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by richard Mellor
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 at 5:08 PM
New York Transit workers take a step in the right direction but must broaden their demands and link with wider sections of the working class
The employers' judges have slapped a ,000,000 a day fine on the NYC transit workers for going on strike. It is against the law for public sector workers to go on strike in New York State. Well, unions were against the law. We broke the laws en masse and won the right to organize. At one time in this country if a couple of workers got together to discuss wages they were busted under the conspiracy laws, laws set up by the greatest conspirators of all, the capitalist class. They were then tried in courts and by juries that had property qualifications, as a condition for sitting on them. Having no "property" except their labor power to sell, workers were then found guilty by the very people they were trying to organize against in order to raise themselves up from their miserable condition. The judge, the police, the juries; all a set up, just like today. The capitalists fear the potential power of the organized working class.
It brightens my day that the transit workers in NYC have defied their laws. If we had obeyed the laws in this country we wouldn't have a country and we certainly wouldn't have had unions. Women wouldn't be voting and blacks would not be citizens. Laws were broken in the southern states that should have been broken, just like all the anti-union laws including the law denying us the right to strike.
I am a retired AFSCME member. My union, AFSCME has its largest and potentially most powerful council in NYC, AFSCME DC 37. It has some 121,000 members. On its website it describes itself as: "a mighty and powerful force to be reckoned with. We’re also part of AFSCME—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—with more than 1.4 million members like us nationwide."
DC 37's website also claims that, "we also work for them (our members) in their communities. We believe social justice is a union issue. Through activism and coalition-building, DC 37 is reaching out in the communities of this city to fight for a better future for our members and our children."
But this is potential power only. If it is not used, all the talk of power and numbers is empty rhetoric. In addition, all the talk of working in the communities and building a better future for our members and are children is not enough in two aspects. Firstly, unions should not just fight for "their" members and "their" children but all working people; this is the best organizing tool. This narrow self-interest strategy is part of the reason organized labor has failed to halt the employers' offensive. Secondly, all this language is also empty rhetoric as the union leaders' method of defending the interests of their members is to throw millions of dollars of our hard earned money away each election cycle. In 1996 some 0 million in cash and kind, our hard earned dues money, was given to the Democrats. The union leadership is nothing but a huge lobbying firm in many respects. But we can't compete with the capitalist class in this arena; they have more money than us. But we have our hands on the forces that make their system function.
The transit workers are on the right track. AFSCME boasts of its 1.4 million members as if the employers care about such a passive mass. The labor officials simply see it as a huge financial resource and voting bloc. The response of the AFL-CIO to the employers' fines should be for AFSCME to use the power of 121,000 of its members in NYC and walk of the job. The teamsters are also powerful in NYC and should follow suite. Stop the empty posturing and the macho talk. Use the power of the members.
The union leadership should call an immediate general strike in the city of NY in support of the transit workers and demand the fines be revoked. In addition the demands should be expanded to counter the hardships felt by many lower waged and non-union workers due to the strike and who would initially be hostile to it, a hostility flamed by the big business media. It is no coincidence that one quote in the paper likens the strikers to terrorists; that is really what anti-terrorist laws are for, domestic labor unrest. Demands must be raised for a massive increase in public spending to improve social services and create public sector union jobs in NYC and for or a per hour minimum wage. Health care, education, the re-building of the gulf coast, all these issues are on the minds of American workers and now is the time to bring them to the fore and use the power of the working class to win them; the money spent destroying Iraq can be better spent rebuilding it and the US as well.
Only an hour or two to the northwest the workers in Delphi and GM as well as the retirees are being savaged by the same forces. The airline workers have already suffered this fate. Links can be made there to strengthen a labor offensive. The resources of the labor movement, which are considerable, should be used to link with the workers, youth and unemployed in the inner cities who are the victims of racism and police abuse. This is an opportune moment and another missed opportunity will result in further defeats and will increase the confidence of the employers, their courts and their police.
The transit workers have defied the most powerful, corrupt state on earth. They are taking a heroic step. The labor leadership will most likely try to derail this movement but where we have oppositions in the unions and have caucuses we must take the need to fight directly to the leadership. We can let them know just like the transit workers have the employers today, that there will be no business as usual if a fight back is not launched. Mere pickets and protests are not enough. The transit workers are using methods of the thirties that built the unions in the first place, violating anti union laws through mass action. We can use the same tactic in the struggle against the union leaderships' policies, disrupt their meetings, and disrupt their agenda.
The employers will use all the means at their disposal to teach the transit workers a lesson. They must inflict a defeat on them but if they are successful the responsibility for it lies on the shoulders of the union leadership. The leaders of the TWU must learn the lessons of the Hormel and other defeated strikes. They have to wage a struggle against the leaders of the AFL-CIO whose policies have lead to one defeat after another and have strengthened the resolve of the employers'. And to be successful, it must be somewhat along the lines outlined above.
In his opening address to the 20th bi-ennial convention of the California State Labor Federation in 1994, then Executive Secretary, Jack Henning said:
"The two party system can't give relief because capitalism in large finances both parties. In one way or another. We may say it finances the Republican Party more. But have you ever known Democrats en masse to turn down the enticements of capitalism?
"There should originate, in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, a call to the unions for the only answer that is noble: global unionism is the answer to global capitalism.
"We were never meant to be beggars at the table of wealth. We were never meant to be the apostles of labor cannibalism on the world stage. We were meant for a higher destiny. We were never meant to be the lieutenants of capitalism. We were never meant to be the pall bearers of the workers of the world."
This would be a good time to give these words some substance and start to turn the tide.
AFSCME Local 444 Retired
Oakland CA 12-20-05
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