Jan 2, 2006
Five days before Christmas, transit workers in New York City went out on strike. Everyone, from the mayor to the governor to the president to every bourgeois newspaper in the country screamed, “Extortion!” The transit workers were supposedly holding the city hostage – and right during the busiest shopping week of the year, at that. Some even talked about “terrorism.”
“Extortion”? Let’s talk about extortion. Five days BEFORE the strike, the courts had already jumped into action, threatening to fine the union one million dollars a day for every day on strike, threatening to cost the workers two days pay for every day they stayed off the job.
The courts, rushing to the defense of a city transit authority, were holding the union treasury hostage – along with the workers’ livelihood.
What was the city’s Transit Authority engaged in, if not extortion, when it demanded that workers agree to increase the age for pensions, increase the amount workers would contribute toward their pensions, increase payments for medical care – under the threat of such outrageous fines? And to show their utter shamelessness, they demanded these things in a period when the Transit Authority was running a big surplus!
No, don’t come talking to the working class about extortion and terrorism – this is what every boss in the country has been engaging in.
This year, they have a very specific goal in mind – their aim is to get rid of pensions for workers who still have them, to dump medical coverage for those retirees who still have it, and to put the price for active workers’ medical coverage beyond their means.
Do we doubt it? Look at what the city of New York demanded from its transit workers. Look at GM, Ford and Chrysler. Look at all those companies that have already declared bankruptcy, depriving retirees of all medical care, and cutting their pensions to the severely reduced amounts that the government-funded insurance will cover. Bethlehem Steel, Weirton, LTV, National Steel and 40 some other steel companies, as well as United and four other airlines used bankruptcy to dump pensions and medical coverage. Delphi is now poised to do the same thing. Retired construction workers in Southeastern Michigan woke up January 1, knowing they had just lost all their medical coverage.
The NYC transit workers were correct to strike. Someone has to stand up to these demands. The only things they did wrong was to wait too long – this was their first strike in 25 years – to go back too soon, before all their demands were met, and to think they could solve the problem all by themselves.
There was no need for them to face the courts alone. Every worker’s pension is targeted for extinction today – at least, every worker who still has a pension. Every worker stands to lose more medical coverage, if not all of it.
Newspapers around the country have been counseling every worker that we should no longer expect to have such a free ride.
Free ride? Retirees worked for those pensions, putting in 30 years and more, wrecking their bodies, numbing their minds. And those of us still working have already contributed so much profit to the bosses’ bank accounts, it could pay for us and our families the rest of our lives.
Don’t tell us we’re not owed.
But being owed and getting paid are two different things.
If we want our pensions we’ll have to fight for them. All of us, with the retirees playing a special role in this fight. Maybe the courts can use injunctions to back down transit workers in one city. But all the workers and all the retirees in all the cities of this country? Let the courts try it. Let the government pretend it can go on without us. Let the bosses bluster as much as they can.
We have forces – much more than the bosses and their puny judges have. And it’s time we began to use our forces. All of us. End of story.