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December 2012, Week 5

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Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:57:02 -0500
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Michigan, NY and Local 100.

by Roger Toussaint

December 30, 2012

Published by Portside

Recently the extreme right in the state of Michigan forced
through a raft of repressive legislation including, among
other horrendous measures, the elimination of dues check off
for labor unions and made that state, a birth place of our
organized labor movement, a so called "right to work" (for
less) state. Looking back over the past decade or so, there
were warning signs about this specific tactic of the extreme
right; financially cripple and destroy organized labor. The
attack on TWU Local 100 in the aftermath of the 2005 NYC
transit strike was a precursor to the right wings anti union
drive, and in particular of the attempts to remove dues check-
off from labor unions. As subsequent history has borne out,
those who hoped that this wouldn't happen to those that went
along with business as usual were gravely mistaken. As well,
the relative silence from the left about the significance of
this strike and its aftermath is more than noticeable and,
among other things, has meant that the right wing and others
have been left to freely write their version of labor history
once again.

In 2007, TWU Local 100 in NY lost automatic dues check off for
over 35,000 of its members as part of 4 penalties imposed by
recently deceased Judge Theodore Jones. This assault
immediately followed the payment of a $2.5m fine from June 06
to June 07 and arose from the 2005 NYC Transit strike. Judge
Jones was selected for the job he did and, for going well
beyond the pale with the penalties imposed he was subsequently
promoted to the highest court in NY State. Local 100 marched
on, was not defeated and also managed to get automatic dues
deduction reinstated in Nov 2008, after a long 18 months, but
the initial removal of automatic dues deduction was without
any time limit and was clearly intended as a death sentence
for the Local. Had either the defeat of that strike or the
subsequent penalties been successful it would have had an
unmistakably lasting and destructive impact on the labor
movement on the scale that the crushing of the 1981 air
traffic controllers strike (PATCO) did, or even greater given
that this was a large public sector union in NYC, home of Wall
St. This itself stands as evidence of the success of the
strike and of Local 100's efforts.

Measured by the considerable improvements on the pre-strike
offer, including the defeat of a new pension tier and winning
a $131.7M pension refund for Transit workers, the strike was
successful. Indeed, Local 100 not only prevailed but also went
on to successfully negotiate a subsequent 2009 - 2012 contract
even after the market crash in the fall of 2008. This too was
a testament to its continued strength on the ground in NY,
including politically. Unfortunately, in 2012, the very issue
that strike successfully blocked in its tracks, the imposition
of a new (Tier 6) pension, was passed into law across NY as of
April 2012 without a shot being fired from those that attacked
the strike. But, in 2005 Local 100 achieved a great victory
and, in the aftermath of the strike, overcame the elimination
of dues check off.  In this NY's transit workers successfully
answered a historic challenge, a challenge of a scale and
duration such as never faced by a labor organization since
dues check off became the norm decades ago. That success, a
testament to resilience and labor organizing, has been
belittled or dismissed by some, including some so called
friends of labor who, led by the right wing media, have made
it their sworn duty to attack that success. Indeed, for the
right and its allies, conscious or otherwise, the strike and
its aftermath have continued to be the focus of ridicule in
their attempts to promote a popular interpretation of labor
history that is in their interest. The main objective of the
right is to discourage and degrade direct mass action, at
times under the pretense of valuing trade unionism and being
concerned about labor, but, clearly, these forces are not
arguing for or holding out in favor of triumphant strikes
against the employer class. Unfortunately the right has been
joined in this by certain elements of the so-called "left" in
NY who, for example, point to the loss of good standing of
some of the members of the Local who fell behind in their dues
payment to denigrate the strike. However, the actual history,
a history rich in lessons for labor and allied progressive
forces, is that Local 100 took to the path of direct mass
action and won, took its blows and then fielded an enormous
alternative machine for direct outreach to and collection of
dues from its members which it inevitably used to make the
organization closer and more accountable to its members as
well as re-teaching the basics of solidarity, all sorely
lacking in the labor movement movement.

Maybe Michigan will force the Labor movement to rethink and
retool, which will not occur without confronting its failures
and finding its soul.

Roger Toussaint
President, TWU Local 100 (2001-2009)
PO Box 2034
New York, NY 10025

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