[Marxism] Occupy Wall Street Affiliates Chain Subway Gates Open For Fare Strike

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Fri Mar 30 09:31:36 MDT 2012


Occupy Wall Street Affiliates Chain Subway Gates Open For Fare Strike
By Nick Pinto
Village Voice, March 29, 2012
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/03/ 
occupy_wall_str_50.php

A group calling itself the "Rank and File Initiative" claimed credit  
yesterday for opening up more than 20 subway stations throughout the  
city for free entry.

Chaining open emergency gates at stations on the F, L, R, Q, 3, and 6  
lines during rush hour yesterday morning, the anonymous activists  
posted signs designed to resemble MTA service-change announcements  
that read "Free Entry, No Fare. Please Enter Through The Service Gate."

A press release claiming credit for the action said it was carried  
out by activists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, as well as by  
rank-and-file members of Transit Workers Union Local 100, which is  
currently in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The release cites Albany's chronic underfunding of public transit,  
which has led the MTA to borrow heavily just to maintain its  
operating budget -- debt which must be serviced in part with transit  
fares that have gone up 50 percent over the last decade.

"This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we  
put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we  
pay," the press statement reads. "More than $2 billion a year goes to  
debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If  
trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of  
MTA revenue will head to a banker's pockets."

Last night we spoke with a representative of the Rank And File  
Initiative, who wished to remain anonymous. He told us that teams set  
out in the early hours of yesterday morning, disguising their  
identities, to lock open gates at roughly 25 stations.

"It was three or four people to each station, so you can do the math  
of how many people were directly involved," he said. Not every team  
was successful -- one dispatched to a Bronx subway station had to  
abort their mission -- "But everyone came safely back without getting  
caught, which was our first priority."

The source stressed that MTA station agents were not aware of the  
action, and no MTA employees were involved in actually locking the  
gates open. But that's not to say that Transit Workers Union members  
weren't involved.

"We've been planning this for months -- Occupy people, other  
activists, and union members," the source said. "Union members were  
central to the planning. They told us the best places to go, they  
talked to their colleagues about what was going to happen, and not to  
be freaked out when we came in, and they gave the final green-light  
for the mission in the morning."

Transport Workers Union Local 100 leadership denied knowledge of the  
action, and the Rank And File Initiative source confirmed that they  
were not notified. Relations between TWU 100 members and their  
leadership have long been strained, dating back to 2005 when union  
members, historically fairly radical, felt their leaders rolled over  
in a standoff with the MTA.

"There are a lot of angry and afraid union members who wish they  
could do more, but they're held back by the leadership," the source  
said. "We listened in on a conference call with [TWU President John]  
Samuelson and the shop stewards, and they were all telling Samuelson  
the union needed to be doing more. He got so mad he was muting out  
whole parts of the conversation, until it was just him talking on the  
line."

Yesterday's wildcat action -- carried out by union members without  
the knowledge or coordination of their leadership -- violated both  
the Taylor Law and the Taft-Hartley Act.
It suggests that TWU 100 leaders may be losing control of their  
members, and also may lend some credence to claims by Occupy Wall  
Street organizers that labor's rank and file will take part in the  
upcoming May 1st "Day Without the 99 Percent" action, despite  
skeptical statements from some union leaders.

The tactic isn't without precedent. San Francisco saw a fare strike  
in 2005, and the Spanish Indignados, to whom Occupy Wall Street  
protesters have often looked for inspiration, have been running their  
own fare strike, Yo No Pago, since early this year.

The source said his group's inspiration for yesterdays action came on  
November 17 of last year. During that day of action for Occupy Wall  
Street, someone -- quite possibly members of Occupy's Direct Action  
Working Group -- locked open doors at four stations.

"We wanted to do something like that, but scale it up," the source said.

Going forward, the coalition is unlikely to repeat the fare strike  
tactic, the source said, though it will conduct other sorts of  
actions. The group also plans to release how-to guides to help anyone  
else who might want to stage a fair strike in New York subways.

"It's a great tactic, because it aligns the interests of transit  
workers with the interests of the working classes throughout New  
York," he said. "That's important, because whenever transit workers  
get hit, it's bad news for everyone else who rides the subway too .  
You see fare hikes and service cuts. It makes sense to make common  
cause."

Here's the full press release concerning the fare strike:

     This morning before rush hour, teams of activists, many from  
Occupy Wall Street, in conjunction with rank and file workers from  
the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit  
Union, opened up more than 20 stations across the city for free  
entry. As of 10:30 AM, the majority remain open. No property was  
damaged. Teams have chained open service gates and taped up  
turnstiles in a coordinated response to escalating service cuts, fare  
hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers' working  
conditions and livelihoods -- and the profiteering of the super-rich  
by way of a system they've rigged in their favor.

     For the last several years, riders of public transit have been  
under attack. The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while  
train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have  
precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police  
routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the  
turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the  
bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At  
the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their  
benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely  
stalled.

     Working people of all occupations, colors and backgrounds are  
expected to sacrifice to cover the budget cut by paying more for less  
service. But here's the real cause of the problem: the rich are  
massively profiting from our transit system. Despite the fact that  
buses and subways are supposed to be a public service, the government  
and the MTA have turned the system backwards--into a virtual ATM for  
the super-rich. Instead of using our tax money to properly fund  
transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of  
public funds for over twenty years; the MTA must resort to bonds  
(loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs. The MTA is  
legally required to funnel tax dollars and fares away from  
transportation costs and towards interest on these bonds, called  
"debt service." This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge  
share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy  
and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt  
service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends  
continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA  
revenue will head to a banker's pockets.




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