Nov 3, 2003
Two weeks into the Los Angeles public transit strike, the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), announced it had reached an impasse and broke off negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union that represents the strikers. The MTA went over the heads of union officials, saying it wanted the workers to vote on its last contract offer – even though it still included the same takeaways as previous offers, first of all, an enormous $200 per month increase in what the mechanics would have to pay for health benefits, with the chance that this would increase in years to come.
In fact, behind this proposal is the implied threat that the MTA will impose this last final contract offer.
To this outright attack by the MTA, union leaders merely back pedaled, declaring they were ready to end the strike immediately and send workers back to their jobs, while the contract went to binding arbitration. But the MTA was not appeased by this offer to end the strike. Instead, the MTA reinforced its ultimatum: either agree to all of the MTA's terms, or else.
Unfortunately, this arrogance by the MTA has been encouraged by the stance union officials have taken from the beginning of the strike. They organized no actions to show the workers' willingness to resist the MTA. Picket lines have been little more than a formality. Union leaders have communicated almost nothing to the workers, leaving the workers open to the propaganda from the MTA managers, as well as the usual anti-union mass media. In other words, the strike has been almost invisible – except to the 400,000 mainly poor people who depend on the trains and buses.
If the strike continues this way, the MTA will have little reason to back away from any of its main demands.
If this were an active strike, the transit workers would have plenty of cards to play. They could try to gain links with people who depend on mass transit, organizing van pools and car pools, calling on workers in other unions to help out. Why not? During the last L.A. transit strike three years ago, ordinary people themselves began to do this very thing. If unorganized individuals did this on their own, the strikers, with many more resources at their disposal, could do it too.
The transit workers could try to link up their strike with all those facing similar attacks, starting with the striking supermarket workers, as well as the 30,000 Los Angeles county workers whose health benefits are also being threatened by the very same public officials behind the MTA.
In fact, the transit workers are positioned to link their struggle both with the mass of working poor and with unionized workers under attack. And linking struggles, bringing more forces together, is what gives possibilities to the workers.