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Fight Trump with Democrats –
For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!
NYC Transit Workers: Fight
Track Safety and Free Mass Transit!
NYC transit workers rally outside MTA headquarters,
November 15. TWU must break with the Democrats and build a
revolutionary workers party to win. (Rose Abuin/Daily News)
As we go to press, on January 16, NYC transit union
president John Samuelsen announced a tentative contract
with “solid raises ... well ahead of inflation.” The TWU
website boasted of a “concession-free” contract. Many
members will be rightly skeptical.
D-Day is January 15. That’s when the contract for New
York City subway and bus workers in Transport Workers
Union Local 100 expires. The Metropolitan Transit
Authority bosses are sure to raise a carload of giveback
demands. At a mass rally last November 15, Local 100
president John Samuelsen vowed, “If we don’t come to work,
this city can’t move.” In 2012-2014 transit workers went
for two years without a contract. Instead of hinting,
Local 100, the powerhouse of NYC labor, should draw the
line: No contract – no work! And to make it stick,
the TWU must begin gearing up for battle now.
A mass membership meeting is called for January 7. For
starters, a strike committee should be elected.
Picket schedules should be drawn up, demonstrations begun.
Have thousands of transit workers tie up traffic on the
Brooklyn Bridge and then jam Wall Street. Raise
demands to win the support of riders and all NYC labor.
Not only should the union oppose a fare hike, it should
revive the TWU’s historic call for free mass transit.
And with workers being killed on the tracks and injured at
an alarming rate, Local 100 should make track safety
a top demand.
If the union raised such demands, NYC working people
would overwhelmingly and enthusiastically back transit
workers in their contract fight. Remember that in 2005,
when the big business press was calling transit strikers
“rats” and demanding union leaders be jailed, a solid
majority of city residents continued to support the
strike. But to make that support count, the entire NYC
labor movement must come out. Transit workers must
not stand alone!
At the November rally, Samuelsen talked a lot about
safety. There was a moment of silence for workers who died
on the job. Two weeks earlier, track worker Louis Gray was
pinned and killed by a G train while setting up lights to
warn train operators of track work ahead. His partner,
Jeffrey Fleming, was also struck and suffered serious
injuries. In October, signal maintainer Monique
Braithwaite fell onto the third rail while on the job.
Nerve damage was so bad that her right arm had to be
amputated: a catastrophe for anyone, let alone a single
mother raising four children.
Samuelsen said that every day an average of five
transport workers are injured badly enough that they have
to miss work. So where are the union’s safety demands?
None of the announced contract demands relate to worker
safety on the tracks. Louis Grey died because he and
Jeffrey Fleming did not have enough time to get into
separate cubbyholes. They had no warning that there was an
oncoming train about to round the corner, and the operator
had no idea they were there. Bloc signals prevent a train
from entering a bloc occupied by another train, but do
nothing to protect flaggers. CBTC signals only increase
the risk by letting trains operate closer together.
There is no reason workers have to die on the tracks.
Technology that can greatly increase track worker safety
already exists. The Canadian rail equipment manufacturer
Bombardier, which delivered the latest (R-179) train to
the MTA in September for testing, has developed a system
called Tracksafe that would virtually eliminate all such
incidents. Workers walking along the tracks have an RFID
chip embedded in their badge which notifies the system of
their presence. Sensors detect where trains are, so that
when they are a certain distance away workers are alerted
by a siren and flashing strobe lights. Tracksafe has been
tested on Atlanta’s transit system, MARTA. But management
consistently undercuts safety in the name of “efficiency.”
In response to Louis Grey’s death, Samuelsen said “the
NYC Transit Authority can’t protect us so they damn well
better pay us.” Yes, the MTA damn well better pay … and it
damn well should be forced to ensure worker safety!
The union should demand worker safety committees
with the power to shut down the system for
unsafe working conditions and that the MTA install
track safety technology to ensure no track
worker would die on the job again!
Rip Out the Turnstiles and Refuse
to Pay Wall Street
Currently the TWU leadership is demanding raises above
2%. This is only slightly over inflation. The MTA
typically juggles its books to produce a deficit so it can
cry poverty at contract time, but this time it admits to
having a surplus. The demand for a full
cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) should be
non-negotiable, along with a big raise on
top of that.
Transit bosses say they need the money to pay off debt
due to the capital program, so they can build a Second
Avenue subway which stops short of Harlem, and the 7 train
extension to the Javits Convention Center and the new
Hudson Yards high-end office and residential district. In
short, the MTA board runs the system in the interest of
The capitalists only need mass transit to take its wage
slaves to and from work. That is a key reason why service
on Saturday and Sunday is so lousy. Local 100 should
demand a doubling of train service on the weekends.
Meanwhile, fares take a huge bite out of everyone’s pay.
In 2015, police arrested almost 30,000 people for fare
beating, the vast majority of them African American and
Latino. But if there were no fare to beat, there wouldn’t
be any “evasion” arrests to make. We say rip out
the turnstiles and make public transit free!
A main reason fares keep going up is because the MTA is
paying off a massive debt to Wall Street bankers. As of
2015, the debt amounted to a whopping $34 billion.
That’s bigger than the national debt of 30 countries. The
debt is decades old. In the mid-1970s, NYC was placed
under the control of a Municipal Assistance Corporation,
headed by investment banker Felix Rohatyn, and an
Emergency Financial Control Board. The EFCB stopped
infrastructure maintenance on bridges, tunnels and of
course the public transit system. In 1981 the MTA was
allowed to issue bonds to raise money for repairing its
infrastructure, and has been borrowing ever since.
The capitalists who started this mess are the ones
profiting from it. When New York was first subjected to
the dictatorship of the EFCB, it was because the banks
junked the city’s credit rating and drove it to near
bankruptcy. Republican president Gerald Ford famously told
the city to “drop dead” and said he would veto any
bailout. But it was Democratic Party NYC officials who
carried out Wall Street’s diktat. The banks raided
the city – and they’re still collecting today. Local 100
should call to open MTA books to union inspection,
and to stop paying the debt..
Shred the Taylor Law – Break with
the Democrats – Build a Workers Party!
In order to win, the union has to go up against New
York’s no-strike Taylor Law. But the union leadership
plays by the bosses’ rules. In 2005, Local 100 president
Roger Toussaint didn’t want the strike. When the
membership voted to walk out, he called off the strike on
the third day. The union was hit with a $2.5 million fine
and removal of the dues checkoff, while members were fined
two days’ pay for each day of the strike. Despite his
services to the ruling class, Toussaint was jailed anyway.
Toussaint came to office together with the New Directions
caucus. These “reformers” crossed the class line by suing
the union in the bosses’ courts. Once they got into
office, the government owned them – no wonder they
Now Samuelsen is calling the shots after being elected in
2009 on the Take Back Our Union slate. At the November 15
rally, he bragged about making the “smart decision to
bargain past the end of the contract,” citing “an economic
crisis that was very real.” The result was a contract with
all kinds of givebacks – increased healthcare
contributions, an additional two years for new hires to
reach top pay, and pay “raises” below the rate of
inflation. Since last year, Samuelsen sits on the MTA
Board thanks to Governor Cuomo, no doubt as a reward for
playing ball by working without a contract. If a strike is
in the offing, you can bet he won’t defy Cuomo.
Union workers are under the gun across the country. But
in order to bust the union-busters, labor must
throw the ties that bind it to the Democratic Party. In
Philadelphia, TWU transit workers struck at the beginning
of November, but settled on the eve of the November 8
election to avoid embarrassing Hillary Clinton (see
“Victory to the SEPTA Strike! Mobilize All of Philly Labor
to Win!” (The Internationalist, 5 November 2016).
In July 2013, Bay Area Rapid Transit workers walked out in
a strike that was 100% effective. But after four days, the
Amalgamated Transit Union tops called it off at the
request of Democratic governor Jerry Brown (see “Lessons
of the On-Again, Off-Again BART Strike,”The
Internationalist, 10 November 2013).
Everywhere the biggest obstacle to a successful strike is
the labor bureaucracy that is bound hand-and-foot to the
Democrats. This is true both of the old-line bureaucrats
and reformers: Samuelsen hangs with Cuomo, Toussaint
hobnobbed with then New York senator Clinton. In last
year’s presidential election, the TWU endorsed Clinton.
Now they are facing mega-capitalist Donald Trump and
rabidly anti-union Republicans who control Congress. In
order to wage a successful fight against these labor
haters, it is necessary to break with the Democrats
and oust the bureaucratswho chain labor to this
party of capital.
The way forward was shown last August by the
International Union of Painters (IUPAT) Local 10 in
Portland, Oregon which voted to “not support the
Democrats, Republicans, or any bosses’ parties or
politicians,” and instead to “call on the labor movement
to break from the Democratic Party, and build a
class-struggle workers party” (see “To Hell with the
Bosses’ Parties – For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!”The
Internationalist No. 45, September-October 2016). If
TWU Local 100 were to take up and pass IUPAT Local 10’s
motion, it would set off a firestorm in the labor movement
locally and nationwide. It would show the bosses that the
workers are getting ready for a knock-down, drag-out
As we wrote on the eve of the 2005 NYC transit strike, a
walkout would be met with the full might of the capitalist
“To defeat this threat, it is necessary to go
beyond simple business unionism and place New York transit
workers at the head of all working people, poor, oppressed
minorities and immigrants facing relentless attacks by the
ruling class…. If the Taylor Law is used against
the TWU, all public employees unions should walk out.”
What’s needed is “a program to mobilize labor’s power.
That means, no more capitalist politicians on labor
platforms, and no more representatives of police or
detectives’ ‘unions’ either. We say: cops out of the
unions – they are the armed fist of the bosses. And that
means getting the revenue and ‘property protection’ cops
out of the TWU.” The next time police gun down an innocent
person, we added, “unions should mobilize their power and
the TWU should shut down mass transit against police
terror” (“Shut Down NYC with an All-Out Transit Strike!” The
Internationalist, 10 December 2005).
Today, the war on working people continues, as does the
plague of racist police terror. Now more than ever, it is
necessary to fight politically, putting labor squarely in
the forefront of the struggles of the oppressed. This is
what a class-struggle workers party would do, and NYC
transit workers have the power to wage that fight. What’s
needed is to forge a leadership with the determination and
revolutionary program to fight to win. ■