By Paul Le Blanc and Jonah McAllister-Erickson - Socialist Worker, August 5, 2015
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.
The authors of this article are long-time members of Pittsburghers for Public Transit; views expressed here are not necessarily those of the organization as a whole.
SINCE PORT Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) cut 15 percent of its service, residents of Baldwin, Mooncrest and Groveton--working-class suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--had to walk two miles, over roads with no sidewalks, just to catch the bus.
But on September 8, Baldwin residents active in the struggle of "Buses for Baldwin" and Groveton residents who pushed for service in their county housing authority will be riding the first restored buses, celebrating the sweetness of the victory.
The battle for public transit has been often been an uphill struggle under both Democratic and Republican administrations at the city, county, state and federal levels. Lessons from the Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) campaigns might be useful for others struggling for economic justice today and tomorrow.
Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley has pointed to Pittsburghers for Public Transit as a model for those defending public transit throughout the country, especially for the ways the organization unites transit riders and workers in its campaigns.
Since the 1980s, business interests and the right wing have crusaded for even more aggressive policies of laissez-faire capitalism (sometimes called neoliberalism). Public services--won over the years through struggles by working people--have been the target of late. Their successful efforts have cut funding for public transit systems, public education, public housing, public parks and libraries, the public postal service and more.
This, combined with a push to lower taxes for the rich and stagnant or diminished wages of working people, resulted in a shrinking tax base that often made public services shabby and inadequate. Right-wing ideologues create the problem, then insist that "privatization" and "market mechanisms" are the solution. But this makes things worse--capitalism functions not to meet the needs of the majority of people, but to maximize profits for private business owners.
The Pittsburgh Port Authority, in consultation with an "economizing" Democratic County executive, Dan Onorato, had already made severe cuts in 2007, and in 2010 approved a new 15 percent cut in service. In autumn 2010, Tom Corbett, a conservative Republican candidate promising pro-business tax cuts and budget tightening, ran for governor of Pennsylvania. His Democratic opponent was the very same Allegheny County executive who had twice cut public transit service. The Republican won.
In January 2011, budget proposals by Gov. Corbett projected an additional 35 percent cut in Pittsburgh's transit service. Right-wing elements argued that transit workers had been too greedy, that public transit was inefficient and unsustainable, and that privatization would provide a solution.