by Karyn Pomerantz, 2-2-2023
This video celebrates the multiracial love and respect among bus drivers from all different parts of the world. While the song sung by a Sikh driver focuses on British drivers, it applies universally. Link here https://youtu.be/-t1wci2AcdY
Meanwhile in the US: Metro Workers Strike Again
Since 2021, the DC area has experienced four strikes of workers in Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 against private contractors that operate public transit vehicles. The workers—black, Latin, Sikh, Ethiopian, and white, men and women, immigrant and U.S. born—have all shown great unity in the struggle, even more necessary because the ATU International, which has intervened in the current strike, has typically accepted substandard contracts in the past to save money by shortening the length of the strikes.
On January 11, 2023, approximately 100 Loudoun County bus and commuter operators (who drive long split shift days) walked out over an insulting contract offer by Keolis, a transnational transit company contracted by Loudoun County to cut its costs. Keolis has proposed a two-tier wage system for bus operators with a difference of over $13 per hour. Keolis eliminated some health care benefits, contracted with a poorer health care system, eliminated sick leave, and cut back on vacation weeks for senior workers. Workers had been told that they would keep the benefit package but then Keolis gutted the contract. The school bus operators next door negotiate contracts along with the school teachers; neither has collective bargaining rights in Virginia, a right to work state. This is a clear divide and conquer strategy, a hallmark of capitalist bosses’ efforts to weaken the working class and deepen the exploitation of workers.
The bosses think they can get away with such tactics because many of the workers are immigrants. But workers chose antiracism instead, with 96% of workers voting to strike and set up strong picket lines, crushing that idea. The workers are resisting the two-tier system and are fighting for better health benefits and pensions.
The ATU 689 workers marched in the Leesburg, Virginia’s Martin Luther King, Jr. parade on January 16, enthusiastically chanting their demands, and then returned to the picket lines. Local labor activists joined with them all day, sharing antiracist and revolutionary ideas and deepening ties for ongoing activities. On the picket line, a transit worker said that Keolis is owned by the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), a French company that in World War II transported over 76,000 Jews to Germany on their way to genocide in Auschwitz; only about 2,200 of the deportees survived the Holocaust (The Atlantic, 3/18/2014). On Tuesday, Jan 31, workers picketed the French Embassy with DC Jobs with Justice to demand reparations. It looks like these bosses are still Nazis!
The spirit of solidarity shone this week beyond the strike itself. The picket line is next to an adult men’s detention center. A young man was released from the jail, and in freezing temperatures and strong winds, was trying to walk home wearing only a t-shirt and flip flops. The strikers on the picket line called him over and a worker gave him the jacket off his back while other workers found gloves and cash to help him get home. This is the character of our class, and it is such feelings of class solidarity that will lead to overthrowing this entire racist capitalist system.
International Strike Wave
The editors of this blog also celebrate the thousands of other transit and essential workers organizing and striking in the US and around the world.
In January 2023, the French ruling class announced they would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years (surely just the beginning of more cuts in services). Soon after, militant railroad workers walked off their trains, and 60% of the teachers struck, closing 100 schools. Thousands of others joined over 250 demonstrations throughout the country, paralyzing key industries. US politicians also have been sharpening their knives to cut Medicare and Social Security, treating people like trash when they stop making profit for the boss.
In the US
US workers also organized strikes and new unions from Starbucks and Amazon to universities and hospitals across the country to demand living wages that could cover housing in California, better nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, and higher wages to keep up with rising prices. In 1 NYC hospital, nurses often covered 20 patients in an emergency department. Patients lined the hall waiting for care. Mental health nurses in California, hospital nurses in Minnesota and Massachusetts, and resident doctors in DC demanded safe conditions for workers and patients.
In the UK
These are coming strikes as of February 1, 2023:
- Rail strikes: More than 12,500 train drivers that are members of the Aslef and RMT Unions will walk out on Wednesday and Friday, impacting the majority of train companies in England. They are demanding higher wages and the end to compulsory work on Sunday.
- School strikes: Around 320,000 teachers that are members of the National Education Union will walk out on Wednesday. Teachers in Scotland will also stage staggered strikes across different regions every day this week.
- University strikes: More than 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK will strike on Wednesday.
- Civil service strikes: Around 100,000 civil servants across 123 different employers will strike on Wednesday. The strike will include border force, museum workers, job center workers and DVLA workers.
- Bus strikes: Around 1,000 London bus drivers will go on strike on Wednesday and Friday, mainly impacting west London.
Rely on the Working Class, Not Politicians, Multiracial Unity Is Key
These strikes show how powerful multiracial job-based organizing can be. Transportation workers from railroads to subways to truckers along with other essential workers have the power to disrupt the economy to win concessions from their corporate bosses. In fact, unions working together could strike for vaccines for all, affordable housing, and withdrawal from imperialist wars. As the song says, building multiracial relationships and unity among all workers allows us to fight back and win versus waiting for another politician to save us.
However, as long as the capitalists run the government, they can cancel our gains by raising prices, breaking unions, laying off workers, and spreading racist and sexist lies. In the long run, our unity can develop into revolutionary movements to take control over society.