Strike Lessons

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 called for a strike to begin Wednesday January 16th at 6am. The strike includes almost 9,000 yellow school bus drivers and matrons, and will affect upwards of 150,000 students who regularly use the buses to get to school.

The strike hinges on the Employee Protection Provision, where any new contract for bus routes must guarantee continued job security for its experienced, skilled workforce. The EPP was one of the victories of ATU’s last strike, lasting over three months in 1979.

During the 1979 strike, special needs children were picked up by Correction Officers in buses meant for inmate transportation to Rikers Island. How quickly our city schools and prisons become interchangeable. This time around, instead of New York’s Boldest behind the wheels, the Department of Education is planning to provide students with MetroCards, and to reimburse cab fare and mileage. Though perhaps the Boldest are just too busy now, as the 2013 population of Rikers is 14,000, making it the world’s largest penal colony, more than double its 1979 numbers of around 6,000.

Much of the debate around the strike has been around the education and safety of the students. But what better education for our city’s children than a strike—a group of workers, adults, parents, standing up for themselves, challenging repressive authority, confronting the government and the logic of capital, acting now for the future.

The conflict is not between parents and unions, but rather a city government in defense of capital versus a union contract defending labor; the conflict is between a city government and all those it wishes to govern; the conflict is between capital and the class.

Capitalism is in crisis, and the response worldwide has been waves of austerity. City, state, and federal budgets are slashed, largely with cuts to public services, and attacks on the working class. Larry Hanley, the national president of the 190,000-member ATU, compared Mayor Bloomberg to Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker. Both have been at the forefront of campaigns trying to eliminate job standards, wages, health care, and retirement benefits for workers in public services.

New York City’s apparent budget crisis is only a small part of a larger global financial crisis. These gestures by our billionaire Mayor of “cutting costs” are simply a move towards towards disciplining and weakening the workforce in preparation for the cuts to come.

The MTA’s last contract with 38,000 TWU workers expired January 15th, 2012. New York’s contract with District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with 121,000 members, expired in March of 2010. The city’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers, representing 75,000, expired in October 2009.

The International Longeshoremen’s Association has been threatening an East Coast port strike of its 14,500 members since September. Last July Consolidated Edison locked out 8,500 members of the Utility Workers of America. In August 2011, 45,000 members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers went on strike against Verizon.

The lesson of this strike—of all of these disputes, lockouts, threats—is to become a class against capital, against its race to the bottom, against its governors, mayors, and billionaires trying to convince us that austerity, tightening our belts, is the only path toward recovery from this crisis. The class against the logic of capital is to become, in the end, a class against the recovery of capitalism, a class against classes.

A “Picketing Do’s and Dont’s” leaflet distributed by Local 1181 emphasized peacefulness and safety, and condemned (at least officially) blockades, confrontation, provocations, threats, and property destruction. It doesn’t take much to realize we are at war. We will have to decide which tactics will contribute to our winning it.

There has been an increased police presence for days around many of the bus depot sites. The allegiance of Bloomberg’s private army should never be in question: they are class enemies, they will do all they can to facilitate scab labor, to facilitate a business-as-usual which benefits the few, punishing the many.

And let’s not forget, kids hate school, they probably hate many of their teachers, they probably even hate many of their classmates. Why not talk of a student strike by all ages—children, adolescents, young adults—in solidarity with the bus drivers, in solidarity with their special needs classmates, in solidarity simply with staying home, playing with their friends, listening to music, going on the internet, doing whatever they want. The right to be lazy and recover from the stress and madness of this sick society, is a fundamental one.

When students have recovered their energy, they can dedicate themselves to dismantling their school-prisons and determining their lives for themselves. In Chile, students have been occupying classrooms and running activities there on their own account, with the help of parents and teachers who understand the importance of youth control and self-determination. Connected with marches, demonstrations, riots, celebrations of their power in the neighborhoods, occupations of radio stations and political headquarters, etc., Chilean youth have been utterly transforming their society. Similarly, youth in the Canadian province of Quebec demonstrated their power in 2012 by striking from school, stopping the trains that shuttle workers to their places of exploitation, and taking over the streets. From this point of view, New York City has proven itself somewhat backwards when it comes to its somnolent student struggles. May the bus driver strike provide the spark that ignites the world of compulsory study and discipline, leading to its total re-making from the bottom up!

17 January 2013

Here’s an updated list of picket locations, to be staffed 24/7 (peak support times are 6am-4pm):

Atlantic Express Co. – Ridgewood, 46-81 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood, NY 11385: Subway – L (Jefferson St & Wyckoff Ave)
Atlantic Express Co. – Jamaica, 107-10 180th Street, Jamaica, NY 11433: Bus – Q42 (177th St & 106th Ave)

Boro Transit, 50 Snediker Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11207: Subway – L (Atlantic Ave)
Reliant Transportation – Greenpoint, 297 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222: Bus – B48 (Hausman St & Norman Ave)

Lonero Transit, 2350 Hermany Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462: Subway – 6 (Castle Hill Ave)
(Office entrance on Hermany Ave., bus yard around corner on Zerega Ave.)

Pioneer Transportation – Staten Island, 2890 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island, NY 10309: Bus – S84/S74 (Arthur Kill Rd)