Lessons of the Transit Strike

January 17, 2006

by Bill Foster

2005 ended with the victorious strike of the New York City transit workers.

Before and during the strike, the monopoly-controlled media tried to slander and isolate the transit workers. Repeating the standard refrain that the government "had no money," the media and government insisted the workers had no choice but to accept wage and pension cuts. The workers were branded as "greedy" and "selfish" and denounced for "holding the public to ransom."

The government tried to intimidate and suppress the workers. Mayor Bloomberg called them "thugs" and demanded "no negotiations." Government officials called for firing all the strikers. The court issued an injunction, fining the union and each individual worker for exercising the inalienable right to withhold his/her labor-power.

Just what were the transit workers demanding that enraged the capitalist media and government so much? They were fighting against cutbacks, especially against the attempt of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to drastically cut their pensions - to deprive workers of the right to a secure retirement, a right which they earn through a lifetime of labor.

How many times have workers heard the capitalists and government crying "poverty?" How many times has this blackmail been used to demand wage and benefit cuts? The transit workers showed that by not giving way to this blackmail, the workers can force the capitalists to "find" the money they allegedly don't have. The duty of the workers is not to insure profits for the capitalists or to help the government's budget-cutting: their duty is to defend their basic economic rights, to fight for their wages and benefits.

The media and government were unable to turn public opinion against the transit workers. On the contrary, the strike roused the spirit of workers all across the country. Workers everywhere were filled with pride at the courage and strength of the transit strike. And workers know that, not only in New York but across the country, the capitalists and government are aiming to slash pensions. Workers felt that their pensions too were, at least partly, on the line in the transit strike.

This strike again proved that when workers refuse to give in to the threats and blackmail, when they stand and fight, they can win. They can win because the workers are the class whose labor makes the society run; they can win because they are part of and enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the people. Daring to struggle is more than half the battle.

Yet the greatest inspiration of the transit strike is that the workers fought not simply for their immediate interests but for the general interests of all the working people. Days before the strike, the government gave up its "non-negotiable" demand to slash pensions. The government agreed to guarantee the pensions of all current transit workers but still insisted on cutting pensions for future workers. But the transit workers, despite the intense pressure on all sides, stood their ground, insisting they would not sell out the future of the working class. This is the true union spirit, the spirit of the workers - "All for One and One for All."

The lessons of the New York transit strike must be kept in mind, especially because the capitalists and their government are going to continue their attacks. In particular, government officials across the country are declaring that the "issue of public pensions is now on the table" and that they are going to keep trying to slash and eliminate pensions.

The transit workers have given us an example of how to fight. Let all the workers prepare for the coming battles to defend their pensions, health care and wages. Let us follow the spirit of "All for One, One for All!"