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

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The Internationalist  
  January 2013  

Stop Union-Buster Bloomberg! NLRB: Hands Off!
School Bus Drivers’ Strike:
Mobilize NYC Labor to Win!

Picket line at Atlantic Express yard in Ridgewood, Queens on Day One of the strike, January 16. (Internationalist photo)

JANUARY 21 – New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is on a union-busting binge. The tycoon who proclaimed himself the “education mayor” is determined to eliminate any vestige of job security for any and all workers in the city’s school system. First in line on the mayor’s hit list are the 8,100 drivers and matrons of Amalgamated Transit Un­ion Local 1181, who were forced out on strike last week. Next up are the teachers who are being threatened with mass­ive cuts and layoffs in an attempt to blackmail them into accepting management “evaluations” that will put thousands of veteran educators’ jobs at risk.

Day Nine of the school bus drivers strike, January 24, at Ridgewood. 12° and going strong, determined to do what it takes. (Internationalist photo)

Union-buster Bloomberg must be stopped, and we have the power to do it. But the school bus drivers today and teachers tomorrow can’t do it on their own. We are facing powerful enemies: the Republican mayor is backed up by the Democrats in the State House and the White House, and the Wall Street fat cats who finance them. The capitalist politicians will use their cops and courts against us: the bus companies are already asking for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to issue a back-to-work order. But if we act together, the working class can turn the bosses’ anti-labor laws into worthless scraps of paper.

To win it is necessary to bring out city workers’ unions, backed by parents, students and supporters in a massive mobilization against union-busting to SHUT THE CITY DOWN. As an Internationalist Group sign at the picket line in Ridgewood warned: “Remember, they’re coming after you next.” The attack on school bus drivers is the same union-busting policy as the assault on the bargaining rights of teachers and public workers by Republican governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin in 2011, and by the Republican legislature and governor of Michigan last December – and it’s taking place in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City, the most unionized city in the country. This is a fight for all labor – an injury to one is an injury to all!

Since the beginning of the year, the billionaire mayor and his schools chancellor flunkey Dennis Walcott have been vituperating against NYC’s school bus drivers, pushing them into a strike over the city’s decision to eliminate “Employee Protection Provisions” (EPPs) from contracts being let out for bids. If this is not blocked by workers’ action it means that thousands of largely black and Latino drivers and matrons of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 with years of experience in safely transporting school children (many of them special needs students) stand to lose their jobs, pensions and health care as non-union companies hire inexperienced workers at far lower wages.

So with their backs to the wall, on Wednesday, January 16 bus drivers and matrons walked out. On the picket lines that miserable rainy morning strikers expressed grim determination to stick it out and do whatever it takes to prevail. Many repeated over and over that they had no choice: it was strike or lose their livelihoods without a peep of resistance. The city rulers geared up their propaganda machine, spewing out a stream of union-bashing invective. Drivers (who earn about $22 an hour after years on the job) were accused of holding the city and school kids hostage, essentially comparing them to terrorists. The rabid labor haters at the New York Post (17 January) published a screaming headline denouncing the strikers as “Bustards.”

School bus drivers’ strike is a fight for all working people. Internationalist Group, Class Struggle Education Workers and CUNY Internationalist Clubs have brought teachers, taxi workers, construction workers, restaurant workers and others to the picket lines day after day. (Internationalist photo)

The next day, Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew announced that there was “no deal” over teacher evaluations. The UFT tops were prepared to sell out the members’ job security. They had already accepted the principle of tying teacher evals to student test scores. Not only is this “junk science” – for all their elaborate formulas, the evaluations are utterly arbitrary – this makes educators scapegoats for poverty, racism, and the wrecking job that the privatizers have already done on the public schools. The union tops were finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Education. But Bloomberg shot it down, because it wouldn’t let him “fire bad teachers” at will.

The union bureaucracy’s capitulation was not enough for Bloomberg: he demanded total surrender. Someone should inform this would-be slave master and his minion Walcott that slavery was formally abolished in the U.S. a century and a half ago, and New York schools are not a plantation. Karl Marx referred to the capitalist system of “free labor” as wage slavery, and Boss Bloomberg, the richest man in NYC (estimated worth, $22 billion) doesn’t recognize that “his” wage slaves have any rights that a capitalist must respect. The mayor is out to slash wages of black and Latino bus drivers who make $35,000 a year, when he easily drops that much on his week-end jaunts in his private jet to Bermuda (and bought his third term for a cool $102 million).

But it’s not just Bloomberg that school bus drivers and teachers are up against. For years now the mayor and both Democrats and Republicans have been trying to wreck public schools in the name of “educational reform.” With the backing of hedge fund billionaires, they close hundreds of schools and replace them with publicly funded, privately run non-union “charter schools.” The push for charters and test-linked teacher evals is not about improving education, it’s about union-busting. Whatever their squabbles, the partner parties of U.S. capitalism are united in the drive to privatize public education (a $7 trillion market) and gut union rights. And the drive is spearheaded by Democratic president Barack Obama and NY governor Andrew Cuomo, whom many teachers and union members voted for.

Now they are closing in for the kill, and the school bus drivers are in the crosshairs of the gun control mayor. But by going after teachers and drivers simultaneously, Bloomberg is launching a war on two fronts, which any military strategist will tell you is a risky proposition. This makes it clear that he is targeting the unions, forget all his Madison Avenue flimflam about “Children First.” The children directly affected in the first two contracts up for bidding are special education students, many of whom are vulnerable to bullying. Parents put their trust in the experienced driver, but what does this matter to a mayor whose trademark is bullying? As an Internationalist Group sign asked, “Would You Entrust Your Child to the Lowest Bidder?

King Bloomberg and “Mr. Stop and Frisk,” top cop Kelly. They want gun control for everyone but the police, the enforcers of capitalist “law and order.” (Daily News)

The supremely arrogant Bloomberg doesn’t give a damn about the hoi polloi (the common people). He can be defeated, but that requires a leadership that is prepared to fight, and not by the bosses’ rules. The UFT leadership hides behind New York’s anti-strike Taylor Law as an excuse to cave in. Defying that anti-labor legislation would give Mulgrew & Co. a collective heart attack: their real estate investment in 52 Broadway could be in jeopardy! Now bus drivers may be faced with an NLRB injunction under the “slave labor” Taft-Hartley Act. ATU 1181 picket captains have told us, “we don’t cave for anyone.”  Good, because if union leaders are not prepared to defy them, laws in this country ban just about every effective tactic of labor struggle.

So far, the ATU picket lines have been solid, and two-thirds of the school bus routes have been shut down (almost all the others are by non-union companies). But the city is threatening to use “replacement workers” – scabs – as drivers. Teamsters Local 854, which represents some drivers and matrons, is not striking, but says its members will not cross picket lines. Yet in some cases, there are union workers inside the struck facilities. Now is that time to make clear that picket lines mean don’t cross – period! And to back that up by building solid, mass picket lines that no one dares cross. To do that will require the support of hundreds and thousands of unionists and defenders of labor rights. Our rights are on the line!

Unions in the U.S. and elsewhere are hamstrung by a labor officialdom that is beholden to capitalist legality and the capitalist parties. It is outrageous and suicidal that millions of working people are led to vote for ruling-class politicians who then attack the unions and labor rights. Or who go along with racist educational policies, like school closings and admissions to “gifted and talented” programs and elite high schools in NYC. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the New York City Council by 46 to 5: they could stop Bloomberg in his tracks if they wanted to. But they don’t, because they represent the same class interests. We call on labor militants and defenders of the oppressed to build a workers party that fights for a workers government.

The Internationalist Group, the Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York and Class Struggle Education Workers have come out to the school bus drivers’ and matrons’ picket lines since Day One of the strike. CSEW member and UFT delegate Marjorie Stamberg has fought to get the teachers union to come out actively in support of the ATU 1181 strike, putting forward a motion for a mass rally at the last delegate assembly, which was not put to a vote even though it had wide support. Our construction workers, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, teachers and students “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk,” because we know that this is a key battle for all working people. Strikers have welcomed our support, but much more is needed.

We urge all supporters of workers’ rights to show solidarity by coming out regularly join the school bus drivers’ on strike, and to demand a massive mobilization in the streets of black, Latino, Asian and working-class New York to BUST THE UNION-BUSTERS!

A forum on the struggle to stop teacher eval union-busting and to mobilize NYC labor to win the school bus drivers’ strike will be held by Class Struggle Education Workers on Friday, January 25, 4:30 p.m., at the CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street in Manhattan), Room 5414. We urge you to come out and bring your friends and co-workers to discuss the issues posed by this key battle for labor and civil rights.

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)
CSEW: “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All”

Marjorie Stamberg, a delegate of the United Federation of Teachers and member of Class Struggle Edu-cation Workers, spoke out in defense of the school bus drivers on the first morning of the strike, as broadcast by NBC Channel 4 TV in New York:

“Bloomberg is trying to break the school bus drivers union just like he’s trying to bust our union, the UFT. So I have to say, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ We have to stand together, and these bus drivers and matrons are just the greatest, the way they take care of our kids and keep them safe. And I just want to say to the parents out there, would you like to entrust the care of your child to the lowest bidder? No. We believe that the experience and the knowledge and the training of our wonderful school bus drivers, that we have to preserve that.”

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