The Dirty Truth Behind New York’s Transit Crisis

By staff - League for the Revolutionary Party, January 14, 2018

Editor's Note: The IWW does not advocate organizing through political parties, and instead proposes organizing a revolutionary union of the working class. That said, the criticisms made in this article are sound and the overall demands entirely reasonable.

This is an edited version of a Revolutionary Transit Worker pamphlet distributed at transit workers’ meetings and at protests against the MTA in Fall 2017.

Underfunded and deep in debt, New York City’s subway system is falling apart. Derailments, fires, electrical failures and equipment malfunctions have become everyday events, multiplying the perennial problems of overcrowding, delays and cancellations. On-time performance has dropped precipitously, from 84% in 2012 to 63% in April 2017; monthly delays are up to 70,000 from 28,000 in 2012.[1] The purpose of the subway system ought to be to get workers to work rapidly and enable people to get around the city cheaply. But its six million daily riders cannot be confident of getting to work on schedule or to get anywhere reliably.

While the entire riding public suffers from the long-lasting and deepening crisis, the worst effects fall disproportionately on the working class and especially poor people of color. Their subway stations are the least maintained, and many workers in the “outer boroughs” have to take slow-moving buses to even get to the subways. Frequent fare hikes hit hardest those who can least afford them, forcing more and more people to jump the turnstiles and risk arrest. And under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Broken Windows” policy, which directs police to crack down on minor violations in poor neighborhoods, the cops seize tens of thousands of mostly young people of color every year for fare evasion.[2]

The effects of the transit crisis on the riding public are obvious and intolerable, but the system’s workforce is also under severe stress. Management has been increasing pressure on workers to maximize effort, while allowing decades of understaffing as well as often dirty and unsafe working conditions. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has only recently started necessary large-scale hiring, with plans to bring on 2700 new Maintenance of Way and Car Equipment workers. But there is no plan to alleviate the burden on train operators and conductors, bus drivers, station agents and cleaners, whose numbers are far too low for the system to operate in anything close to a humane way. And all transit workers face forced overtime as well as demands to sacrifice working conditions, wages and benefits.

The spike in subway delays, derailments, and fires gave rise to the tabloid label “Summer of Hell” in 2017, the culmination of a long-term failure to modernize the system. Governor Andrew Cuomo responded by declaring the subways to be in a “state of emergency.” At the same time, Cuomo and de Blasio both denied responsibility, each claiming that the other was in charge. The truth is that the MTA is a nominally independent agency of New York State, set up to insulate politicians from being held accountable by voters for the system’s failures. In its present form, however, the governor and his upstate allies control a majority of the votes on the MTA board (the mayor controls a few). So the buck ultimately stops with Cuomo.[3]

And Cuomo is no friend of the subways. When public outrage at delays and overcrowding spiked last summer, Cuomo grandstanded that “New York is going to put its money where its mouth is” and trumpeted a $1 billion cash infusion for the MTA. But that pledge was a flat-out lie, since he was really cutting funding for subways by more than a billion dollars! He had already cut $65 million from the MTA’s budget by reducing the state’s annual reimbursement for the $320 million in annual funding it had lost in 2011 when Cuomo granted new tax exemptions to a range of business enterprises. And after his pledge, Cuomo had the MTA cut $1.2 billion from its subways budget, funds that had been earmarked for improving the signaling and communications systems.

That money was redirected toward favored projects that serve his capitalist backers – like the ill-conceived AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport that would head away from the central business district and be no faster than the current bus-to-subway connection, in order to benefit corporate developments around Willetts Point in Queens. Cuomo also took a profusion of self-promoting bows when the Second Avenue line opened in January 2017. This line runs only to Manhattan’s higher-income Upper East Side, with fancy stations built to make ample profits for developers. It does not go to the Lower East Side, East Harlem and the central Bronx, working-class neighborhoods served by the elevated lines that the new line was originally designed to replace. Indeed, since the 1950s there have been no new lines and few extensions in the outer boroughs where 80 percent of the city’s population, including most workers, live.

Further, in 2016 Cuomo had declared that the state would fulfill its budgetary commitments to the MTA’s capital plan only once all other possible sources of funding had been exhausted. Then he got the state to dramatically raise the MTA’s debt-ceiling by $55 billion, to an astronomical total of $123 billion, so that it could issue more bonds to Wall Street profiteers. Of course, demanding other possible sources of funding sets the stage for more service cuts, attacks on transit workers’ wages and working conditions as well as more fare hikes every couple of years.[4]

It’s not just Cuomo. The Flushing line extension, built under the city’s previous mayor, billionaire Republican Michael Bloomberg, was designed to service property development near the Hudson River waterfront. De Blasio likewise has joined the real estate party and is pushing projects which will encourage new luxury housing and shops, including a streetcar line, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), along the East River waterfront. This project will encourage new luxury housing and shops; it threatens the homes of hundreds of thousands of mostly Black, Latino and Asian working class people, who are protesting the gentrification project vociferously. There is a crying need for Brooklyn-Queens crosstown lines, but workers are right to oppose the BQX that is planned at their expense.

Cuomo, de Blasio and a succession of prior governors and mayors have presided over the underfunding and decay of the transit system in order to satisfy the profit demands of the capitalists they serve. Real estate tycoons have demanded that funding for the system’s maintenance and development be deprioritized in favor of projects and lines that will enhance the profitability of their investments. And Wall Street bankers insist that the system be increasingly financed by bond issues that guarantee them regular returns, rather than through progressive taxes that they would have to pay. Debt and interest payments to Wall Street now account for almost 20% of the MTA’s budget. Thus, despite capitalism’s financial crises and long-term stagnation (see below), New York’s public transit system has become a source of steady profits for capitalist parasites.

The Earth and us: ways of seeing

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, February 13, 2018

Review of: Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: the Earth, history and us (London: Verso, 2017)

Think again, and differently, about the relationship between human society and the natural world. That is the challenge offered by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz.

They question accepted ideas about “environmental crisis” and “sustainable development”, and urge us to subvert the “unifying grand narrative of the errant human species and its redemption by science alone”.

But this is not an iconoclastic rant. It is a scholarly discussion of the science behind the Anthropocene concept, and its implications for history, for the study of society, and for our ideas about the world in the broadest sense.

A central theme is the reflection of the terrifying accumulation of damage to the natural world by human activity over the past two centuries in the history of ideas. The dominant trends, to divide natural history from human history and to push the natural world out of economics, have been resisted.

The fact of the Anthropocene, Bonneuil and Fressoz argue, requires a new synthesis of forms of knowledge. They avoid offering any simplistic, pat “solution” to the disastrous rift between human society and the natural world. Instead, they point to new ways of looking at it that, collectively, may help us to change it.

This review summarises the authors’ explanation of the Anthropocene concept; considers their points about the history of ideas; comments on the sketches they have drawn for studying Anthropocene history; and asks what socialists, specifically, might take from this book.

Aviation expansion: the global cost of the carbon jet set

By staff - Reel News, February 9, 2018

Film Length: 21:46 A new global network has been launched to combat and coordinate action against the frightening expansion plans of the aviation industry. The plans are driven by the super rich flying increasingly frequently to their tax havens – and if they go ahead there is no chance of stopping runaway climate change. Fortunately there is growing resistance everywhere from a coalition of local residents, environmentalists and trade unionists, determined to stop the plans while protecting the futures of the workers who work in the industry – from hunger strikes in South Korea to the stunning victory in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, Nantes.

NUMSA condemns Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 12, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns the management of Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions. On Friday our members picketed outside Eskom’s Customer Network Centre (CNC) to hand over a memorandum of demands. One of the key demands is the immediate re-instatement of a female senior store worker to the Eskom Centre. The store worker is anemic and contracted aluminum poisoning whilst working at Eskom’s (CNC). Her doctors have advised that she should not be working at the CNC because the aluminum is making her sick. As a result she was temporarily placed at the Eskom Centre and her condition improved. But the management team have ignored this advice from her doctor. They have refused to pay her salary for January and are victimizing her through a disciplinary process. They insist she must return to the CNC or she will be dismissed.

We condemn this blatant disregard for a workers health and safety. We must remind Eskom that last year another one of their employees, Thembisile Yende was killed at the workplace. She too had been exposed to an unsafe working environment. When she complained to her seniors at the plant about her conditions, they ignored her. She was strangled to death and her body was found locked in her office at the Substation where she worked. Her colleague David Ngwenya, has been arrested and charged for her murder.

It seems Eskom is not interested in ensuring that workers are protected and their safety is guaranteed. The victimization of this worker must cease immediately! Furthermore we demand that she be re-instated to the Eskom Centre where she was working. Our memorandum of demands also details a list of grievances which our members have against the firm.

Rail union RMT responds to Jo Johnson speech

By Mick Cash - RMT, February 12, 2018

General Secretary Mick Cash said:

"If you were serious about cracking on with the phasing out of diesel trains you wouldn't be scrapping key ele‎ctrification projects which will mean the commissioning of more diesel operated fleet. That scrapping of long-planned electrification rail works by Chris Grayling makes a mockery of Jo Johnson's "aspiration" to scrap diesel units by 2040.

"There is also the question of who pays for this. There must be no free ride for Britain's rip-off private rail companies at the tax payers expense.

"The bottom line is that if we hadn't had over two decades of privatisation and profiteering on Britain's railways we wouldn't have ended up jammed in the slow lane. The money siphoned off by the spivs and speculators would have enabled us to keep pace and build a railway fit for purpose.

"Instead of promises of jam tomorrow we need to tackle the crisis on Britain's railways today and that means a planned service, publicly owned and free from the exploitation that has left the British passenger paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped out, rammed out and unreliable trains where private profit comes before public safety."

Corbyn calls for “public, democratic control and ownership” of energy in order to transition to renewables

Jeremy Corbyn speech to Alternative Models of Ownership Conference - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 11, 2018

Disclaimer: The IWW does not organizationally participate in electoral campaigns, but while we remain skeptical of the efficacy of Corbyn's call for nationalization absent a militant, rank-and-file, independent workers' movement, the proposal he lays out hereis something that could inspire such a movement to organize around.

It is a pleasure to close today’s conference which has shown once again that it is our Party that is coming up with big ideas.

And we’re not talking about ideas and policies dreamed up by corporate lobbyists and think tanks or the wonks of Westminster, but plans and policies rooted in the experience and understanding of our members and our movement; drawing on the ingenuity of each individual working together as part of a collective endeavour with a common goal.

Each of you here today is helping to develop the ideas and the policies that will define not just the next Labour Government but a whole new political era of real change.  An era that will be as John said earlier  radically fairer  more equal  and more democratic.

The questions of ownership and control that we’ve been discussing today go right to the heart of what is needed to create that different kind of society.

Because it cannot be right, economically effective, or socially just that profits extracted from vital public services are used to line the pockets of shareholders when they could and should be reinvested in those services or used to reduce consumer bills.

We know that those services will be better run when they are directly accountable to the public in the hands of the workforce responsible for their front line delivery and of the people who use and rely on them.  It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts.

That’s why, at last year’s general election, under the stewardship of Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald  and Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, Labour pledged to bring energy, rail, water, and mail into public ownership and to put democratic management at the heart of how those industries are run.

This is not a return to the 20th century model of nationalisation but a catapult into 21st century public ownership.

The failure of privatisation and outsourcing of public services could not be clearer.

Nova Scotia’s Dirty Secret: The Tale of a Toxic Mill and The Book Its Owners Don't Want You to Read

By Jimmy Thomson - DeSmog.Ca, February 9, 2017

Lighthouse Beach, a white sand crescent on the north coast of Nova Scotia, was once considered the jewel of the region. People would flock there from New Glasgow and Pictou on summer weekends, visiting the lobster bar and swimming in the clear waters of the Northumberland Strait.

There had been plans for a twice-daily train that would carry visitors between the seaside, a hotel and a local yacht club. Dreams began of a destination national park. But all of these plans were choked off by the introduction of a giant pulp and paper mill in 1967 that literally transformed a large part of Pictou Landing into a toxic dump.

You can smell it usually before you can see it: clouds of sulphur belching from the Abercrombie Point Pulp and Paper Mill smokestacks. For decades, the plant pumped contaminated water into the strait, using Boat Harbour, once an idyllic tidal lagoon used for fishing and clam digging, as a settling pond for highly toxic effluent.

It was also once my family’s home.

My family settled over 200 years ago in this piece of Mi’kmaq First Nation territory, eventually transferring their own property into government care for — as they were told — protection for future generations.

Waves now roll in on Lighthouse Beach dark brown and foamy, the colour of Guinness, where I — like so many other kids in the area — learned to swim and sail.

The story of Pictou Landing is one of desperation, of corruption and incompetence. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Canadian journalist and anthropologist Joan Baxter tried to tell it, old forces of power moved in to silence her. The mill’s owners tried to banish Baxter and her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest from local bookstores.

Of course, that backfired in spectacular fashion: The Mill sold out two printings and became the best-selling book in Nova Scotia Chapters and Coles book stores the month it was released.

I reached Baxter at her home in Nova Scotia to talk about The Mill, the stories that were told to hide industry’s impacts from locals and the fight against years of environmental racism and degradation still plaguing the region to this day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Here’s How a Supreme Court Decision To Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire on the Right

By Shaun Richman - In These Times, February 8, 2017

Janus v. AFSCME, which begins oral arguments on February 26, is the culmination of a years-long right-wing plot to financially devastate public-sector unions. And a Supreme Court ruling against AFSCME would indeed have that effect, by banning public-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from the workers they are compelled to represent. But if the Court embraces the weaponization of free speech as a cudgel to beat up on unions, the possibility of other, unintended consequences is beginning to excite some union advocates and stir fear among conservative constitutional scholars.

The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy—and one Midwest local is already laying plans to maximize the chaos this could cause.

Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

Focus on China: The East is green?

By Martin Empson - Socialist Review, February 2018

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

Last October Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a five-year economic strategy. He focused on putting China at the centre of the world economy, offering “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. But commentators noted how Xi also emphasised the environment, using the word 89 times in the 3-hour, 23-minute speech and pledging to lead globally on the environment.

In a dig at Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Xi argued that, “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” By contrast he claimed that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”, and echoing Friedrich Engels, concluded that, “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

China faces an unprecedented environmental crisis. Mao Zedong’s decision to make China’s economy match and then overtake the West triggered numerous environmental problems. But the sheer scale of today’s economic expansion means that China’s environmental crises today are colossal.

China is the world’s leading polluter in absolute terms. The country is responsible for around 30 percent of global carbon emissions, twice that of the next biggest polluter, the US. In per capita terms, China’s emissions (7.9 tons per person) fall below those of many other industrialised countries such as the US (16.4) or Germany (9.2). But this merely highlights the size of China’s population (1.4 billion). Meanwhile, current economic trends will only drive emissions upwards. In 2000 China’s per capita emissions were just 2.7 tons per person.

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