The transit workers strike was a monumental victory. Abandoned by their international, with the staggering weight of the political establishment, the judiciary, the corporate press and much of the public against them, the TWU faced down threats of jail and massive fines, plus warnings the union would be busted, and won.
After the strike ended on Dec. 22, the scuttlebutt was that TWU President Roger Toussaint had sold out the workers. But when Toussaint announced a deal on Dec. 27, many gasped in surprise that not only had the union beaten back the MTA’s demand to raise the retirement age from 55 to 62, the TWU also got as much as $200 million in pension overpayments returned to workers.
While many New Yorkers backed the TWU’s fight for decent pay and dignity, others have been so beaten down that they resented the fact that working people could make a living wage with job security and a pension to boot.
The transit workers showed the power of solidarity. They called the cynical bluff of a billionaire mayor, a corrupt governor and their appointees at the MTA. In a dramatic turnaround, it’s the ruling elite that is now divided, arguing over the contract’s details and whether it should be approved.
In an era when the media tell us the only class left is the investing class, the TWU showed that workers not only have some fight, they have a collective power that can take capital on – even if only for a moment – and win.
Interestingly, many leftists have been unable to recognize it as a victory. Some have been sniping about the TWU agreeing to have workers contribute 1.5 percent of their wages toward health care. Others seem disappointed that the walkout lasted barely 60 hours, having taken glee in seeing the city shut down.
The nyc.indymedia.org website offers a telling case study. Leading up to the strike and during it there were around 100 articles and comments posted to the website about all aspects of the strike. When the TWU went back to work without a contract, one poster to the website called Toussaint a sellout. Yet once the terms of the deal were announced, there was virtual silence.
Perhaps because the left has suffered so many defeats during the last 30 years, many have a hard time realizing that victories are still possible. At the same time, it’s an overstatement to label the strike a historical turning point; it’s another skirmish between capital and labor. But this is an undeniable victory that should be savored.