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Bill de Blasio

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.

What kind of system would let them freeze?

By Ellie Hamrick - Socialist Worker, January 11, 2018

IMAGINE LIVING in a place where temperatures drop into the negatives--and not having any heat in your home.

That's exactly what some New Yorkers experienced last week when the "bomb cyclone" storm hit the East Coast. As temperatures dipped to dangerous levels during and afterward, residents of at least 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes went without heat--and in some cases without hot water--across the city's five boroughs.

At the Woodside Houses in Queens, 3,000 residents in 20 buildings had no heat for at least three days, including the day the storm hit on Thursday.

"I've got every blanket I own, plus two sweatshirts and two t-shirts, and I'm still not warm," resident Juan Melendez told the New York Post. "It's fucking arctic in here...I can't feel my fingers and toes."

Without the heat that they are legally entitled to, many tenants turn to dangerous methods to warm up, such as using space heaters or turning on the oven and leaving the door open.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are involved in 79 percent of deadly home fires. Leaving the oven on and the oven door open can cause fires or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, and it also exposes residents--especially children and pets--to the risk of accidental burns.

Gonzalo Rivera, another resident of the Woodside Houses, said his family had to resort to leaving on the oven. "We don't like doing it, but it's the best we can do," he said.

In a city where landlords have virtually no obligation to maintain fire-safe buildings, the implications of buildings with no heat are especially terrifying.

Broken carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are disturbingly common in public housing projects, even though city workers are supposed to perform regular checks. NYCHA also has failed to perform lead safety checks, lying to the federal government and the public about it with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's knowledge.

Public housing buildings are old, flammable, deteriorating, and overcrowded, lacking even basic safety measures such as sprinkler systems.

This is simply a question of money. You can bet that Trump Tower residents stayed warm and cozy throughout the winter storm. But poor and working class New Yorkers are left to freeze, as landlords take their sweet time fixing old, broken heating systems.

Enormous cuts by Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will dramatically exacerbate problems for the resource-starved NYCHA.

HUD currently provides most of the funding for NYC's public housing. But the Trump administration has proposed cutting up to $370 million from NYCHA in 2018. Those cuts would mean a 68 percent reduction of NYCHA's capital budget and a 13 percent reduction of its operating budget--and, of course, there would be no possibility of devoting additional resources to implementing desperately needed improvements.

This means more people will go without heat and hot water in dangerously cold weather. This means no safety upgrades. This means poor people will die.