As Economic Crisis Looms Over Contract Fight: Forging Communist Base Among LA Transit Workers

LOS ANGELES, April 6 — “One of the first things I do each day is put CHALLENGES or leaflets in my backpack,” said a PLP member. “I think about who I’m going to get the paper to today or what kind of political discussion I’ll try to develop. I am motivated by a deepening anger against the storms of crisis, war and fascism that confronts our class, an anger that is growing in many of my co-workers.”
Building a base of communist workers for the Party means knitting together a network of CHALLENGE readers, organizing study groups, forums, and personal social and political visits, as well as becoming part of class struggle. It also involves our own families, in trying to have the time and space for all this. Ideally it means integrating our family’s participation in this process.
We’ve been working in the transportation industry for 10 years. Our PLP club now regularly distributes 55 CHALLENGES — having six veteran members, four new members and another five readers who help distribute one or two papers each.

We’ve worked with many workers over time. Some have responded immediately. Later, when they understand the seriousness of the situation, they may pause to think about it. Others are more cautious from the beginning and slowly get closer to us. Others want our literature and to help the Party in some way, without committing themselves completely. Others have joined and are advancing, taking more leadership.

Recently we’ve organized four forums involving 30 different workers —Latino, African American and white, and some from Russia and the Middle East. The forums concerned the history of the working class and the need for PLP and the fight for communism as the only viable alternative to the world-wide crisis of capitalism, imperialist war and fascism.

There’s a great potential to recruit new members in a short time. Building a communist base requires patience and urgency — patience because it’s not so easy to change workers’ minds. Much consistency and persistence are needed.

Consistency: we can’t just take people CHALLENGE once and then, after a few months, bring them another one. We have to take the political development of each worker seriously and follow up, but without being mechanical. Many times we want to force the process of development because we’re not viewing things dialectically. If you plant a fruit tree, you can’t expect to be eating mangos in one month. It won’t happen! Then you could decide to abandon it and leap to a new one, and on and on, without success.

We’re involved in the class struggle. We’re forming a strike committee, with PL’ers, readers and co-workers to fight around the contract this summer. Three years ago, during the last contract fight, we formed a committee that gave communist political leadership during the strike, organizing protests, meetings, leafleting, articles and CHALLENGE sales, and bringing other workers and students to the picket lines. The current economic crisis — which our contract fight is a part of — is an opportunity to expose the capitalist system and show workers the vision of a new communist world.

Besides inviting all the CHALLENGE readers to the May Day Dinner, we’re also struggling with them to invite their friends and families. May Day offers the chance to clarify PLP’s communist ideas, enabling us to build a mass communist party of the working class. To achieve that, we need many communists, and for that we need an expanding network of CHALLENGE readers that becomes a mass network.
These advances come from sharpening the political struggle inside the club and the leadership to spread PLP’s communist politics.

“When are we going to talk about politics?” a transit driver asked a CHALLENGE seller at a work site. “I’ve got a lot to say and some questions to ask you.” In the past, this driver occasionally took a paper. He was friendly but not particularly interested in PLP’s communist ideas. Today that’s changed. He, his wife and two children are all victims of capitalism’s crisis. In the “tender” phrase of the bankers, this family is “underwater” — they owe substantially more on their house than it’s worth, even after paying $100,000 down. He’s one of millions being sacrificed to bail out the billionaire swindlers. Stung by the betrayal of his “American Dream,” we hope this driver and more like him will come to the May Day Dinner where he can learn about the historic battles against capitalism and begin to participate in the current movement. We plan to involve him in PLP activities during the contract struggle and upcoming Summer Project.

Now, even before the contract expires, the collapsing U.S. economy is falling on our heads and on the rest of the world’s workers. The bosses’ media complain about the speed of the collapse of manufacturing, but transit workers could be next on the chopping block if they need us to transport fewer workers to the factories. The economic meltdown increases our opportunities to win these workers to PLP’s politics while fighting the attacks on our co-workers’ and riders’ lives.

During the last contract struggle we encouraged drivers and riders to unite, held social events and explained that “Contracts only spell out the terms of our oppression; they don’t stop exploitation.” Some transit workers who participated in these activities became more interested in the long-term possibility of communist revolution.

We say everyone can help fight for communism. A retired comrade, no longer driving, has helped circulate CHALLENGE and communist leaflets to transit workers. Not being tied to the time clock, he can visit drivers and mechanics on all shifts. Guys ask him, “How is retirement?” He replies, “I love not being a wage-slave, but this system is after us old folks too. A pension based on capitalist investments is a contract written on toilet paper. The contract struggle will involve retiree issues. The company will try to play active transit workers against retirees by saying there isn’t enough money for both with this budget deficit. Sure, I retired from the company but you can’t retire from the class struggle and the fight for communism.”

One thing is certain. The capitalist crisis will continue to push workers “underwater.” As bosses under Bush allowed workers to drown in Hurricane Katrina, the bosses under Obama will not, and cannot, rescue our class from the ravages of this economic hurricane. PLP’s goal of communist revolution is the only lifeline in these storms.

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