With contract negotiations between the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) at an impasse, millions of New Yorker’s face the prospect of a total shutdown of public transportation in New York City. Such a possibility has been couched in various terms. Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg views the impending strike as an assault on business interests during prime shopping season. MTA officials see the strike as a violation of the anti-union Taylor Law. Finally, TWU President Roger Toussaint presents a picture of union members with their backs against the negotiating wall. So, what’s in it for the riders? How should the riding public view such a tumultuous action?Right wing politicians such as Bloomberg have used media outlets throughout the city to encourage riders to view a strike as an assault on their everyday lives. The level of the hyperbole will soon reach the point where the striking transit worker is presented as the not so distant cousin of all manner of anti-social forces ranging from terrorists to criminals. In reality, the impending collective action by 38,000 transit workers offers several benefits to ridersTo start, we should be very clear about the relative positions of the two combatants. The Board of the MTA is clearly in the position of the aggressor. By presenting a highly regressive contract proposal – which includes flat or negative wage increases, cost-shifting from employer to worker on healthcare and an increase in the minimum age to receive a full pension share – the MTA is attempting to extract significant givebacks from the union. Any job action by the TWU is a defensive measure aimed at utilizing the social power of transport workers to stave off some parts of the previously mentioned assault.This is precisely the point at which the interests of the transport workers and the riding public meet. For the past twenty-five years (not coincidentally following the collapse of the last transit strike) the MTA has been carrying out a relatively steady campaign of fare-increases. While the fare is upped, the governments of NY State and NY City have reduced their contribution to the transit system by up to 20%. Piece by piece, public transportation is being privatized with the operation of the system looking more like a for-profit corporation than a public utility dedicated to serving a social need.Unlike transit workers, riders seemingly cannot exercise their own social power to resist this cost shifting. Using the public transportation system is a fact of life in New York City – there is no viable alternative. Further, since the MTA board is approved, riders cannot even exercise their democratic right to vote by removing officials who mismanage the system or to stem the tide of privatization. So, both riders (fare increases) and transport workers (regressive wage offers) are being squeezed by a MTA budget crisis being manufactured by right-wing strategy of privatization.A further benefit of the impending strike is that local or internal arguments between the MTA and the TWU are suddenly injected into public discourse. Of significant note are the MTA’s plans to employ regressive automation strategies. Instead of implementing technology to advance human society, the MTA board has engaged in a reckless pursuit of lower labor costs through the use of new technology. Two examples stand out. The MTA has recently implemented and proposed implementing the operation of two train lines, the L and the G, without conductors. Here again we see the union’s desire to defend its membership and the riders desire for safety coalescing around a primary issue of the strike.To continue with regressive automation, the MTA has utilized the automated sale of Metrocards as a wedge to fire token booth clerks. Of course, these very clerks serve a vital social role for riders as the eyes and ears of each station. They provide directions, advice and often times they serve as conduit for passengers to reach vital social services such the fire and police departments. While a Metrocard can save a rider an extra minute or two o their trip, they provide little in the way of the human function of the token booth. Here again the corporate cost-cutting mentality of the MTA allows riders and workers to recognize their need for solidarity.Last but not least, the specific wage and benefit issues at stake in this round of negotiations cut to the heart of wage work in New York City. The MTA maintains that its offer of 3% per year is a generous one which stretches the authority’s budget to the limit. However, simple arithmetic tells us that after inflation (using a conservative estimate of 2.5% annually) the worker is left with a .5% wage increase. Further, the MTA is also demanding that workers pay 1% of their annual salary to fund their healthcare plan. This then transforms a .5% wage increase into a net loss of .5% in real wages!The attack on healthcare which includes not only cost-shifting but the restructuring and reduction in benefits is part of a nation-wide effort by employers to eliminate their obligation provide healthcare benefits. The effectiveness of this campaign can be measured nationally by the 48 million people who have no health care coverage. Many thousands of these 48 million ride the New York City buses and subways daily. Helping unionized workers defend their right to healthcare can be a first step to building a broader campaign which demands healthcare for all Americans through a single-payer (the state) funded plan.So, it seems that NYC’s 38,000 transit workers are preparing to deliver an early Christmas gift to millions of New Yorker’s – a chance, after years of abuse and mismanagement, to lash out against the MTA. Perhaps even more alluring is the way in which the strike will allow people to escape from humdrum everyday realities of surviving in the late capitalist world. And a strike of this magnitude will most certainly place human labor in the place that it belongs namely, at the very core of society.New Yorker’s are just too savvy to be duped by right-wing rhetoric into defend the very agency that has been screwing them for years. A successful strike will demonstrate not only the power of working people but will serve to shake up the MTA and place a wedge in future regressive cutbacks. If you support this strike action you should head directly to the local transport depot, terminal or station and join in picket, shout a few chants and provide solidarity to these brave workers struggling for our collective future. While you are there you just may come to the conclusion that working people deserve more – more wages and benefits, more solidarity and more say in how this society is run. Here is to hoping so! Support the Striking TWU Workers!