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United Labor Action Can Smash the Taylor Law!

Victory to the Transit Workers Strike!

In going out on strike for the first time in 25 years, Transport Workers Union Local 100 is challenging the Taylor Law and the repressive might of the capitalist government. Every working person—in New York City and around the country—every black person, every Latino, every immigrant has a direct stake in the outcome of this class battle. If the TWU wins, it will begin to turn around years of labor defeats and racist attacks. If the bosses are not stopped, it will mean further attacks on union rights, pensions and health benefits for other city and state workers. The key to winning this strike is forging a fighting alliance of all the unions, leading the city’s working masses and its ghetto and barrio poor. For a start, that means shutting down the LIRR, PATH and Metro-North lines into and out of NYC. Rail workers at Metro-North vowed to respect TWU picket lines. Good! Surround Grand Central and Penn Station with mass pickets reinforced by all the unions! Transit workers must not stand alone—For united labor action to smash the Taylor Law!

With the labor-hating Bush administration and its “war on terror” arsenal standing behind them, Republican governor Pataki, billionaire mayor Bloomberg and the real estate barons and filthy rich financiers who make up the MTA board provoked this showdown. They want to split the workforce with multi-tier schemes, imposing more onerous conditions on health coverage and pensions for new hires. Pataki and Co. denounce as “greedy” and “criminals” the hardworking TWU members who keep this city running and who are fighting not just for themselves but for the next generation. The criminals in this society are the capitalist rulers who callously left tens of thousands of black and poor people in New Orleans to starve and die, who shut down schools and throw our young people into prison hells, who slaughter women and children in Iraq and other countries in pursuit of profits and power. And what about the criminality of the MTA bosses, who allowed train operator Lewis Moore to die on the job earlier this month by denying him medical care for over 20 minutes?

If we don’t have the right to strike, then we don’t have unions in any real sense. Pataki, Democratic state attorney general Eliot Spitzer and the MTA have already invoked the Taylor Law against the transit workers. Now the courts have gone along with Bloomberg’s demand for massive fines of $1 million a day, aimed at bankrupting the union and its members. Meanwhile, former Democratic mayor and all-round racist pig Ed Koch screams for doubling these fines each day. In the face of possible arrests of union officials, it is necessary to organize elected strike committees. This will ensure that the strike cannot be beheaded and also that it will be run by the membership as a whole. The city’s lawyers were able to use the TWU International’s criminal opposition to the Local 100 strike to bolster the strikebreaking attack on the union. Every TWU member around the country must demand that the International repudiate this treachery and back the strike all the way!

Bloomberg cannot arrest all 34,000 transit workers, and Wall Street knows it can’t run the center of American and world finance capitalism without the subways and buses. The only “illegal” strike is one that loses—no reprisals, no fines and no victimizations! The TWU has real social power—it can paralyze New York City, and it can render the Taylor Law a dead letter, just as the 1966 strike did to the Condon-Wadlin Act, the Taylor Law’s predecessor.

But it will not be easy. For this strike to win, as it can and must, the union must be clear on who its friends are and who its enemies are. The partnership of capital and labor is a lie. Every strike boils down to a bullheaded struggle between two forces—labor and capital—whose interests are irreconcilable and counterposed. The TWU must rely solely on the support of the rest of the union movement and the millions of poor and working people who ride the subways and buses. Labor solidarity is not a matter of hot-air speeches and token donations, but joint union action on the picket lines. The transit union can mobilize wide support by raising its historic demand for free, quality mass transit!

On the other side are labor’s enemies. They are the capitalist government, the capitalist politicians, the capitalist courts and the cops who enforce the courts’ injunctions. Every strike shows how the state is not neutral but rather is an instrument of coercion that safeguards capitalist interests. Suing the union in the courts, as just about every faction in the TWU leadership has done, is like taking a slow poison. The PBA and the other police “unions” are enemies of labor whose job is to safeguard the bosses’ private property. PBA head Patrick Lynch said that his members, “while on the other side of the barriers now are with you in their hearts.” They damn well are on the other side of the strike barriers, and they’ll bust transit workers’ heads to prove that—like they do every day to people in the ghettos and barrios. The cops, security guards and the MTA’s Property Protection Agents are not workers; they have no place in the labor movement.

The TWU’s membership reflects black, Hispanic and immigrant New York, and most poor and working people in the city actively sympathize with the union and would welcome a union victory as their own. The attacks on the union, including the harsh management discipline that TWU members rightly denounce as “plantation justice,” underscore a basic truth in racist capitalist America: the fate of organized labor is closely bound to that of the black masses.

Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the other Democratic Party celebrities who were invited to grace the platforms of TWU contract rallies promote the party of the Taylor Law—of Attorney General Spitzer and of Senator Hillary Clinton, who hailed Spitzer’s earlier use of the Taylor Law against the TWU in 1999! Jackson links “job security” with “national security,” as though workers should have a stake in the reactionary “war on terror”—a war on workers, immigrants and black people. The Democrats pose as “friends of labor,” the better to position themselves to strangle labor struggle, as Jackson did in the case of the L.A. transit strike in 2000.

Working people need a party that represents their class interests, a workers party that champions the cause of all the exploited and oppressed. Transit workers are rightly demanding a share of the enormous surplus their labor has produced for the MTA. But it’s not just the MTA. All the billions upon billions of profits that currently go into the coffers of a handful of Wall Street bankers and brokers and wealthy industrialists is surplus value generated by the sweat and blood of the workers. In a socialist society, that surplus would be used to rebuild the decaying subway system, the schools and the hospitals; to provide free mass transit and medical care and free, quality, integrated education for all; to provide decent, affordable housing for all. But to secure all of these things requires a workers revolution led by a multiracial workers party that overthrows the capitalist system and replaces it with an egalitarian socialist society internationally. The Spartacist League seeks to educate the workers in the Marxist understanding of their historic role as the gravediggers of this system of exploitation, racism and war. Victory to the transit strike!

—20 December 2005