The First Great Battle of the 21st Century

This is no ordinary contract struggle. The harshness of the MTA and politicians’ current attacks on our wages, pensions and healthcare, and now on our union, make that clear. They are attacking us so viciously because the ruling class has chosen this contract struggle as the new front-line in their class war against unions in particular, and the working class and poor in general.

The bosses and politicians are demanding that the next generation work harder for less and for years longer and pay more for the “benefits” of pensions and healthcare. Their message is clear: there will be no “American Dream” – future generations will have to work harder and longer for less and less, to keep up the bosses’ profits.

Of course the “American Dream” has been a lie for most workers, and in this racist country it has been particularly so for most Blacks, Latinos and immigrants. Indeed the racist and anti-working class drives of the system are key to why Local 100 is being singled out for such attacks.

American capitalism was first built on slavery, and racism has been the key to its rule ever since. By dividing the working class with racism, the capitalists are able to divide the working class in order to more easily rule it. By oppressing Blacks, Latinos and immigrants, the capitalists are able to create a pool of super-exploitable labor. And
through competition, they are able to thus lower the wages, working and living conditions of all workers.

Today, the capitalist economic system is slipping deeper into crisis around the world, and profits overall are falling. This is forcing the American ruling class of capitalists to try to maintain their profits and world dominance by increasingly aggressive war-mongering and exploitation abroad, and intensified anti-working class attacks at home.

Domestically, this has meant attacks on unions because no matter how badly they are led by corrupt bureaucrats, the unions are still the working class’s mass organizations for defense against the bosses. And it means increasing racist attacks on people of color. These attacks have aimed at reversing the gains the working class in general, and people of color in particular, won in the last great wave of class struggles in the 1960s and ’70s. Since Black workers in particular won entry into central industries and public sector jobs through those struggles, they have been a focus of the attacks. Thus of all the union jobs lost last year alone, fully 56% (168,000) were held by Black workers.

So it is no surprise that Local 100 is under attack. New York transit has been a rare source of better-paying union jobs for Blacks and immigrants in this city. And as a union whose majority of members are people of color, it is not only the most powerful interracial working class organization in the city, it is also the most powerful organization representing Blacks, Latinos and immigrants. When we look at white Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg, white millionaire Pataki, white millionaire Kalikow, and mostly white Wall Street lined up against us, the reason why they hate Local 100 should be clear. For the ruling class, an interracial organization of workers with the power to shut down the headquarters of world capitalism is intolerable. Defeating Local 100 has now become its top priority.

The racist, anti-worker capitalists who rule this country have not united against a single group of workers like this since the strike by the air traffic controllers’ union PATCO in 1981. Then newly-elected President Reagan succeeded in busting the union with an all-out attack.

PATCO was a comparatively easy target considering it organized a relatively small number of mostly white professionals. But the precedent it set opened up a period of decades of retreats and defeats for the working class. Crucial to this was the role of the pro-capitalist leaders of the unions in channeling workers’ anger away from strike action and into the dead-end of Democratic Party electoralism, and strangling every attempt at a fightback. How far the capitalists’ one-sided class war has come can be seen in the fact that it is now attacking such a powerful, interracial union.

In this spirit, a Daily News columnist hoped that Local 100 would be defeated like all the other unions were since PATCO. He spoke for the entire ruling class when he called this “the last great battle of the twentieth century.”

But Local 100 has the power to turn back those decades of defeat. We can win this battle, and inspire a new wave of struggles by the workers, poor and oppressed across the country. The capitalists’ offensive against us comes at a bad time for them when both capitalist political parties, but particularly the Republicans, stand exposed. The bloody imperialist occupation of Iraq is unpopular, and the racist, anti-working class atrocity of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans have popular opinion shifting toward the working class. The conditions have been ripe for an explosion of working class struggle, and Local 100 has the power to take the lead.

RTW and its supporting organization, the League for the Revolutionary Party, are ready to join with every militant worker today who wants to unite around a program of action to win this strike. But in the course of rising struggles more and more workers will come to see that our class has the power to not just beat back the attacks but to overthrow the capitalist system. Our class has the potential to do away with capitalism’s exploitation, oppression and wars and build a classless society of abundance and freedom: a socialist society.

In the course of the current struggle RTW and its supporting organization, the League for the Revolutionary Party, hope to get in touch with other transit workers who are thinking along these lines. Together we can play a decisive role in the contract fight. And by joining together to build a revolutionary socialist party we can prepare
to lead even greater struggles in the future.