of the transit workers has shown that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will stand up for working people. The ‘NO’ vote must become the beginning of a campaign for the working class and the labor movement to build its own political party and to challenge the profit-addicted system of poverty, racism and war.

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 to end the dictatorship of big business and we campaign for a democratic socialist society.

Check out our newspaper: Justice online: www. socialistalternative.org or call: (718) 207-4037

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