Tag Archives: Transit

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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September 29 — Union bus drivers are discovering the hard way what was buried away in the contract arbitration “award” forced on us last year. After a fear campaign of “doomsday scenarios” and sending the contract to arbitration to avoid a rank-and-file vote, our paychecks are shrinking and our jobs are less secure. All this is happening as more workers ride buses and before the current economic crisis.

The contract and the state legislators are funding a new Health Care Trust fund that most drivers will never use, by collecting 3% of every paycheck. In addition, they increased pension funding to 6%, more than wiping out the measly 3% wage “increase” we were “awarded.” So far this has cost every worker about $2,000.

Even more dangerous, full-time senior drivers lost our 8-hour guarantee, and about 50 part-timers are being hired every month. Right now about 950 part-timers comprise almost 25% of the 4,000 drivers. They pay the same union dues as full-timers and get little more than the right to file a useless grievance. Part-timers cannot afford to feed their families on what used to be a job many young black workers sought. It’s so bad that union Local 241’s sellouts tried to get part-timers to support a 6-day schedule rather than split shifts, so they would have more time each day to work a second job to support their families!

Then there is the “Second Chance” program: workers on probation or sentenced to community service are cleaning buses and garages. Mayor Daley and the bankers want to run mass transit on poverty wages and prison labor. All this in a city and state run by the Democratic Party machine that created Barak Obama.

But workers are fighting back. Transit Workers United, a rank-and-file group of full- and part-timers, is circulating a petition demanding the union fight to make everyone full-time, and force the city to fill almost 200 vacant full-time slots. More than 200 part-timers attended the September union meeting.

This is good as far as it goes, but transit workers need to understand that this is not just our problem. We’re being assaulted by the same racist profit system that closed half the Cook County health clinics for uninsured workers in 2007, eliminating 2,000 jobs, and is eliminating the second shift at the Chicago Ford Assembly Plant this November.

These racist attacks hit black and Latino workers first and hardest. There are more than 20 million unemployed in the U.S., nearly a million in Illinois. The unemployment rate for black workers is twice the national average, and for black youth, ages 18-25, four times higher. With the unfolding Wall Street calamity, foreclosures on the South Side of Chicago have tripled; Detroit is the nation’s highest.

No matter who wins the White House, the racist rulers will continue their assault on the workers because they need trillions more to expand their oil wars and rescue Wall Street. As the rulers face increasing challenges to their empire from other imperialists, the threat of world war grows. A struggle against racist unemployment that unites transit, Cook County and Ford workers with immigrant workers and unemployed youth can be fertile grounds for expanding the revolutionary communist PLP and creating a more mass distribution of CHALLENGE. Fighting racist unemployment and for jobs, guided by communist politics, can open the door to revolution!

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Two Million Strikers Battle Sellouts, French Gov’t

<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>PARIS, Nov. 23 — The class struggle tests the mettle of organizations and individuals. Over the past two weeks, three simultaneous, interconnected battles have offered workers and students in France and around the world an assessment of their friends and foes.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>SPECIAL PENSION PLANS</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>On Nov. 13, 202,000 rail, energy and Paris commuter train workers struck a second time to defend their special pension plans, which allow them to retire at 50 or 55. On Oct. 18, a 24-hour strike by 247,600 couldn’t force the government to abandon plans to increase retirement age by five years.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>This attack on pensions is the first battle in the bosses’ effort to make all workers work longer for smaller pensions. The MEDEF — the French bosses’ association — wants to force everyone to work 41 or more years to be eligible for retirement. By attacking the transport and energy workers, the bosses hope to break the working-class unity needed to defend and extend existing retirement plans.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>The bosses’ media, especially television, accused transport workers of “holding passengers hostage” and regularly said the strike was over. Socialist Party leader Emmanuel Valls attacked the special retirement plans as “unfair.” In October, labor faker François Chérèque, CFDT union head, said that “a long strike doesn’t lead anywhere” and on Nov. 16, the CFDT advocated ending the strike.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Worse yet, hours after the strike began, Bernard Thibault of the CGT union, the leader of the three-week 1995 strike that successfully defended special pension plans, abandoned maintaining the plans intact, offering to “negotiate” their “reform.” Thibault — a top member of the French “Communist” Party — also stooped to red-baiting, warning workers not to allow “political organizations” to hijack their strike. The CFDT and UNSA unions and the Socialist Party immediately supported Thibault’s sellout. Only the SUD union refused to downsize the workers’ pensions.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Negotiations began on Nov. 21 after French President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped ending the strike as a precondition. </p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>The union hacks in France and Germany also did nothing to build international solidarity, although train drivers in Germany were simultaneously striking for higher wages.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Despite these attacks, a minority of transport and energy workers held out for nine days. On Nov. 22, Anissa, a Paris rail ticket agent, said “a gulf is opening up between the CGT and rail workers.” In Marseilles, a striker declared: “We should have blocked traffic! No trains moving. We know how to play cat-and-mouse with the CRS [the national riot police].”</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS </p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>On Nov. 20, 1.7 million public sector workers (out of 5.2 million) struck and 700,000 demonstrated in cities nationwide, demanding higher wages, job creation and better public services. In particular, 454,000 of the country’s 739,000 school teachers struck; 40,000 university and high school students joined them. It was a golden opportunity to unite civil servants, rail and energy workers and students.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>The bosses’ friends made sure that didn’t happen. When the strike was announced on Oct. 23, Chérèque declared that “if there is a combination of strike movements between the special retirement plans, civil servants, and I don’t know what else,” the CFDT would not participate. The UNSA union also insisted that each industrial sector remain separate.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>On Nov. 20, Alain Olive, UNSA union general secretary, condemned rail and energy workers for defending special retirement plans, and thus “cannibalizing” civil servants’ demands. And President Sarkozy red-baited, saying “the majority must prevail over a very small minority, even if that minority is violent” — as if 1.7 million workers were “a small, violent minority.”</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Paris workers refused to let Chérèque demonstrate with them, showing they’ve seen through that faker. But they allowed Thibault, who’s no better, to lead the march.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>The leaders of the public workers’ unions are threatening another 24-hour strike in early December if the government does not announce measures to increase purchasing power by Nov. 30. But the rail and energy workers’ experience shows that only long, earnest strikes have a chance to win some demands.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>STUDENTS AND TEACHERS</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Students have been striking for three weeks against the Pécresse law, which gives private business an even bigger say in running public universities and gives university presidents despotic power. Of 80 universities, 30 have been shut down and another 20 are severely disrupted. The movement has spread to high schools, where 80 have been disrupted or shut down. The CRS riot police have brutally attacked students on many campuses.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>Although teaching loads will increase dramatically under the Pécresse law, university teachers have been slow to support the student movement. The SNESUP-FSU, the main university teachers’ union, and the CGT and SUD-Education unions have finally called for a teachers’ strike on Nov. 27 to demand abrogation of the Pécresse law.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>COMMUNISTS NEEDED</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>The sharpening class struggle in France is exposing the union hacks’ and fakers’ treachery. These class traitors’ reformism puts them even more on the enemy’s side of the class struggle, in this age of fierce inter-imperialist rivalry, based on pushing racism and lowering workers’ standard of living still more to make us pay for their economic crisis and endless wars.</p>
<p align=”justify”>  <font face=”verdana” size=”2″>But, as Chérèque’s and Thibault’s betrayals show, exposure’s not enough. To avoid the pitfalls of discouragement and cynicism, workers need to build a revolutionary communist party. Only such leadership can move past these traitorous union misleaders and turn these class struggles into schools for communist revolution to eliminate the profit system.</p>

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