For all its whining, the bosses depict a pretty picture for themselves in the wake of the New York transit strike. They paint the picture of a weak, indecisive union leadership and a lack of public support for the strike. “On Wednesday morning, Roger Toussaint's closest advisers encouraged him to face his difficult circumstances. The workers in Mr. Toussaint's union, who had brought the city's transit system to a halt, were incurring fines and public scorn with each day of the union's strike. What's your endgame? the advisers asked him gently.”
This December 23 New York Times article goes on to report how there followed frantic behind-the-scenes appeals to mayor Bloomberg to help Toussaint, the president of TWU Local 100, while in the background other “union leaders” urged him “bluntly” to stop the strike. From a class struggle perspective, we can only salute the mass strike voted in mass assembly and carried out against the will of the national TWU “international” union leadership. We can only salute the 100% effective picketing at each and every one of the picket lines, while the media made every effort to depict the workers as having selfishly stolen Christmas, coming near and in some cases crossing the line of comparing the “catastrophe” to 9/11.
Facing that pressure at every subway station and every bus depot was a traditional walking ring of US picketers, with signs saying “No contract, no work”, “A deadline is a deadline,” “Transit Workers deserve respect”, and the more modest but powerful “We need your support”. The crisp snow, the cold and the snarled traffic showed that the US working class was on the move.
And while the norm was silence and lack of support from other unions and regional confederations, the Labor Council of Troy (in northern New York state) voted unanimously for the AFL-CIO to call a general strike in the state of New York in support of the strike (nyc.indymedia.org December 22).
But a strike that began as a strike voted in assembly was not ended in assembly, but rather simply by a vote taken on December 22 by the Executive Board of TWU Local 100, without any consultation with the rank and file, and with no contract won. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the New York City trade union bureaucracy failed to organize marches and sympathy strikes in what is the financial capital of world capitalism, and left TWU Local 100 at the mercy of the the bosses' politicians and press and the full pressure of Toussaint's bureaucratic peers.
Moreover, the contents of the agreement, days later, on Christmas Day, for example, were still not unknown by the workers who had been “on freezing cold picket lines around the clock for three days,” according to the terse official union bulletin. They received text messages on their cell phones and mails explaining “The details [of the agreement] will be coming to all transit workers very soon.”
It was only on Tuesday, December 27, that a “Memorandum of Understanding” for a new collective bargaining agreement, drawn up between the TWU International and the TWU Local 100 (New York City), on the one hand, and “New York Transit”, on the other, was made known. It was most important for what it did not cover, namely, the huge fines against the union and up to two days pay for each day's strike action, still stand, as per the demands of the capitalist mayor of New York, Bloomberg. Secondly, above and beyond the details of the agreement, the memo stipulates that it need only be approved by the executive board of the TWU Local 100, although it is to be expected that final approval must come from a full scale rank and file vote.
While the bosses' demands for raising the retirement age from 55 to to 62 was withdrawn, the payment of 1.5% of transport workers wages towards health insurance will be enforced. Also postponed is the bosses' demand to impose the two-tier system which establishes working conditions, pension plans and health care for workers hired after the signing of the new contract. This system aims to use contracted workers like a battering ram against the new hires... only to replace, later on, the former with the latter.
While the new contract will be effective for three full years, it will expire on January 15, and not during Christmas week, which constitutes a huge concession in terms of the bargaining power of the workers. But the two-tier system seems postponed. Although many details may not come to light for weeks, it seems that the new agreement, while shelving the two-tier system, involves a large number of concessions, completely out of context with the militancy and combativeness of the strike, supported 100% by the rank and file.
Laid bare for all to see is that the huge crisis in the US health care and pension fund systems, on the verge of collapse, obliges big capital to strike out at the working class, not only in colonial and semi-colonial countries, but right in the heart of the US metropolis itself, in order to force them to foot the bill. In this they are aided by the entrenched trade union bureaucracy, but face a growing opposition on the part of rank and file workers who have shown heroically that they are more than willing to fight to defend their living standards and working conditions; they will have the last word, in this and in many battles to come.