Against the Current, No. 8, March/
Letter from the Editors
— The Editors
"Hell on Wheels": A Rank-and-File Chronicle
— Steve Downs
- Los Angeles: Stop the Deportations!
Israel & the Palestinians: Empire at Close Range
— Witold Jedlicki
Information Center Closed as Repression Escalates in Israel
— David Finkel
- A Petition for Mordecai Vanunu
Random Shots: Ollie North, Amerika's Hero?
— R.F. Kampfer
The Fall of the House of Reagan
— Bill Resnick
Speculators, Lumpen-Intellectuals, & the End of U.S. Hegemony
— James Petras
Marxism and Utopian Vision
— Michael Löwy
Chicana Literary Motifs
— Alvina E. Quintana
- Feminist Poets Speak Out
Philadelphia, Spring 1985
— Sonia Sanchez; graphic by Allison Burkee
Osage Avenue, Philadelphia, May 13, 1985
— Aneb Kgositsile; graphic by Allison Burkee
— Margaret Randall
Response to Alex Callinicos: Preparing for the Upturn
— David Finkel
The Need for Post-Leninism
— Tim Wohlforth
Comment on Leninism
— Wayne Price
Another Comment on Leninism
— C.J. Arthur
The Production of Desire
— David N. Smith
The Origins of Women's Oppression
— Karen Brodkin Sacks
— Samuel Farber
A DISTINCT LAYER of militant activists is emerging within the labor movement. It is partly composed of individuals whose political roots are from the ’60s and partly of those who have become active more recently, as a result of fights to defend their contracts and jobs or against the U.S. role in Central America and South Africa.
The ideas and activity of radical activists in the labor movement were severely tested by the changes in the economy and labor management relations that have occurred since the early ’70s. By and large they were unable to organize an effective response to the plant closings, layoffs, municipal austerity plans and social service cuts that seem to define the last fifteen years. Not coincidentally, this period also saw the sharp decline of mass social movements and the rise and acceptance of an aggressive political right.
In spite of these changes, today’s union activists have been active in efforts to defend the gains of the ’60s and early ’70s, to oppose concession bargaining, to build democratic unions, to challenge the AFL-CIO s support for U.S. foreign policy and to provide support to workers willing to fight whether they’re in San Salvador, Johannesburg or Austin, Minnesota. Some are also working to make socialism a legitimate political trend within the U.S. labor movement.
What follows is a look at one group of activists in one union who are a part of this broader layer in the labor movement. They are members of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents New York City’s bus and subway workers.
The TWU’s Early Years
Founded in 1934 to organize the largely Irish workforce of New York’s transit system, the TWU grew along with the upsurge in the labor movement in the 1930s. The early leadership was the product of an alliance between the Communist Party and Irish nationalists, many of them veterans of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Mike Quill, president of the TWU for its first thirty years, personified this alliance.
Quill’s fiery oratory, the union’s identification with the left and its ability to mobilize its members for critical demonstrations established Local l00’s reputation as a militant, progressive union. However, in many ways the militancy was more form than substance. For example, a celebrated event in the early history of Local 100 was the occupation, in 1937, of the Kent Avenue powerhouse when a union supporter was fired.
This powerhouse distributed electrical power to the lines of one of the city’s subway companies and if the union had shut it down it would have seriously disrupted subway service in Brooklyn and Manhattan. But the union called off the occupation within twenty-four hours and never cut off the power. It was the threat of disruption, rather than actual disruption that was Quill’s stock-in-trade for most of his career as a union leader.
In the late ’40s and ’50s, after the city had taken over the subway lines, Quill and the TWU relied upon a strategy of alliance with a wing of the Democratic Party in New York City to win gains for the union and its membership. Transit negotiations became a ritual of militant rhetoric by Quill and last-minute agreements at the bargaining table. As a result of its connection with the Democrats the union gained its status as exclusive bargaining agent on the municipally-owned bus and subway lines.
By the early ’60s the limits of this strategy were becoming apparent. There was fairly widespread dissatisfaction in the local over low rates of pay and poor working conditions. Some workers with a craft mentality, including significant numbers of motormen (the workers who drove the trains), began to argue that they would do better bargaining on their own. Black workers were also beginning to organize opposition around questions of discrimination and representation.
Then in 1965 John Lindsay, a Republican, was elected mayor of New York City. This meant that the TWU’s alliance with the Democratic Party would be of little use for at least four years. The result: on January 1, 1966, Local 100 went on strike.
The Strike of 1966
Although there had been strikes against private bus companies before, this was the first time that the TWU had shut down the subways and the first time they had struck against the city. In the course of the strike Quill was jailed for contempt of court, but the strikers could function better without their leader than the city could without its buses and subways.
The strike ended in a major victory for the TWU and gave it a new martyr: Mike Quill died of a heart attack shortly after the strike ended. The strike also cemented Local l00’s reputation for militancy and established it as the pacesetter in contract negotiations for city employees. The strike also provided the impetus for changes in New York’s laws governing strikes by public employees. The law in effect at the time, the Condon-Wadlin Act, provided for dismissal of striking public employees. Mayor Lindsay, Governor Rockefeller and the state legislature realized they could not impose this and were forced to grant amnesty from this law to the TWU and its members. As a result a commission was formed by the governor to draft new legislation which would provide for less severe, and therefore more easily imposed, penalties. The result was the Taylor Law.
New York City’s Fiscal Crisis
A major turning point for New York City’s transit workers was the city’s fiscal crisis in the mid-70s. One of the fruits of the fiscal crisis was the transit strike of 1980. The crisis and the resulting strike to a great extent shaped the situation that transit workers face today.
New York City’s fiscal crisis resulted in the state of New York taking control of the city’s budget that resulted in major cuts in services and the layoff of thousands of workers.
Thus, several years before the UAW made concessions fashionable, NYC municipal unions were granting givebacks in wages, benefits, job classifications and work rules. The crisis lent weight to management arguments for the workers to make sacrifices in the name of productivity. These arguments were accepted by the leaders of the big municipal unions who, believing the rhetoric about “cooperation between business, labor and government” and “equality of sacrifice,” ended up accepting a role as business’ junior partner and co-sponsor of austerity in New York City.
In 1976 and 1978 transit workers were forced to accept a wage freeze in a period of high inflation, the loss of jobs (attained by a hiring freeze and attrition, not layoffs) and a severe erosion in the maintenance of the system involving everything from tracks and structures to buses and subway cars. This made the job more stressful and more hazardous.
The state legislature also used the crisis to make changes in the pension plan for all public employees in New York. The result was that workers hired before mid-1974 can retire at age fifty with twenty years on the job and those hired after mid-1976 must wait until they’re 62 and have thirty years. This division has become an increasingly important one in the life of Local 100.
The Rise and Fall of a Union Opposition
Throughout this period the union was led by John Lawe. A former bus driver, Lawe represents the traditional and shrinking base of the union bureaucracy-Irish, male bus drivers and mechanics in the Bronx and Manhattan. He can probably best be described as a conservative business unionist.
Under his leadership the union had become very ineffectual in its dealings with management and removed from the day-to-day problems of the workers. In the eyes of most of its members, the union existed as little more than a dues-collecting machine. The Lawe leadership was totally unprepared to deal with the challenges that stemmed from the city’s fiscal crisis.
The resentment the workers felt at the cuts, particularly the loss of real wages, produced a strong movement in opposition to the local’s leadership. This movement was fueled by increasingly militant Black workers who felt that they were under-represented in the leadership of the union. In a local that is at least 50% non-white all but three of the top fifteen officers were white.
Three separate committees, each based in a different part of the local, organized the fight against the old leadership. Although differences existed between them, these groups shared several important features. They were all committed to getting Lawe out of office, each was dominated by a few individuals and, most importantly, they all had an electoralist approach to changing the union. By this I mean that they all acted on the assumption that replacing Lawe and his supporters with “good” people would be sufficient to change the character of the union and its relations with management. Thus, they spent their efforts organizing the rank-and-file of the local as voters, not as active members prepared to run the local themselves and fight for their interests against management.
Two glaring weaknesses resulted from this electoralist approach. First, the leaderships of the three committees found it impossible to subordinate their personal ambitions to the need for unity. There will always be a certain number of careerists and opportunists in any union opposition, especially one that looks capable of quickly assuming power. And an opposition movement that is premised on winning office will attract more than its share of office seekers, along with sincere activists.
In Local l00’s elections of 1979, three opposition candidates ran against Lawe because two of them had refused to run on slates with other major figures (the head of one of the committees had offered to run for a lesser post on a joint slate). Thus, in an election where the opposition won a majority of the executive board (23 of 45 seats), the opposition candidates for president split 60% of the vote, allowing Lawe to win with only 40%.
Second, when it came time for them to show that they represented an alternative to the way the union had been run in the past, the opposition was found lacking. That time came during the negotiations for the 1980 contract and the ensuing strike.
The Strike of 1980
Reflecting the sentiment of the rank and file, the executive board majority rejected the Transit Authority’s (TA–the agency that runs the buses and subways) contract offer in the spring of 1980 and called a strike. However, since the opposition had been an electoral opposition, focused overwhelmingly on winning office, they had developed no strategy for winning the strike and their organization was inadequate to the task of mobilizing the local’s members, even if they had developed such a strategy.
The executive board majority did form a “Coalition for a Good Contract,” but it rarely met and never worked out a perspective for how to win such a contract. The leaders of the opposition actually rejected proposals for mass rallies, for aggressive picketing of alternative transportation (private buses, commuter railroads) and for opening negotiations to the membership. They didn’t even pass a motion requiring a vote of the membership to end the strike.
The consequence was that the union leadership under John Lawe was able to send the membership back to work after ten days, before taking a ratification vote and without securing amnesty from the penalties of the Taylor Law. This law forbids strikes by public employees and provides that 1) each striker be fined two days’ pay for every day on strike, 2) the union be fined and 3) dues check-off be suspended. All of these penalties were imposed on Local 100 and its members following the strike of 1980. Because of the Taylor Law fines, the strike is widely viewed by the membership as a defeat, even though the strike gained the workers a much larger wage increase than they would have gotten without one.
In 1981 it seemed that the opposition leaders had learned their lesson from the election of 1979: they united behind a single candidate for local president. But a conservative white leader of the opposition broke ranks and made it a three-way race. John Lawe was returned to office, this time with a majority of the vote.
By 1983, not a single oppositionist held a seat on the executive board, and few held office at lower levels.
Meanwhile, in 1982 the local’s leadership agreed to submit the upcoming contract to binding arbitration, a move that many felt was against the union’s constitution.(1)
n 1983 a new, tougher management came to the Transit Authority. It was headed by Robert Kiley as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA, state authority with responsibility for commuter railroads, bridges and tunnels in the city and New York City’s buses and subways). Kiley had been chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. There he had made a name for himself by crippling the local transit unions. He was also once a Deputy Director of the CIA and a candidate for mayor of Boston. Kiley’s choice for president of the TA was David Gunn. Gunn had worked with Kiley in Boston and then went on to head the Philadelphia transit system (where he was considerably less successful than Kiley had been in confrontations with the unions).
The management team Kiley and Gunn put together was much more aggressive than previous ones had been. They sought to re-establish “management’s right to manage.” They were determined to win work rule changes, productivity increases, the right to assign overtime and greater control over other aspects of scheduling. They succeeded in creating several hundred new supervisory positions outside the Civil Service system, making people in those positions totally dependent on higher management for their jobs.
The union’s response to all this was quite weak. For some time Lawe had been stating that if management would only do its job properly then the workers would do theirs. Kiley and Gunn merely took him up on it.
In 1984 the local officers held a membership referendum to win support for sending the ’85 contract to binding arbitration. It passed overwhelmingly.
“Hell on Wheels”
In the context of the disintegration of the union opposition, new management attacks on the workers, a union leadership which had no strategy for responding to those attacks and a union structure that kept workers separated from one another,(2) the referendum stimulated the idea of launching a newsletter, to begin rebuilding a strong rank-and-file movement.
A newsletter which would express the range of activities and points of view within the opposition, and which would provide a unifying framework for the isolated efforts to fight the TA and reform the union, seemed to be an idea whose time had come.
The first meetings held to discuss setting up the newsletter (later named Hell on Wheels) were quite positive. People from five of the local’s twelve divisions participated. They included activists both from the movement of ’78-’80 and from among those hired since the strike.
However, all was not as it seemed. After the first meeting, some of the pre-1980 activists withdrew their support because they believed the newsletter would be “too political.” Then, just before the first issue came out, those activists close to the Communist Party stopped coming to meetings. Although they never gave a reason, it seems that they left because the newsletter was openly critical of the union’s leadership.
Although a few more people left Hell on Wheels over the next year, others joined and a stable committee was established. During the past two years this committee has not confined itself to producing the newsletter. We have fought against a concessions contract (and had an evident effect on the vote in two divisions), made elected stewards an issue in the local, run candidates for conven tion delegate and organized support for Local P-9 during the Hormel strike.
In addition, a supporter of Hell on Wheels, elected to fill a vacancy, is the sole opposition voice on the local’s executive board. In the course of this work, Hell on Wheels has established itself as a credible source of infor mation and analysis about the actions of both the union and management.
Hell on Wheels has also become something other than what it was originally intended to be. Instead of a news letter that simply links and publicizes the efforts of a broad range of activists throughout the local, it has in creasingly become the voice of one current within the local. Given the low level of rank-and-file activity, despite the existence of several opposition currents in the local, there is no real pressure on activists to find a basis of unity and little possibility of testing differences in practice.
Hell on Wheels has distinguished itself from the rest of the opposition in two main respects. First, we focus on informing and organizing the membership so that they can act effectively on their own behalf against the TA and, when necessary, the officers of the union. We’ve provided the local’s membership with an analysis of the contract, as well as information on safety and health hazards and how to deal with them. We’ve high lighted examples of bureaucratic mentality and undemo cratic practices on the job and in the union and we’ve stressed the need for the rank and file to take action themselves to effect the needed changes.
Secondly, we combine our emphasis on the day-to-day issues of the job with attention to issues that arise outside our workplace. Thus, racist hiring practices and police brutality, solidarity with TWU locals on strike and with Local P-9, the need to build a democratic union and sup port for the South African union federation COSATU have all been raised in the newsletter.
Our approach is based on a different assessment of what it will take to transform the union into a tool for fighting the boss than that held by those interested primarily in running for office or influencing the current officers. We are convinced that individuals elected to local office on the basis of an “Elect me. I’ll do better” campaign will find themselves caught in a squeeze-between the organized and active powers above and the disorganized and passive rank and file below.
From above they will be facing the power of the employers and the hostility of the union hierarchy. As local officers they will also be restricted by such things as no-strike pledges, contractual requirements to arbitrate, cumbersome grievance procedures, lack of release time for stewards, injunctions, and productivity agreements. In addition, they will have to contend with the lure of an easy time of it if they don’t rock the boat.
On the other hand, from below, activists who take office with an electoralist approach will face a rank and file expecting the new officers to do things for them. They will find it difficult, at this point, to spur the rank and file to get organized and provide the officers with the power to stand up to the employers and union higher-ups, precisely because they promised to take care of things for the membership. Workers, as voters, are used to being told that simply electing a few people will make things better. Activists who do not challenge that expectation when running for office will find it doubly difficult to do so once they’re in office.
An organized rank and file, conscious of the need to be involved in the union and to take direct action against the boss, is the basic precondition that creates the possibility for militant officers being able to change the character of relations between the union and the company as well as the boss and the workers. Promoting this rank and file self-organization must be at the center of any election bid. An organized rank and file also provides the means to hold the officers to their commitment-building a democratic and militant local-or to replace them if they fail to do so.
So, a big part of our approach to elections and how to relate to the current union officers is based on the need to combat illusions about what can be accomplished by a few individuals winning office without an organized base.
Some of us in Hell on Wheels further believe that the trade-union officialdom is a distinct social layer of the working class with its own interests. It has developed as a result of its role in the labor management system, its function as a guarantor of labor peace, and the rewards that have come to it as a consequence of that role-not the least of which is escape from the factory floor, office, subway line, etc.
The modern trade-union bureaucracy developed during the long post-World War II economic boom when capitalists were willing to offer real improvements, offering compensation to workers in exchange for a free hand in running production. Since the capitalists were willing to give real improvements in wages and benefits because of continuing high profitability and increasing productivity, it appeared that improvements were the result of the negotiating skills of the union’s officers and lawyers rather than the workers’ potential ability to disrupt production. Many workers began to view their union as one more organization that provided them with a service, namely contract negotiating and representation at disciplinary proceedings, not as the means of collective struggle to change the balance of power between them and their boss.
The bureaucracy accepted and promoted this view and for them the union as an institution became an end in itself. After all, the size of their paychecks and their conditions of work did not depend on the terms of any contract or the relation between workers and supervisors on the shop floor, but on their position within the union hierarchy.
So, for the trade-union bureaucrat it becomes necessary to avoid situations which might threaten the existence of the union as an organization. And the only situations where this is a real possibility are confrontations with the boss and/or the state. This is why we’ve seen unions taking major concessions, layoffs, plant closings, etc. without a fight. The leaders of these unions figure that it is better to lose a quarter of the membership through plant closings than risk the whole union in a fight to keep plants open. The union’s finances may suffer some as a result of reduced dues collection, but the officers’ salaries won’t, they’ll just lay off some of the staff.
The desire to preserve the union is also why the bureaucracy will oppose any sort of militant rank-and-file movement. They fear that even if they are not voted out of office the “foolhardy” rank and file will initiate a confrontation with management and jeopardize the union’s finances and thus it existence. This is why the loss of dues check-off provided for in the Taylor Law has been so effective in restraining the actions of public employee unions in New York.(3)
What follows for us is an understanding about the limits to which most union officials can be “influenced.” A so-called “progressive” official may eagerly endorse a demonstration against U.S. intervention in Central America, but he’ll still avoid a strike over layoffs, if at all possible. And what are the chances of that official would support efforts to organize an anti-intervention strike on the day of the demonstration he endorsed?
Again, it is an organized and conscious rank and file, whose fate is determined by who holds the upper hand on the shop floor and in the industry, not by the solvency of the union, which provides the key to a successful fight against the boss. Trying to influence low-level bureaucrats won’t do it.
Bringing It All Home
The extent of our differences with others in the opposition crystallized in the spring of 1985. At that time, following the death of the president of the international, local president John Lawe moved up to assume that office, and one of the local’s vice-presidents, Sonny Hall, took over as local president.
From the start, Hall displayed a very different style from that of Lawe. Hall realized that the local was in trouble. He saw that the organization was weak and that the balance of power in the bargaining relationship had shifted to a considerable degree in favor of the TA. He assumed a more aggressive stance to try to shift the balance back.
Toward that end, the official rhetoric has changed drastically. Speeches by Hall, and others, have been very militant. There have been thinly-veiled criticisms of Lawe’s leadership and references to the “new philosophy” of the “new leadership.” Hall has also acted to change the public posture of the local. The local endorsed the June 14th, 1986 anti-apartheid demonstration, has joined with other unions to run an ad campaign against TA management and has shown a greater commitment to overcoming health and safety problems.
For the first time in forty years, moreover, the union has publicly opposed a fare hike. Thus, most of the oppositionists in the local have seen Hall as a “reformer” and rallied to him, hoping to influence him in an ever more progressive direction.
Hell on Wheels, on the other hand, concluded that the changes introduced by Hall were more of style than of substance. Hall negotiated a concessions contract and then sold it as if it were a great victory. He ruled that elected stewards are against the local’s bylaws after the divisions representing conductors and train operators passed motions calling for steward’s elections. He has also asked that the local’s divisions not take positions on broader issues, such as P-9, because it “confuses the membership.”
Hall has shown himself to be no friendlier toward militant action by the membership than Lawe was, relying instead on arbitration. None of this is surprising, since most of the “new leadership” behind Hall are the same people who’ve been in office for the past ten years or more.
While it’s true that Hall is, in some respects, a reformer, he’s a bureaucratic one. His approach has been very top down. He favors more appointed stewards and a tighter staff, all under the control of the officers, not the membership.
The Hell on Wheels approach has been to maintain ourselves as an independent voice, supporting Hall’s positive steps, criticizing the negative ones and pointing out the limitations of his overall approach. Meanwhile, we’re continuing our efforts to promote the organization of the rank and file.
Our characteristic combination of work around shop-floor issues with attention to broader political questions is less the result of a decision arrived at after thorough discussion than the coincidence of the interests and inclinations of the individuals working on Hell on Wheels. Whenever one person has suggested an article on police brutality in the community or P-9, for instance, there has almost always been agreement that such an article should be run.
And, within the limits set by our time and resources, on some issues we’ve done more than run an article. For example, Hell on Wheels “adopted” a P-9 family and raised money from our supporters. At present we’re trying to organize a committee to establish direct links between members of Local 100 and the union of South African transport workers in COSATU.
We’ve never had a full discussion of why we’re raising these issues within the framework of our rank-and-file union work. What follows is therefore entirely my own sense of our reasons.
First, and most obvious, the fruits of a “non-political” labor movement are plain to see. With unions generally limiting their concerns to the most immediate economic concerns of their members and without our own political party, workers in the U.S. are politically disarmed. Thus, in a period of economic crisis when there is a very real and immediate divergence between the interests of workers and bosses, workers have no vehicle through which to formulate and express broader, pro-working-class solutions. Politicians and labor leaders speak the language of so-called “national interests,” not class interests, and workers are left to choose between the policies of one or another set of capitalists and their representatives.
Second, the ’60s and early ’70s demonstrated that struggles within unions and on the shop floor do not take place in isolation from broader social struggles. The movements against the Vietnam War and for Black liberation were two important contributors to the rank-and-file upsurge of the ’70s. Since what happens off the job affects the willingness and ability of workers to fight on the job, it makes sense that we try to take advantage of that and bring those issues directly into our union work.
These social movements have made a lasting impression on the U.S. labor movement. It can be seen in the positions unions have taken on issues like comparable worth and in the debate within the AFL-CIO on U.S. foreign policy.
Thousands of workers participated in the rank-and-file upsurge of the early ’70s, much of which was directly influenced by social struggles outside the workplace. These struggles were the high points in efforts by rank-and-file workers to establish democratic, membership-controlled unions, to challenge the boss’s unrestricted authority over the organization of work and to place organized labor squarely on the side of those fighting to end oppression and exploitation.
Some examples from this period are the League of Revolutionary Black Workers centered in Detroit’s auto plants, the miners’ rebellion, the national wildcat strike by Teamsters and the postal strike in 1970, and the Lordstown and Norwood autoworkers strikes of 1972. As a result of this activity many workers have had a taste of the potential of a militant and organized working class.
For those of us who are socialists, then, a third reason for raising political questions is convincing workers that issues ranging from police brutality and racism to nuclear power, aid to the contras and abortion rights are working-class issues is a necessary part in the development of a consciously socialist wing of the labor movement.
What Have We Accomplished?
Hell on Wheels hasn’t swept the local or division officers from office, but that hasn’t been our short-term objective, either. We had an effect on the outcome of the contract ratification vote in two divisions last fall and when we have run for office (convention delegate or executive board) we’ve done well.
We’re aware, however, that at this stage in the development of a rank-and-file movement most people who voted for us did so not because they support our particular approach or ideas, but as a protest against the bureaucracy. That is, they probably would have voted for any credible opposition.
What we’ve clearly been successful in doing, primarily through the newsletter, is to challenge the monopoly of information that the local officers have tried to maintain, to present an alternative interpretation to the actions of the TA and the union and to suggest an alternative strategy, one based on the activity of an informed, organized and militant membership, for resolving the problems we face. And our coworkers clearly support this. People read it, circulate it and donate money to keep it going. Ideas we raise frequently become the common sense of the crewrooms.
However, events of the last decade have taken their toll. The defeat of the 1980 strike, the effects of the Taylor Law fines, the collapse of the opposition in Local 100, Reagan’s crushing of PATCO, high unemployment, concessions and the decline of the mass social movements (to name only a few factors) have all contributed to increasing people’s skepticism that collective struggle to improve their condition can be successful.
Thus, the local level of resistance on the job has made it difficult for us to show what our ideas mean in practice. That, combined with the deep skepticism, has made it difficult for us to translate the general support we have into an active commitment to the fight to make the TWU a militant and democratic union.
But these things also change. The experience of collective struggle itself leads people to recognize that it is possible to work with others to change the conditions one faces in one’s relations with management, the police, the landlord, etc. Struggles over health and safety, bathroom facilities, overtime, in support of other workers on strike or fighting for liberation all contribute to the changes in consciousness and political climate that make mass collective action a possibility.
Those of us who work on Hell on Wheels fully intend, in our small way, to be one of the factors in that process.
While this article obviously could not have been written without the existence of Hell on Wheels and the efforts of those who have worked on it over the past few years, the author bears sole responsibility for the ideas and analysis expressed here.
- For more on the 1980 strike see “The New York Transit Strike of 1980” by Steven Burghardt, ATC #1 old series.
back to text
- Local 100 is organized in such a way that divisions created by the nature of our jobs are reinforced, rather than overcome. The local never holds local-wide membership meetings. Instead, its 35,000 members are organized into 12 separate divisions which meet monthly. However, conductors and train operators, the workers who make up the train crews, meet in separate divisions. Bus drivers are in three separate divisions, which never meet together. Stewards are appointed by the divisional vice-presidents and there is no stewards’ council at either the division or local level. So, there is no way for the problems and experiences of the workers at the hundreds of worksites to be brought together. There’s no way for the membership at large to play a role in formulating the local’s policies nor any way, within the structure of the union, for activists in different divisions to work together.
back to text
- For a fuller analysis of the character and role of the trade-union bureaucracy see “A New Social Democracy?” by Robert Brenner ATC #1 old series.
back to text
March-April 1987, ATC 8