Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
(November 2011). 
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
(December 2008). 
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May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down
U.S. West Coast Ports

(May 2008)

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The Internationalist  
  February 2013  

School Bus Drivers, Teachers, All City Workers Are Under Attack – For Mass, Militant Workers Action to Shut Down Wall Street!
Bust Bloomberg Union-Busting!

Picket at Zerega Avenue, Bronx, on February 1, Day 17 of the strike. It’s cold outside but strikers are
all fired up.
(Internationalist photo)

FEBRUARY 2 – Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board rejected a complaint by New York City school bus companies to declare the strike by over 8,000 drivers and matrons illegal. But this didn’t faze Mayor Michael Bloomberg who is refusing to negotiate and clearly hopes to bust the union. That’s what this strike is all about. NYC workers have the power to bust the union-buster – but we have to use it, NOW!

While crying crocodile tears about the children, city rulers and their kept media are trying to drastically lower wages and eliminate seniority rights of the experienced and dedicated workers. The strikers’ lines are solid, while braving some of the coldest weather in years. But they should not be out there alone. School bus workers are only the first on the list of unions the three-term plutocrat mayor is going after in his last year.

For starters, hundreds and thousands of NYC workers, students and parents should be joining with the ATU strikers every morning to build picket lines so strong and powerful that no one would dare cross. Two thirds of the bus routes are struck, but the other union representing school bus drivers and matrons, Teamsters Local 584, must join the strike so there are no school buses at all on the road. And the rest of the city workers’ unions (which doesn’t include police, who are there to defend Bloomberg and the bosses) should organize a militant mass labor march on Wall Street. WE NEED TO SHUT THE CITY DOWN.

We print below excerpts from remarks by Jan Norden of the Internationalist Group at a January 25 forum sponsored by Class Struggle Education Workers on the dual topic “Stop Teacher Eval Union-Busting” and “School Bus Drivers’ Strike: Mobilize NYC Labor to Win!”


Every strike is basically a battle between labor and capital, between the people who produce all of the value, who produce all of the profit, who produce all of the wealth, and those who expropriate it and use it in the interest of their class. There’s been a lot of talk about class war – Republicans accuse Democrats of it all the time, which is ridiculous since they represent the same class. The fact of the matter is that it has been, as Warren Buffett, the billionaire capitalist, said it’s “a one-sided class war, and my class is winning” – meaning the capitalists.

This strike is not just about the school bus workers, or even just about education, it’s part of a fight, nationally and globally, against the offensive against labor by the forces of capital. In this country for the last few decades there has been almost no resistance to that. Basically, most of the labor leaders just lay down and capitulated. There have been a number of hard-fought strikes, but typically they have been isolated. This has all continued since 1981 when you had the PATCO (air controllers) strike and the AFL-CIO kept their members working, and that strike was broken.

There has also been a lot of talk about strikes being illegal. The city is now claiming that the school bus workers’ strike is illegal. As the head of the air traffic controllers said at the time, the only illegal strike is a strike that loses. Unfortunately, his strike lost. But it is a question of power.

“What do we want? EPP. When do we want it? Now!” Spirited strikers picket DOE, February 6.
(Internationalist photo)

The cynicism of the city’s ruling class is boundless. Not just the mayor but all of the media. On the day after the ATU school bus  strike started, the Daily News (17 January) ran an article headlined “Bad Bus-ness,” and “Strike Slams Kids.” What didn’t appear in the newspaper (it was on the Internet), was an article reporting that the same day the city was criticized for making a $10 million no-bid contract with former schools chancellor and Bloomberg crony Joel Klein.

They say that the employment protection provisions are illegal on the basis of a decision in June 2011. Basically what that ruling says is that the EPPs are illegal because the companies would have to have higher bids. That means that every time a labor union goes on strike for higher wages, that would be illegal because it would raise the cost of their labor. This is saying that every attempt to raise the wages of workers is illegal. They say this is part of contract law, and therefore this trumps everything else.

This is just a naked assertion of the “rights” of capital against labor. It has nothing to do with justice, it has to do with the power of one class against another. To fight against that we have to deal, first of all, with “the law.” They’re always talking about the majesty of the law, but the law is not equal, it is not neutral, it is the will of the capitalist ruling class against the working people. We must resist, and that means using every tactic possible, including going to court against the bosses, but we have to understand that it won’t be won there, it will be won because we have the power.

The provision that they’re using against the school bus drivers right now is the Taft-Hartley Act. They’re saying this is a secondary boycott because, they claim, the school bus drivers’ beef is with the city and yet they’re striking against the companies. So then can the school bus workers strike against the city? They would declare that to be a secondary boycott. It’s a Catch 22, no-win situation.

The Taft-Hartley Act when it was passed was called the “slave labor law.” It was enacted as part of a purge of the militant leadership of the unions, because basically the  unions in this country were built by reds, by communists, socialists, people who were fighting against capitalism. The bosses wanted to get rid of them and outlaw every single tactic of labor struggle that would work.

These attacks are coming straight from the top, it’s not only the Republicans like Bloomberg, it’s also coming from Democrats, from Cuomo. Right now they are having accelerated certification of “replacement drivers,” i.e., scabs, based on a decision by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who many of the unions voted for. And the attacks on the teachers are coming straight from the White House: the charter schools, the teacher evaluations, the attempts to put in merit pay – all this is coming from Democrat Barack Obama and his “education czar.” We have to fight not only against the legal provisions, which are rigged in favor of the ruling class, but also politically.

In fact, it is quite possible to win. For example, on May Day 2008 the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down all 27 ports on the West Coast, for a day – it was symbolic, but it was the first time there has ever been a strike by U.S. workers against a U.S. war. The employers – big surprise! – went to court saying this violates the secondary boycott provisions of the Taft-Hartley law, the same thing they’re claiming against the ATU today. But eventually the employers backed off, because the workers had just shown that they could shut down every single port and were prepared to use it despite the bosses’ Taft-Hartley law.

We’re facing a mayor who is determined to bust every union he can find. So that means, in this city, in order to win this battle by the ATU school bus workers, which is the same fight the teachers are facing, we’re going to have to mobilize all of the working class, in the streets, to use their power to shut the city down. It can be done. Some years ago, 50,000 Haitians marched on Wall Street over the racist accusation that Haitians had “bad blood” and HIV was caused by that. They were outraged and they actually shut down Wall Street for a day.

In 2005, when the transit workers of the TWU struck, the city rolled out the no-strike Taylor Law, they slapped million-dollar-a-day fines on the union and thousand-dollar-a-day fines on every single worker. But the TWU shut down this city for three solid days, and in public opinion polls on the third day 55 percent of the population supported the transit workers. Yet they were left to do it on their own. Where was the support from the other unions? The UFT leadership stabbed them in the back, Randi Weingarten was negotiating with Mayor Bloomberg behind their backs.

What we have to understand is that this is a war, this is a class war. What’s necessary is to mobilize the working class, which needs to have a class-struggle leadership – that is, a leadership that is committed to a program of fighting against the capitalist class and for the interests of the working class down the line. And that means politically it’s necessary to break with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, we need in this country a workers party, a revolutionary workers party that fights for a workers government. Because right now we have the dictatorship of capital. Wall Street owns both candidates. The first people to contribute to Barack Obama were not the millions of small donors but Goldman Sachs, long before he was being touted as a national candidate.

So we have to fight against the bosses politically, and we also have to be aware that any of these struggles are basically a kind of guerrilla warfare, as Karl Marx wrote a century and a half ago. We’re fighting within the framework of this system, but it’s this capitalist system that needs to go. A long time ago, somebody said “what this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar.” Well, what we need in this country is a good, solid workers revolution. And we’re not the only ones saying it, you can hear that on the picket line, too.

See also:

Mobilize Labor's Power to Win NYC School Bus Strike (7 February 2013)

School Bus Drivers’ Strike: Mobilize NYC Labor to Win!
(21 January 2013)

Class Struggle Education Workers: Bring Out NYC Labor to Support School Bus Drivers Strike (20 January 2013)

Internationalist video: Scenes from the NYC School Bus Drivers Strike, January 2013 (24 January 2013)

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