Bankers Hold the Bonds; Workers, Riders Left Holding the Bag

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In mass transit, the issue of schedules is where “the rubber hits the road” for workers. This is a life-and-death issue for transit drivers. The long-term effects of speed-up, more riders with less equipment, tighter schedules and no rest breaks are stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure and bodily injury. Transit agencies are all talking about more cuts in service and higher fares to pay loans and deal with the financial crisis.
The mass transit budget is where the biggest conflict comes up between the needs of Big Finance Capital and the needs of both drivers and working-class riders. Maximization of profit in the financial sector is the root of killer schedules and service cuts. In addition, the “Oil-War Budget” has cut federal transit funds. Better and more inclusive transit schedules would require more transit workers, more equipment and more money in the budget. That won’t happen without the organized power of the drivers and riders.

Deficit Financing: Working Conditions Worsen and Passengers Lose Service

In the ‘90s, San Francisco MUNI sold $467.9 million worth of equipment (such as trains) to investors and banks under “Sell & Lease-Back Agreements” – then leased this equipment back. MUNI got a lump sum up-front from the sale (to meet deficit budgets), bought insurance from AIG and guaranteed the life of the equipment so the investors got the depreciation. Thirty-one transit agencies in the U.S. sold equipment, a total value of $9.3 trillion.

This debt financing is a sour deal for transit workers who continue to lose “real wages” due to part-timing, increasing health expenses, etc. but have longer hours and more passenger boardings per shift to increase “productivity.”

Where’s the Money?

When Willie Sutton (a famous bank robber) was asked “why do you rob banks?” he replied, “that’s where the money is.” This makes perfect sense to most working-class people. Let the banks and finance institutions pay all those “lump sum payments” back into the transit system. Make them pay higher transit assessment fees which reflect the enormous value that transit infrastructure adds to their business (brings the workers to work) and their property (increases property values).

But that won’t happen — like the current eviction/foreclosure crisis and tax bailout, the working-class will pay. It’s the inevitable working-out of finance capitals’ control of taxes, credit, markets, and the political process. The working class’s needs are in direct conflict with “free” markets, profits and wars for control of resources. Transit workers and passengers need safe, decent and free transit. This requires the development of a mass revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism.

Like the bailout, Obama’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, including transit, and 2.5 million jobs, will make millions for the banks and investors who control the “Infrastructure Fund.” Obama’s advisors and cabinet members set up similar deals under Clinton and Bush. Millions of working-class people are opposed to this, many who support Obama believing they can “hold his feet to the fire.” But working-class people are the source of such change, not union leadership or the president.

Mass Transit is the life-blood of big cities, which puts tremendous power in our hands if we are organized to use it. At MUNI, at AC Transit and around the country, we must work on uniting community groups who are hurt by the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), riders whose service is being cut back, and transit workers who are hurt with nightmare schedules. We have plenty of and powerful allies if we get out there and organize them.

Societal change and revolution may sound overwhelming and far-off. PLP presents the alternative of a communist society to our coworkers and friends with every struggle for improvement in our lives. As these battles continue, many will see a relationship between “schedules,” capitalism, and the need for revolution.

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