The World Socialist Web Site and Socialist Equality Party salute the
34,000 transit workers of New York City, whose courage in the face of draconian
threats has provided an inspiring example of determination and solidarity to
the working class throughout the United States and, indeed, internationally.
The strike by transit workers is an event of international significance. Defying
massive fines and even the threat of jail, the strike represents a direct challenge
to a super-rich Wall Street elite that is accustomed to imposing its economic
interests and its will not only on New York City, but on the world.
In no other country is the existence of social class, not to mention class
struggle, so vehemently denied as in the United States. But in no other country
are the class divisions so deep. And nowhere else is class war practiced with
a viciousness that equals that of the American ruling class. It has taken less
than 24 hours for the strike of transit workers to expose before the eyes of
the world the brutal reality of American society.
The strike exemplifies the unbridgeable class divisions in American society,
in which a corrupt and reactionary financial oligarchy utilizes the most brutal
methods to smash all resistance to its lust for profits and personal wealth.
One has only to look at the cast of characters leading the assault on transit
workers to get a sense of the real social issues at stake in this conflict.
First, there is Michael Bloomberg, who spent lavishly out of his vast personal
fortune of more than $5 billion to buy the mayoralty. He had the effrontery
to go before cameras Tuesday to denounce bus and subway workers as “selfish,”
“thuggish,” “disgraceful” and “shameful.”
Second, there is real estate mogul Peter Kalikow, with a net worth of more
than $1 billion, who is negotiating on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation
Third, leading the anti-transit worker hate campaign of the gutter media is
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the New York Post and Fox News. His personal fortune
is estimated to be approximately $8 billion.
These individuals pocket in one day more than even the highest paid transit
worker takes home in a year.
These are the people demanding that transit workers—whose wages barely
cover basic necessities in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the
world—sacrifice their wages, pensions and benefits in order to meet the
interest payments to rich investors, who augment their fortunes by purchasing
high-yield MTA bonds.
The Bloomberg administration and MTA have secured multiple injunctions against
the transit workers. Under the provisions of New York state’s anti-labor
Taylor Law, each individual worker faces fines of two day’s pay for every
day on the picket line. The city, meanwhile, has convinced a judge to impose
$1 million a day in fines against Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents
the bus and subway workers.
The city has also called for fines against individual workers of $25,000 for
the first day on strike, to be doubled for each additional day of the walkout—a
sum that would rise to over $1 million in less than a week and bankrupt the
workers and their families far sooner. The MTA has also threatened to fire any
workers who participated in the 1980 strike and join their co-workers in the
current walkout. There have also been strident calls for the jailing of Local
100 President Roger Toussaint, other union officials, and rank-and-file workers
The immense international significance of the transit strike is that it has
shattered the façade of a monolithic American “national unity”
endlessly proclaimed by the government and the media. There exists within the
United States a powerful social force that is capable of fighting and resisting
the reactionary and inhuman policies of the ruling oligarchy—policies
imposed not only within the United States, but also internationally.
In this regard, it is especially significant to note the national, religious
and ethnic diversity of the New Yorkers engaged in this struggle. Walking on
the picket lines are workers from every part of the world. The solidarity of
striking transit workers represents in microcosmic form the emerging unity of
the international working class.
This is the first strike by New York’s transit workers in 25 years. The
eleven-day walkout of 1980 brought the city and state to the brink of surrender,
but was betrayed by the union’s leadership, which accepted a concessions
agreement and the imposition of massive fines involving the loss of nearly a
month’s pay for every worker.
The betrayal of that struggle set the stage for a wave of strike-breaking,
union-busting and layoffs that was initiated by the Reagan administration in
the firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers a year later, and then unleashed
throughout basic industry.
These attacks signaled the near elimination of the working class as a visible
social force in the US for an entire period, and created the conditions for
the piling up of the fortunes of the likes of Bloomberg, Kalikow and Murdoch.
Successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican, on the national,
state and municipal level, have presided ever since over a vast transfer of
wealth from the working class to the financial elite and the upper layers of
the privileged middle class. Workers’ real wages have stagnated or fallen
for decades, while social benefits have been systematically dismantled.
In New York City, the wealthy and the corporations have been largely relieved
of the burden of financing a public transportation system upon which their businesses
depend, with the cost shifted onto the backs of workers and passengers. The
floating of interest-bearing bonds as the principal source of capital funding
has turned the labor of bus and subway workers into yet another source of profit
linked to financial speculation.
The immense international significance of the current transit strike is that
it has brought the American working class forward once again as a powerful social
force being propelled into struggle by the relentless drive of corporations
and public employers to boost profits by cutting jobs, pensions and medical
The workers are in a powerful position. The MTA and the ruling establishment
are unable to replace 34,000 workers and run the huge transit system with scab
labor, as was done against the PATCO air traffic controllers. It cannot outsource
public transportation or shift it to a low-wage haven. And the cost of the walkout
to the city’s businesses is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars
daily. The frenzied ultimatums and threats cannot conceal the weakness of the
city’s and state’s position.
At the same time, the strike has underscored the tremendous crisis of political
perspective and leadership within the working class.
The greatest obstacle to the victory of the transit workers comes from their
own union leadership. Local 100’s parent union, the TWU International,
has branded the walkout as illegal and unsanctioned. The union’s international
president, Michael O’Brien, intervened in the Monday night Local 100 executive
board meeting that voted to call the strike. He called on the local to accept
the MTA’s takeaway offer and refused to authorize the strike, depriving
the city’s transit workers of the logistical, legal and financial support
that is paid for by their own dues. At Tuesday’s court proceedings to
impose fines on Local 100, lawyers for the international union intervened to
insist that it bore no responsibility for the walkout, because it opposed the
The TWU International’s web site has posted a statement calling on Local
100 to end its strike and return to work. Local 100 sources, meanwhile, report
that the international union is threatening to place the local in receivership,
a measure normally used in cases of gross corruption, where local officers are
replaced by staff appointed by the international union. If this action is taken,
the union will order workers to abandon the picket lines and add its own penalties
to those of the city and state against those who refuse to submit.
Nothing could more graphically demonstrate the way in which the official trade
unions have been transformed into instruments for suppressing workers’
struggles and blocking any challenge to American capitalism. They have integrated
themselves into the Democratic Party, an unswerving defender of the financial
oligarchy, while promoting baseless illusions that this party is somehow a “friend
The current transit strike has once again demonstrated the fraudulent character
of such claims. No prominent Democrat has come forward to defend the bus and
subway workers against the savage attacks being carried out against them. New
York’s Senator Hillary Clinton, for example, proclaimed her “neutrality”
in this bitter battle, offering her services as a mediator while declaring her
support for the Taylor Law, the principal weapon being used to bludgeon the
workers into submission.
More starkly than any event in the past twenty years, the present strike by
New York City transit workers poses before the entire working class the need
to develop a new leadership and a new political strategy to carry forward their
struggle, founded on a program that upholds the interests and needs of working
people against the profit drive of the financial elite.
Because the transit strike, like every serious social struggle, pits workers
against the profit system as a whole, it poses the urgent need for an independent
political movement of the working class.
If this strike is to be successful, transit workers must be guided by a perspective
that rejects the social, economic and political assumptions of the financial
oligarchy and its political parties. The unending demands for reductions in
the living standards of workers clearly demonstrate that their interests are
incompatible with the requirements of the capitalist profit system.
We call on transit workers and all other sections of working people who agree
with this perspective to contact the World Socialist Web Site and join us in
building the Socialist Equality Party.